The Heroine is an epistolary novel (a novel composed as a series of letters) by Eaton Stannard Barrett, published in 1813. This is the first edition, which was published in three volumes. The Heroine is a satire of the Gothic novels that were popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries.
In a Gothic novel, the heroine is usually beautiful and virtuous and suffers great misfortune, often as the victim of a male villain, before achieving a happy ending. The first letter of The Heroine pokes fun at this stereotype. The letter’s narrator, Cherubina, complains that she is too happy to be a heroine:
For me, there is no hope whatever of being reduced to despair. I am condemned to waste my health, bloom and youth, in a series of uninterrupted prosperity … I am anxious to suffer present sorrow, in order to secure future felicity.
We know that Jane Austen read The Heroine, because she mentions it in a letter to her sister Cassandra, dated 2–3 March 1814: ‘I have torn through the 3d vol. of the Heroine, & do not think it falls off. It is a delightful burlesque, particularly on the Radcliffe style’. ‘Radcliffe’ refers to Ann Radcliffe, author of The Mysteries of Udolpho, and arguably the most popular Gothic novelist of the period.
Austen read and enjoyed many Gothic novels. Her knowledge of the genre made her alive to its potential for satire, and likely contributed to her appreciation of The Heroine. Like The Heroine, Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey parodies the conventions of Gothic fiction. Northanger Abbey was not published until 1818, after Austen’s death, but Austen wrote it in 1798–99, so The Heroine was not an influence upon her own Gothic satire.