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Jane Austen often uses reading as a way to develop her characters. For instance, in Persuasion, Captain Benwick‘s melancholic disposition is revealed through his partiality for Romantic poetry, but Anne Elliot’s value for balance is expressed when she recommends moral essays. Other times, and not unfrequently, characters’ reading choice falls on the works of William Shakespeare—such as Hamlet, which Willoughby reads to Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, and the excerpts from Elegant Extracts we learn that Northanger Abbey’s Catherine Morland has memorized.

Some of Austen’s characters read Shakespeare with seductive intent, but others show their maturity through the critical thinking that comes with balanced reading—understanding nuance and context rather than memorizing “bits and scraps” of published excerpts. Looking carefully at eighteenth century reading practices as well as characters’ reading in Austen’s last two published novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, this chapter aims to determine the value of reading within Austen’s novels.



Publication Date



Palgrave Macmillan


reading, Jane Austen, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey


Literature in English, British Isles


In Marina Cano and Rosa García-Periago (Eds.), Jane Austen and William Shakespeare: A Love Affair in Literature, Film and Performance. Dr. Hall's chapter begins on page 129.

Reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan.

This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive, published, version of record is available here:


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Is It ‘A Marriage of True Minds’? Balanced Reading in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion