Recovering Katharine Metcalfe, Jane Austen Editor ~ With Thanks to Janine Barchas

When I have given talks on the publishing history of Pride and Prejudice, one of my favorite editions to share is the little-known Pride and Prejudice edited by K. M. Metcalfe and published by Oxford University Press in 1912.

       Pride and Prejudice, ed. K M Metcalfe, Oxford, 1912

I first “discovered” this edition several years ago when reading an essay by Margaret Lane in her book Purely for Pleasure (London, 1966), a collection of biographical pieces that never quite made it into book form. In a chapter on R. W. Chapman, she writes of an edition of P&P published by Oxford in 1912, edited by K. M. Metcalfe – that is, Katharine Metcalfe, a young tutor at Oxford’s Somerville College [there is, for the trivia minded, a Lady Metcalfe in P&P!]. It was “a new, textually accurate edition of P&P” [Lane] – and included an introduction, an overview of Austen’s life and works; essays on social history, domestic life, and language in the Regency period; as well as criticism and textual notes. There are no illustrations…

R W Chapman in 1928 – OED

At some point in 1912, Metcalfe met Chapman, he an editor at the Oxford University Press – by all accounts it was a whirlwind courtship – they shared a love of book collecting! – and they married in 1913. Metcalfe clearly introduced Chapman to Austen and they planned to jointly produce an edited complete works.  All was cut short by the First World War in which Chapman served, and Metcalfe, now married with children (and thus required to give up her fellowship) “had little time or strength for editorial labours.” [Lane, 197].  Chapman’s Oxford set of the novels was published in 1923. But Metcalfe had also published her own Northanger Abbey four months earlier [see Gilson, E151, what Kathryn Sutherland calls “an unexplained oddity” in her Jane Austen’s Textual Lives (Oxford, 2005)[Sutherland, 43].  The interesting bit is that the text of her own P&P edition (as well as her Northanger Abbey) was used for Chapman’s edition – same pagination, etc. – yet he does not mention her anywhere. In his 1948 Jane Austen: Facts and Problems he pens grateful acknowledgments to those critics…, etc., etc. and “my wife” in his preface.

[photo courtesy of J Barchas]

In Chapman’s Jane Austen: A Critical Bibliography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1953), again there is no mention of Metcalfe, but he annotates her 1912 edition of P&P thusly:

“This unassuming edition is equipped with a perceptive introduction and notes, and anticipates the textual rigours of the next item.” [Chapman, 6

That next item is his 1923 edition of the novels! – which takes up a full page of annotation!

And he makes no mention at all of her 1923 Northanger Abbey!

Sutherland believes that Metcalfe essentially provided the model for Chapman’s editions – and she wonders at his public silence – I wonder what went on at their dinner table!! In studying Chapman’s papers, Sutherland does find that Metcalfe continued to work on editing the novels – there is a note in the margin of the Mansfield Park work in progress: “I want, oh so badly, to do it at least once with you.” [Sutherland, 44].

Don’t’ ever say that bibliography isn’t interesting!! – there is a novel in there somewhere!

So I have long had lingering questions – there has to be more to this story than just these few references in scholarly texts – who was she? what did she look like? how did Chapman seem to take over her earlier editing work? what really was Metcalfe’s influence on Chapman in the making of his great Oxford edition of Austen’s works, and what were her feelings about being surpassed as Austen’s editor, and barely referenced by her own husband for the work she did do.

Well, thanks to the diligent scholarly detective work of Janine Barchas, Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin, and three years in the making, my questions, and yours, have finally been answered! Her essay has just been published online in The Review of English Studies: you will need access to their database – it will be in print in the next issue. [ link:

Finding many letters and notes in both the Chapman and Metcalfe papers at Chawton and the Bodleian, Barchas traces the complete history of Metcalfe’s editing and her hand in the subsequent work by Chapman.

Barchas found her own copy of this edition in an Australian bookstore – it is a presentation copy with Metcalfe’s inscription to her Uncle Hugh, sure proof of pride in her creation:

Presentation copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, edited by K. M. Metcalfe and inscribed by her to ‘Uncle Hugh’ (Oxford, 1912).  Photo courtesy of J Barchas

[You might like to note that Janine has just loaned this copy to the Chawton House Library, where it will be on display in their upcoming Austen/De Stael exhibition beginning in July 2017].


At Chawton, Barchas discovers a letter addressed to the founder of the Chawton Cottage Museum (now the Jane Austen House Museum) where Metcalfe states “I was really the originator in the editing of Jane Austen (when I married my publisher in the process!)” (Letter to T. Edward Carpenter, 22 May 1954) [Barchas, 12].

Ferreting out the documented facts of the Metcalfe / Chapman collaboration, Barchas conveys the truth of the times:

“The mundane facts of the case may be sexist but it would be naïve and anachronistic to think these professional restraints surprising in historical context. Here is not a grand conspiracy but a commonplace wrong. Plenty of parallel examples exist in the history of editing where a woman’s scholarship became merely contributory to that of her male partner…” [Barchas, 7]

Find this essay however you can – it is brilliant in its recovery work of the woman who, long before Chapman, saw the importance of returning to Austen’s original editions to truly give the modern reader a pure printing of her work.

Katharine Marion Metcalfe, 1912. Photo was provided by the Chapman family for use in the RES article by J Barchas. This detail is used with her permission here.


I treasure my copy of Metcalfe’s Pride and Prejudice, despite a fair amount of writing and it smells a tad off (!), but I am very happy to own it, flaws and all!  The introduction is a lovely meditation on Jane Austen and should be more readily available. Find this as well if and where you can. Hopefully the work now done by Professor Barchas might induce a publisher to issue an edition with Metcalfe’s insightful introduction. It should certainly stand proudly aside and before any of Chapman’s works.

About the author: Janine Barchas is Professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin.  She is the author of  Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity (Johns Hopkins University Press, August 2012).  Her  first book, Graphic Design, Print Culture, and the Eighteenth-Century Novel (Cambridge UP, 2003), won the SHARP book prize for best work in the field of book history.  You can visit (and spend hours browsing!) her online digital project What Jane Saw ( which includes the gallery of the British Institution that Jane Austen visited on May 24, 1813 and the “Shakespeare Gallery of 1796.” Barchas, along with colleague Kristina Straub, recently curated an exhibition at the Folger on Will & Jane: Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity. (You can read more about that exhibition here.)

c2017, Jane Austen in Vermont