Jane Austen’s famous reference to Ann Radcliffe and ‘all her imitators’ in Northanger Abbey can be understood both as a satirical characterisation of popular gothic novels and as a record of a historical mode of describing those same texts. This article provides a new reading of fictional ‘imitation’ in the Romantic period arguing that, as it was practised by Minerva Press novelists, it became a crucial fulcrum in the ongoing Romantic debate over the literary status of the novel. While charges of ‘imitation’ are often understood as derogatory, and were frequently deployed against the Minerva Press’s fiction by critics, looking closely at the novels in question suggests that many novelists used imitation quite deliberately as a literary strategy. This essay suggests that the fiction produced by Minerva’s novelists is deeply entwined with the press’s status as England’s highest-producing novel publisher, in that the form and function of Minerva novels stems from their collective identity: each novel is produced and consumed specifically as one of many—one of many narratives, but also one of many physical, circulating objects, lent, sold and exchanged between readers. Using allusions, parodic inversions, self-referential prefaces and a multitude of other narrative strategies, the novelists exploit the creative potential of their imitative parameters. Continue reading
Hannah Doherty Hudson
Hannah Doherty Hudson is an Assistant Professor of English at Suffolk University in Boston. Her publications focus on the popular print culture of the long eighteenth century, on topics ranging from magazine biography to gothic fiction. She is currently completing a book on the Minerva Press and fictional excess in the Romantic period.