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Behind the Scenes: Northanger Abbey

First accepted by a publisher in 1803, Northanger Abbey was eventually published posthumously in 1818. In it Austen weaves a romance full of suspense and comedy around the heroine Catherine Morland’s first foray into society. The style of the novel is a unique hybrid; along the way Austen parodies the eighteenth-century novel of manners, the Gothic novel, and even the educational treatises of the time.

From The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers

The manuscript for Northanger Abbey (written, according to Cassandra Austen, in 1798-99) was sold by the Rev. Austen to Richard Crosby & Co. in 1803 under the title Susan. It was the first of Austen’s stories to be sold and commanded the princely sum of £10. It is clear that Crosby & Co. had no idea of its value. Though they advertised it as a forthcoming work, they let it rest on their shelves, unread and unpublished. After the sale of Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen was at liberty to buy back her work, though under and assumed name. Crosby & Co. should never know how close they came to success.

After retouching the work and writing a preface explaining to her readers why they might find some of her story antiquated, she set the work aside. Though Austen called the work Miss Catherine in private, it would not be printed until after her death in 1817, when it was retitled Northanger Abbey and bundled, by her brother Henry, into a four volume set which also included Persuasion.

 

Letters Relating to Northanger Abbey

From Jane Austen’s Correspondence

Wednesday 5 April 1809

Gentlemen

In the Spring of the year 1803 a MS. Novel in 2 vol. entitled Susan was sold to your by a Gentleman of the name of Seymour, & the purchase money £ 10. recd at the same time. Six years have since passed, & this work of which I avow myself the Authoress, has never to the best of my knowledge, appeared in print, tho’ an early publication was stipulated for at the time of Sale. I can only account for such an extra-ordinary circumstance by supposing the MS by some carelessness to have been lost; & if that was the case, am willing to supply You with another Copy if you are disposed to avail yourself of it, & will engage for no farther delay when it comes into your hands.–It will not be in my power from particular circumstances to command this Copy before the Month of August, but then, if you accept my proposal, you may depend on receiving it. Be so good as to send me a Line in answer, as soon as possible, as my stay in this place will not exceed a few days. Should no notice be taken of this Address, I shall feel myself at liberty to secure the publication of my work, by applying elsewhere. I am Gentlemen &c &c

MAD.–

Direct to Mrs Ashton Dennis

Post office, Southampton


Madam

We have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 5th inst. It is true that at the time mentioned we purchased of Mr Seymour a MS. Novel entitled Susan and paid him for it the sum of 10 £ for which we have his stamped receipt as a full consideration, but there was not at any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it, Should you or anyone else we shall take proceedings to stop the sale. The MS. shall be yours for the same as we paid for it.

For R. Crosby & Co

I am yours etc.

Richard Crosby


 

Advertisement by the Authoress to Northanger Abbey

This 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 worth while to purchase what he did not think it worth while 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.

 

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