Most readers’ first encounter with the English Gothic is Jane Austen’s gentle satire of the genre, “Northanger Abbey.” The library’s exhibit displays a first edition copy, turned to the page where Isabella Thorpe recommends seven of her favorite novels to the heroine Catherine Morland.
“For a long time, people thought Austen made up the titles in Isabella’s list. Then in the 1920s, Michael Sadleir stumbled across a few of them and made it his mission to collect the rest,” said the collection’s manager, David Whitesell, a curator in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Sadleir was a distinguished British publisher, antiquarian bookseller, novelist and bibliographer who fell under the spell of the English Gothic novels and steadily amassed a large collection of them. Austen’s novel became an unexpected guide to finding the most popular gothic novels of the 19th century, and Sadleir was eventually able to acquire all seven books – known as the Northanger Septet – that she lists.
The University is one of only a few places on Earth to have all seven. The collection came to UVA almost by chance after Sadleir decided to sell it in the 1930s.