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What Jane Austen Read (in the Hampshire Chronicle)

  • Andrew Franta

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  • Andrew Franta
    University of Utah

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The following story appeared in the January 1, 1810 edition of the Hampshire Chronicle; and Weekly Advertiser for the Counties of Southampton, Sussex, Surrey, Berks, and Dorset:

A man of fashion has suddenly disappeared from Bristol. He had previously inveigled a young lady into an uninhabited house, where he first committed an assault upon her, of the most brutal description, and then locked her up in one of the rooms, where she continued until a late hour in the evening of the same day, when her moans led to a discovery; the keys of her prison having been found on a table in one of the rooms of the house occupied by the seducer, but who was himself no where to be found, nor has he been heard of. We cannot, from our respect for decency, state this affair at any length, but its atrocity has been hardly ever equalled.

1 Jan. 1810, p. 2

Despite the concluding claim, such stories were in fact a regular feature of the Hampshire Chronicle. And we don’t have to look far for another instance. The following week’s edition features this brief account of an “Extraordinary Elopement”:

A young lady, possessed of a very handsome fortune, and about twenty-six years of age, lately eloped with her uncle, who is about sixty, and who deserted a wife and two children, whom he lived with at Bath, to cohabit with his niece. The uncle and niece are living together in London, and their relations have in vain endeavored to put an end to this disgraceful condition.

8 Jan. 1810, p. 2

Extraordinary and atrocious stories abound in the Hampshire Chronicle, but a quick survey of some of the news items that surround sensational stories like these gives a fuller sense of the character of the paper. The “Extraordinary Elopement” cited above, for example, is preceded by “an account of the process used in curing that afflicting and dreadful malady, the tooth-ache, performed on his royal Highness the Prince of Wales, at Brighton,” and followed by a brief report on “Pugilistic Disputes.” The next column concludes the boxing news, which is followed by stories on mosaic painting; two foundling children in South Lambeth; “a most daring robbery” near Cork; the robbery of Mr. Stuart, of Downing Street, on Christmas day; and another robbery, this one on Fleet Street. The story about the “atrocity” with which I began is sandwiched between a brief report on Napoleon’s attempt to annul his marriage to Josephine and a local news item on “a trial of pedestrian strength and agility between two farmers.” A story about a rift in the new cabinet of the Addington administration on page one of the same edition (reprinted from the London Globe) is immediately followed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department’s circular letter to the clergy urging them to recommend vaccination to their parishioners; at the top of the same column is a story from the Norfolk Chronicle on “the quantity of Turkeys sent up to London from this City.” The first and likely strongest impression that the Hampshire Chronicle makes on the modern reader is undoubtedly the result of what Kevis Goodman has described as the eighteenth century newspaper’s “extraordinary collision of undifferentiated items” (74).

The Hampshire Chronicle was, in effect, Jane Austen’s local newspaper.[1] My title is speculative. There is no clear evidence that Austen read these stories—or, indeed, that she read the paper at all. At least one Austen biographer, Park Honan, assumes that her family took the paper, but Austen critics have had little to say about the Hampshire Chronicle (23-4). Given the scholarly interest in historicizing Austen’s novels, this neglect seems surprising. Even if it is impossible to establish that Austen read the paper—or that her family received it—the Hampshire Chronicle was clearly the newspaper of record during the years Austen lived in Steventon and Chawton, and one would imagine that her local newspaper would have provided a more compelling context for criticism than it has. While Austen famously determined that “three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on” (9 Sept. 1814), the historical context for Austen scholarship has been national rather than local.[2] The clear implication of this tendency is that full appreciation of the novels’ significance requires a context larger than their own restricted range of historical, political, and geographical reference.

This essay is primarily concerned with what the Hampshire Chronicle, and the provincial newspaper more generally, can tell us about Austen’s novels. If the obvious premise for such an inquiry is that Austen’s local newspaper might afford a more focused historical context for the analysis of the novels, the contents of the Hampshire Chronicle and the history of the provincial newspaper both complicate this assumption. In the first place, it turns out that country newspapers of the period weren’t particularly local; they instead culled much of their news from further afield. If we look to the Hampshire Chronicle with the expectation that it will offer a better-defined historical framework for reading the novels, we may well decide that the provincial newspaper has little to tell us about Austen. In a more general sense, however, the Hampshire Chronicle is instructive, because if the provincial newspaper doesn’t allow unmediated access to life in a country village in the early nineteenth century, reading Austen’s local newspaper and surveying the development of the country newspaper in the period suggests that provincial newspapers did as much to extend the idea of the local as define it. Rather than a clear-cut historical context for understanding the novels, the Hampshire Chronicle instead points us to potentially larger questions about what it meant to be concerned about and interested in “the local” in the early nineteenth century—to arrive, that is, at the conclusion that “three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on.”


