Dr. Johnson and Jane Austen

One unblushing admirer of the Dictionary was Jane Austen’s father, who assembled a substantial collection of books by Johnson, by his friends and associates, and about both the man and his circle. Inspired by her father, Austen relished Johnson’s writing especially the moral essays, with their crusade against foppishness, fashion and superficial thinking. She shared, too, his taste for abstract nouns: one has only to think of the titles of her novels to see this. It is no surprise, then, to find reference to Johnson in her  published works. Fanny Price loves his Idler essays, and has clearly read Rasselas. But a more explicit reference appears in Northanger Abbey, when Henry Tilney queries Catherine Morland’s use of the word ‘nicest’, his sister advises her, ‘You had better change it as soon as you can, or we shall be overpowered with Johnson.’ 

—Henry Hitchings, Defining the World: The ExtraordinaryStory of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary, 249

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *