Northanger Abbey traveled a long and torturous journey to publication. According to her sister, Cassandra, Jane Austen wrote the book in “about ‘98 and ‘99” when she was still in her twenties. After Jane completed First Impressions, her early version of Pride and Prejudice, her father attempted to get the book published. He met with no success. Jane’s hopes of becoming a successful author were raised expectantly when her brother Henry sold Susan to a respected publishing house. Claire Tomalin writes in Jane Austen: A Life (p182):
She copied out and revised Northanger Abbey (still called Susan). Henry offered to take over from Mr. Austen as her agent, and deputed one of his business partners; a lawyer named William Seymour, to offer the manuscript to Richard Crosby, a London Publisher. This was at the start of 1803. Crosby paid 10 [pounds] for the manuscript, promising early publication. He then advertised the book in a brochure called Flowers of Literature as being “in the press”; but after this nothing more happened.
The book’s not being published was a curious development, for Crosby and Co. was the fourth most prolific publisher of novels during the 1800s in London. The income of ten pounds could not be dismissed as a paltry amount, for the sale represented half of Jane’s allowance of 20 pounds per year. The novel continued to languish on Mr. Crosby’s shelves for six years, however, before a frustrated Jane decided to take matters into her own hands. In 1809 she wrote the publisher under the assumed name of Mrs. Ashton Dennis:
Why had the book never been published, she asked, since “early publication was stipulated for at the time of sale”. If the publishers had lost their copy, she would undertake to provide another one. Should they not answer her letter, she would feel free to attempt publication elsewhere. It was a firm letter, and got a firm answer. Richard Crosby wrote by return to say that they had indeed bought Susan outright for ten pounds cash, “but there was not any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it”. He went on to threaten proceedings if she published elsewhere, and offer her the manuscript back for the ten pounds it had fetched. – Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen, Jane Aiken Hodge, p 112. (To read the letters, go to Northanger Abbey: Behind the Scenes, Jane Austen Centre)
Of course, Jane did not have the money to repurchase the novel, and it remained unpublished for another seven years. In 1816, under Jane’s instructions, her brother Henry bought back the book for ten pounds. He “then had the pleasure of telling the dilatory publisher that the book he had neglected was by the author of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility” (Aiken Hodge, 174-175). During this frustrating time, another novel named Susan was published. As Jane revised her book for the third time, she changed the heroine’s name to Catherine Moreland. She then wrote a short advertisement to prepare the book for publication and to explain why certain parts of the book had been rendered obsolete by the passage of time:
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE AUTHORESS, TO NORTHANGER ABBEYTHIS little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertised, and why the business proceeded no farther, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worthwhile to purchase what he did not think it worthwhile to publish seems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the public have any other concern than, as some observation is necessary upon those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete. The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes.
Then, inexplicably, Jane herself delayed publication, writing to her niece Fanny in March, 1817: “Miss Catherine is put upon the shelves for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out.” Sadly, Jane never saw this novel or Persuasion in print. Henry, her favorite brother, arranged to have the novel he renamed Northanger Abbey published posthumously along with Persuasion in late December, 1817. In his foreword he wrote:
The following pages are the production of a pen which has already contributed in no small degree to the entertainment of the public. And when the public, which has not been insensible to the merits of “Sense and Sensibility,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park,” and “consolatory to think that, as she never deserved disapprobation, so, in the circle of her family and friends, she never met reproof; that her wishes were not only reasonable, but gratified; and that to the little disappointments incidental to human life was never added, even for amoment, an abatement of goodwill from any who knew her.,” shall be informed that the hand which guided that pen is now mouldering in the grave, perhaps a brief account of Jane Austen will be read with a kindlier sentiment than simple curiosity. Short and easy will be the task of the mere biographer. A life of usefulness, literature, and religion, was not by any means a life of event. To those who lament their irreparable loss, it is
Click here to read the rest of Henry’s touching foreword and on the links below to learn more about this fascinating tale.
- Find an interesting book review by Joan Aiken on Claire Tomalin’s and David Nokes’ biographies of Jane Austen, in which she puts forth her own conjecture on why it took Jane so long to publish her three early novels, and about the 10 year drought in her literary output.
- Fronticepiece of the book: Wikipedia
- C.E. Brock Illustration from Molland’s
- Jane Austen, The World of Her Novels, Deirdre Le Faye,
- Only A Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen, Jane Aiken Hodge, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc, NY, 1972, SBN 698-10425-0
- Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin, Albert A. Knopf, NY, 1998, ISBN 0-679-44628-1