I originally turned to the Hampshire Chronicle to learn about how Austen got her news and, more precisely, how the political language of the day came to her. My frame of reference was national rather than local—it had to do with the translation of the national into the local—and I was particularly interested in the form that parliamentary reporting took in early nineteenth-century Hampshire. The short answer to this question is that one would have had little trouble learning about the national political culture from the remove of Chawton or Steventon. Indeed, a moderately attentive reader of the newspaper would have had a hard time avoiding the kind of political reporting I was looking for. But it struck me that the Hampshire Chronicle (and provincial newspapers more generally) might interest Austen scholars in a more general way, especially given the longstanding interest in placing Austen in her historical milieu and the recent turn to situating Austen’s work in terms of the history of everyday life (as opposed, for example, to the history of national politics).[3] Surely the provincial press would offer some reflection of the kind of life in a country village that Austen took as her subject? But if it seems obvious that a provincial newspaper like the Hampshire Chronicle would provide a reliable index to everyday life in the provinces, a better understanding of the state of the provincial press in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is required. In short, before we ask what the Hampshire Chronicle might tell us about Austen, we have to know more about what the provincial newspaper was in Austen’s day.

It turns out that the dearth of attention paid to the Hampshire Chronicle in Austen scholarship is at least in part a reflection of the state of research into the provincial press more generally. While seminal studies of the provincial newspaper in Britain date back to the 1960s, that recent critics have felt compelled to defend the intrinsic interest and value of studying the provincial press is telling. Following the lead of Jeremy Black, whose 1978 The English Press in the Eighteenth Century argued that “it is dangerous to discuss the political or social influence of the press without considering” provincial papers (xiii), studies published in the late 1990s by C. Y. Ferdinand and Hannah Barker have continued to work to overturn what G. A. Cranfield described in 1962 as “the general attitude of historians … to dismiss the country newspaper of this period as unimportant, as a mere parasite upon the London press whose news and views it faithfully reproduced” (v). In her 1998 Newspapers, Politics, and Public Opinion in Late Eighteenth-Century England, for example, Barker observes that “although historians increasingly view the newspaper as a potent force in eighteenth-century society, accounts of its role remain sketchy and generalized” (2). As the title of Barker’s book suggests, her focus is the political significance of the provincial newspaper, and this emphasis is indicative of the predominant tendency of studies of the provincial press. Barker stresses the importance of the provincial newspapers’ principles of selection. By studying “the political character and content of the news carried in provincial newspapers,” she explains, “it becomes clear that [the provincial press] did not follow blindly the political leads set by the capital’s newspapers” (97). Barker admits that “provincial papers made extensive use of material from London,” but, like Black, she argues that the political character of provincial papers is reflected in their selective reproduction of news from London rather than their admittedly thin original reporting and editorializing (Barker 97; Black xiii).

That scholarly studies of the provincial press focus on political news, however, does not merely reflect the interests of contemporary scholars. Instead, this focus also discloses a key fact about the economic conditions of publishing the news. Sales were always at the forefront of the provincial publisher’s concern. Newspapers in general flourished during wartime, and war reporting was thus particularly crucial to provincial newspapers. An August 25, 1763 editorial in Berrow’s Worcester Journal observes that ‘a very material Declension in the sale of News-Papers in general is always the Consequence of a termination of War” (qtd. in Cranfield 21). In addition to war reporting, sensational stories were a regular feature of all provincial papers that sought to reach a wide audience. But these papers also contained news of all descriptions, which drew heavily, if not exclusively, on the London press. Local news coverage was scant in the Hampshire Chronicle (although it increased in quantity after the paper changed hands in 1813), as was broadly the case with provincial newspapers throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth. In general, this part of the paper conformed to the description given by Cranfield in his Development of the Provincial Newspaper: “The local section of a country newspaper was brief and extremely uninteresting. It was confined for the most part to births and deaths, horse races, local celebrations of royal birthdays, and, above all, crimes and accidents” (91).

The content and organization of the Hampshire Chronicle reflect fairly closely how most provincial papers were established and developed. The paper was founded in 1772, and by the first years of the nineteenth century had the widest circulation of any publication in the county. It experienced periodic financial crises, especially in its first decade of production, and frequent changes in ownership. It was a clearinghouse for news from London and abroad. Like most provincial newspapers, the Hampshire Chronicle appeared once a week, on Monday, and its four pages were organized by post. From 1810 to September 1813 (when the ownership of the paper changed), the front page was made up of Tuesday’s Post from London and abroad (plus most of the paper’s numerous advertisements); page two was Thursday’s Post (from London); page three was Saturday’s Post; and page four was Sunday’s Post. After September 1813 (and through Austen’s death in 1817), page one featured Monday’s and Tuesday’s Posts; page two Wednesday’s and Thursday’s Posts; page three Friday’s and Saturday’s Posts and a report on the London Markets; and page four Sunday’s Post (“BY EXPRESS”), Port News (i.e., local news), and the Home Markets. The new management also introduced a regular editorial digest of the week’s news on page four (under a Winchester byline, reflecting the paper’s place of publication); this feature was discontinued, without comment, in July 1814 and then renewed in April 1815. This waxing and waning of the paper’s editorial voice reflects a more general absence of editorial comment. The Hampshire Chronicle appears to have been a non-partisan paper (despite Honan’s claim that it was a Tory publication, a view unsupported by either internal evidence or the external evidence of the British Library’s nineteenth-century newspapers index).

The stories I’ve already cited indicate the heterogeneous nature of the paper, which is, I’ve suggested, its most striking feature. In the same column, it lurches from ‘hard news’ about the ongoing war on the continent, with especially vigorous coverage of the lead-in to peace in 1814 and Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, to brief items that begin “FEMALE SAILOR.—A discovery of a rather curious nature transpired a few days ago at Ipswich …” (6 Sept. 1813, p. 2) or appear under such headings as “ANOTHER HORRID MURDER” (2 Aug. 1813, p. 1) or “GHOST STORIES” (6 Sept. 1813, p. 2). We find stories explaining “the purport and effect of the new Corn Bills now pending” (30 May 1814, p. 4) as well as reports like this one: “A sow killed lately at Minfield, Sussex, had nine pigs taken from her, one of which was headed like an elephant, and exhibited a trunk, exactly similar to the proboscis of that animal” (25 Jan. 1813, p. 3). Many stories open with variations on a theme—“A melancholy circumstance …” (11 Feb. 1811, p. 1; 25 Jan. 1813, p. 3) and “A most outrageous attack …” are common gambits (1 Feb. 1813, p. 1). The energetic reporting (or repeating) of stories of a violent nature can leave the contemporary reader with the impression that it has always been thus. “A most wanton, unprovoked, and barbarous murder,” runs one such report, “was, on Tuesday se’nnight, committed at Carrigavantory, on a poor man of the name of Hearn” (8 Jan, 1810, p. 2).

Numerous stories about strange deaths end with the formulaic verdict of the coroner’s inquest: “Saturday evening an Inquest was held at the Secretary’s Office, in Gray’s-Inn-square, on the body of John Hinckley, Esq. who was found dead in his bed, in his chambers, on the second floor at No. 9, in the square …. Verdict—Died by the Visitation of God” (12 Dec. 1814, p. 1). A few of these stories would not be out of place in Chuck Shepard’s syndicated “News of the Weird”:

An extraordinary circumstance occurred, a few days ago, at Beddington corner, near Mitcham, in Surrey: An elderly woman dropped down dead, and fell into a ditch. A coroner’s inquest was held, and a verdict was given—died by the visitation of God. She was buried at Beddington Church; and one of the men who assisted in carrying the body to the ground, on his return home from the funeral, found himself ill, and dropped down dead, at the same spot where the woman died.

8 Jan. 1810, p. 2

It is important to emphasize that the atrocious and extraordinary stories that fill the pages of the Hampshire Chronicle are not primarily local. They are, instead, collected from across the country, the metropolis, and even across the ocean. A long story printed in the February 11, 1811 edition of the paper recounts “a melancholy circumstance” which “lately happened at an Inn at Newark” first published in the Boston Gazette. The story, which ends with a jury’s “verdict of Died by poison,” concerns the misfortunes of “the passengers by the Highland coach” and death of one “Mr. Bland a much respected attorney of Newark.”

By mid-August 1816, the paper was regularly reprinting a recently-published poem on its second page, augmenting its miscellaneous character. “Lady B –’s Answer to ‘Fare thee Well’” appears on August 26, 1816; on December 21, of the same year, we find “Darkness [From Lord Byron’s Last Publication].” Dispatches from the literary world were sometimes more mundane, as in the following case, reprinted from the Winchester News:

An alarming accident occurred at Barley Wood, near Bath, last Thursday. The celebrated Mrs. H. More, in reaching a book in her library, her shawl accidentally caught fire, and before any assistance could arrive, great part of her dress was burnt, but happily she received no serious injury.

20 Nov. 1814, p. 4

Occasionally, satirical items appear, like this one:

Receipt for a Fashionable Rout.—Take all the Ladies and Gentlemen you can get, place them in a room with a slow fire, stir them well, have ready a piano-forte, a harp, a handful of books or prints, put them in from time to time; when the mixture begins to settle, sweeten with politesse or wit (if you have it); if not, flattery will do as well, and is very cheap. When all have stewed together for two or three hours, put in one or two turkies, some tongues, sliced beef or ham, tarts, cakes, and sweetmeats, and some bottles of wine; the more you put the better, and the more substantial your rout will be.—N.B. Fill your room quite full, and let the scum run off of itself.

12 Dec. 1814, p. 1

It’s not hard to imagine Austen reading this story, but, again, we have no evidence that she read the Hampshire Chronicle at all. Her one appearance in the paper, however, is easy to establish. On July 21, 1817, the following story appeared on page four of the paper: “Died, yesterday, in College-street, Miss Jane Austen, youngest daughter of the late Rev. George Austen, formerly rector of Steventon, in this county.” A fuller obituary, supplied by the Austen family, appeared in the Hampshire Courier (see Honan 406). In the Chronicle, the notice of Austen’s death is preceded by a marriage notice (of William Budd, Esq., of North-street Cottage, Popely, to Miss Willis, of Alton) and followed by an account of the violent robbery of Mr. Grey, a butcher, of Whiteparish, and the subsequent apprehension of the thief, “named Lawrence.”


Austen’s nearest approach to the form and content of the Hampshire Chronicle is perhaps Catherine Morland’s solemn pronouncement during her walk around Beechen Cliff with Eleanor and Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey “that something very shocking indeed, will soon come out in London” (81). The misunderstanding that ensues—Eleanor interprets Catherine’s comment as a continuation of the political discussion that has just gone silent, and Henry makes Catherine and Eleanor “understand each other” (82)—reproduces something of the haphazard rhythm of the provincial newspaper, as does the scene’s juxtaposition of politics and sensation. The explanation Henry offers to Catherine introduces another suggestive combination: “You talked of expected horrors in London—and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could only relate to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields …” (82). If the confused transition from politics to sensation in this passage mirrors the provincial newspaper, Henry Tilney’s allusion to the circulation of fiction might serve to frame the question that motivates this essay: what does the Hampshire Chronicle tell us about Jane Austen?

One possible answer to this question is, Not much. Given the distance between the world reflected in the provincial newspaper and Austen’s “three or four families in a country village,” we might conclude that critics have been right to ignore the newspaper as a relevant context for historicist analysis of the novels. After all, in many respects Austen’s novels, and Northanger Abbey in particular, would seem to repudiate the sensationalism of the provincial newspaper. Along these lines, we might regard the Hampshire Chronicle as a vivid, contemporary record of the kind of novel Austen didn’t write. Many of the stock stories of the provincial newspaper read like episodes from Richardson, Fielding, or even Dickens (there are many stories of bodies, especially of young women, washing up on the banks of the Thames), and their remoteness from the world represented in Austen’s novels tells us something important about her authorial choices. If the sensationalism and multifariousness of the provincial newspaper was, first and foremost, a reflection of the need to sell copies (rather than a desire to provide an accurate documentary account of provincial life), it nevertheless constitutes a compelling record of the kind of stories that newspaper editors and publishers imagined would attract readers. In this sense, the Hampshire Chronicle perhaps has more to tell us about the circulation of stories than the vagaries of everyday life. If we turn to newspapers for historical evidence, what we find is instead, at least in part, a reflection of the degree to which the newspaper and the novel before Austen shared a common stock of narrative tropes and devices.

From this standpoint, as a historical context for Austen’s work the Hampshire Chronicle has the curious effect of reinscribing a familiar literary-historical story about the novelty of Austen’s novels. That is to say, Austen’s rejection of certain aspects of the eighteenth-century novel, in particular her focus on the provincial and the everyday, counts not only as a development in a larger literary-historical narrative about the development of the novel and Austen’s contribution to it, but also as a choice made in light of what we might understand as the local market for stories in Hampshire circa 1810-1817. In deciding that “three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on,” Austen not only breaks with received ideas about the suitable subjects for the novel; she also breaks with the contemporary taste for stories reflected in the Hampshire Chronicle’s decisions about what kinds of stories would appeal to the provincial newspaper-reading public it was working, with real success, to cultivate. This observation perhaps does little to change our understanding of Austen’s practice as a novelist. It might, however, refine our sense of what Austen, as well as such contemporaries as Charlotte Smith and Maria Edgeworth, were turning away from when they turned their attention to what Smith called “the romance of real life.” On this reading, the lesson of the Hampshire Chronicle is negative, because, just as provincial papers were defined by their principles of selection, so too were Austen’s novels.

But this, I think, too narrowly construes what the Hampshire Chronicle might tell us about Austen. In addition to bringing news from London and abroad to the provinces and beginning to develop reporting of local interest, in their commitment to selling copies through sensation, provincial newspapers sustained the popular circulation of stories about elopements, duels, abductions, accidents, strange deaths, and even domestic versions of gothic violence. For Austen’s readers, these threats appear on the novels’ margins. To the riots and political demonstrations that Catherine Morland’s remark calls to Eleanor Tilney’s mind, we might add Willoughby’s seduction and abandonment of Colonel Brandon’s ward, Eliza Williams; Wickham’s attempt to elope with Georgiana Darcy and his conquest of Lydia Bennet; the relationships between Lucy Steele and Robert Ferrars and Maria Bertram and Henry Crawford; and, in a different key, Harriet Smith’s encounter with the gypsies. The Hampshire Chronicle suggests that such threats were not merely the province of the novel; their place in the local newspaper, even if it didn’t bring these dangers any closer, made them a part of everyday life. The romance of real life, in this sense, has as much to do with the prevalence of romance conventions and tropes in everyday life as the novel’s new interest in the representation of life’s quotidian dramas.

Understood in this way, the picture of everyday life and the local that emerges from the Hampshire Chronicle is finally rather different than the one we might predict. If the local section of the provincial newspaper has appeared to be limited in scope and “extremely uninteresting” (Cranfield 91), it is perhaps because scholars have been too quick to draw sharp boundaries separating it from the rest of the paper. That provincial newspapers were largely made up of selections from the London press is a fact that has seemed to require those who would argue for the interest and importance of papers like the Chronicle to provide excuses—or at least explanations. It is worth remembering, however, that the London press itself had long depended on such digests of the news.[4] Addison addresses the need for the practice in Spectator No. 452, where he remarks of London newspaper editors that “all of them receive the same Advices from abroad, and very often in the same Words; but their way of Cooking it is so different, that there is no Citizen who has an Eye to the Public Good, that can leave the Coffee-house with Peace of Mind, before he has given every one of them a Reading” (90). What Addison describes is certainly a process of selection, but “cooking” the news is also a means of preparing it for the reader’s digestion: it is a form of domestication. Rather than establishing a clear-cut and absolute separation between “departments” of the newspaper, the digest format is designed to bring otherwise disparate items together to aid the reader’s consumption of the news.

From the standpoint of the provincial newspaper, this practice of domestication entails a range of effects. For one, as historians of nationalism have long recognized, bringing national and international news to the countryside played a significant role in the development of English national identity. Linda Colley notes that, while “many people read them primarily for private reasons, to scan the advertisements or to savour the more horrific and prurient accounts of crime and sexual adventures, newspapers could make the process of reaching out between the various cultures and regions of Britain easier and more common.” She argues that the provincial editors’ borrowings from the London press, including “accounts of the content of parliamentary debates, the vicissitudes of the stock market, the latest court gossip, the chances of war with foreign states or the prospects of peace,” “must have made it easier to imagine Great Britain as a whole” (41). Benedict Anderson aligns the novel and the newspaper as key agents in the creation of the imagined community that is the nation. For Anderson, the juxtaposition of stories drawn together in the pages of the newspaper mark its “profound fictiveness” (33). Like the novel, the newspaper is structured by “temporal coincidence, and measured by clock and calendar” (Benjamin’s “homogeneous, empty time”) (24). This “calendrical coincidence” (33)—in combination with the “mass ceremony” of newspaper reading, a daily ritual the observance and observation of which reassures readers “that the imagined world is visibly rooted in everyday life” (35-36)—makes the newspaper a “vivid figure for the secular, historically clocked, imagined community” (35).

But if provincial newspapers served to bridge the distances that separated local populations and helped them to imagine their place in the larger nation, they did so by establishing their readers’ proximity to the news that they collected and distributed. Moreover, while readers opened the newspaper with divergent interests and “for private reasons,” through the serial coordination of the news—its formal collocation of a variety of stories from a range of places as well as the regularity of its appearance—the newspaper also asserted the proximity of news items to one another. The formal separation of “departments” in the provincial newspaper (really nothing more than breaks between stories seemingly randomly arranged in columns), that is, nevertheless came to describe a single, larger culture. In making the implicit claim that each of the stories it reports (or reproduces) makes some claim on some of its many readers, the newspaper effectively expands what counts as the local. In a sense, Anderson’s account of the nation as an imagined community describes precisely this extension of the local. Reading the newspaper in this way, however, reveals not only the connections between readers—the “meanwhile” that links disparate stories in the paper and serves as the unspoken ground of novelistic narrative—but also the underlying connections between accounts of domestic affairs and political battles, international intrigues and provincial disputes. The daily ritual of reading the newspaper, in others words, itself “rooted in everyday life,” serves in turn to make the paper’s contents, however distant, into features of everyday life as well. Even the provincial papers’ sensationalism and penchant for the bizarre contributes to what might be understood as the domestication of the exceptional. The extraordinary, the newspaper maintains, is part and parcel of ordinary life.[5]

The idea that newspapers like the Hampshire Chronicle made the extraordinary ordinary sheds a different light on Catherine Morland’s worldview in Northanger Abbey. While Austen makes it clear that Catherine’s perspective has been warped by her reading of gothic novels, the novel also raises questions about how inaccurate Catherine’s gothic readings finally prove to be. Henry Tilney’s rebuke after Catherine broaches her suspicion that General Tilney has murdered his wife—“What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians …” (145)—and its effect on Catherine—the next chapter begins, “The visions of romance were over …” (146)—appear to be unequivocal. But the General is revealed to be a domestic tyrant, and the consummation of the novel’s romance plot in Catherine and Henry’s marriage—while couched in everyday language (“To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well” [186])—in no way leaves the romance’s generic conventions behind. Catherine mistakes General Tilney for a gothic villain, and in this the gothic leads her astray. But the Hampshire Chronicle suggests that the gothic is not the only framework for understanding his parental despotism. Country villages have their villains, too.

My point is not that the sensationalism of the provincial newspaper is the key to understanding the final turn of Austen’s satire in Northanger Abbey or elsewhere. It is instead that the newspaper might help us to understand the cultural background against which Catherine Morland’s naïve credulity shades into perceptiveness. Read in the context of the gothic novel, her suspicions are fanciful and mistaken; recast in terms of the provincial newspaper (and its version of the gothic), they reflect a degree of discernment that, while still misguided, must be credited for its insight. Similarly, when Emma reacts to Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax’s engagement by calling it “a system of hypocrisy and deceit,—espionage, and treachery” (314), we are clearly meant to recognize that, in treating their secret as a matter of state, she is overreacting. But Emma’s judgment is no more devoid of insight than Catherine’s (Frank and Jane have been engaged in an elaborate deception), and her hyperbole, whatever it reveals about her character, tells us something important about the scale of the claim that Austen’s novels make for the significance of actions and events that concern “three or four families in a country village.” It is a claim underwritten by the close proximity of stories like those that appeared in every edition of the Hampshire Chronicle to the intrigues and terrors of everyday life.