Today is Jane Austen’s birthday, and what better way to celebrate than to begin Sarah Emsley’s blog series on “ Youth and Experience: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion“ – a collection of essays by various scholars and Austen bloggers to be posted over the next several months – today starting here with a post on the very bumpy convoluted journey of Northanger Abbey into print. Austen would be 242; her Northanger Abbey and Persuasion joint publication will be 200 on December 2oth. Lots of reasons to celebrate!
As we begin this bicentennial celebration of the publication of Northanger Abbey (along with its companion Persuasion) we must first give full voice to how this publication came to be. And what we find are lots of questions, much scholarly debate on when Austen wrote it, when and how much she revised it, and why it sat around for so long before seeing the light of day. This publishing journey of NA is a fascinating story, pieced together by scholars from Austen’s letters, extant publisher records, and a good deal of speculation. And we still have a host of unanswered questions…
I did not read it until about 27 years ago; it was the one Austen book I had sought to avoid (all that bad PR)…when I first read it I was sorely disappointed and thought it silly, and Henry a condescending boor; I read it exactly one year later for a seminar, and found it quite funny, almost laugh-out-loud funny, and Henry quite charming. I read it again several years later and just enjoyed it thoroughly, finding more humor and more depth in every sentence; and now, after reading it a good number of times more, very close readings, even Underlining (I NEVER do this!), and re-reading sentences, looking up all references, etc., I have to say that I LOVE this book, there is so much in it, so very funny, so very serious in its lessons, and Henry is quite to die for! So many people I talked to about this book have said that they either have not read it, or didn’t like it when they did (I tell everyone that you must read it at least three times)…. and then there are the few that have read it and re-read it and find that this novel, really Austen’s tribute to the Novel and Reading (one must note that in addition to the nine “horrid” novels discussed by Isabella and Catherine, there are a total of twenty-two references to books: novels, histories, landscape sources, philosophy, Shakespeare, etc. ….!), is quite an amazing literary jewel! Indeed, it has four of my all-time favorite quotes:
If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad…
“I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”
A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it was well as she can.
As we begin to look at the genesis of Northanger Abbey, with a foray into the very interesting history of publishing in early 19th century England , we also find a very clear picture of how involved Jane Austen really was in wanting to see her work in print. And while Northanger Abbey is often dismissed as the first novel of an “immature” Jane, i.e. one step above her Juvenilia, NA was actually the third novel she wrote, after Pride & Prejudice, initially called “First Impressions” (written in 1796-7 and published in 1813) and Sense & Sensibility (written in 1797, published in 1811), NA was the first to be taken by a publisher and is thus considered Austen’s first completed work.
[An Aside here: Austen’s father submitted “First Impressions” to the publisher Richard Cadell in 1797 – it was returned by post – and this was in later years revised to become Pride and Prejudice and published in 1813. So while Austen may have considered her “First Impressions” to be completed enough for publication in November of 1797, it was not until 1803 that she felt that her “Susan” was ready for public consumption, while neither S&S or P&P were so ready…]
We know from Cassandra Austen’s note on the composition of the novels, that NA (and spelled North-Hanger Abbey, proof of how to pronounce the title, NOT Northanger with a soft “g”) was “written about the years 98 & 99.” (See Chapman’s edition of the Minor Works for a facsimile of this note, following p. 242). This is where there is much scholarly debate – some believe it was written earlier in the mid-1790s and therefore before P&P and S&S. Mandal writes, citing Brian Southam that:
There is compelling internal evidence within the body of the published Northanger Abbey, which supports the theory that a direct-narrative Susan was initially composed after a definitely epistolary Elinor and Marianne and (to other commentators) a potentially epistolary First Impressions (509).
And Mandal concludes that 1798-99 saw the first and most substantial stage of composition, yet at least a second phase took place before submitting the manuscript to Crosby in 1803. Austen’s reference to Belinda, published in 1801, shows work on it after that date, as well as the Bath scenes, where Austen moved in 1801. I’ll discuss below the changes that were made between 1803 and 1816 when Austen retrieves the manuscript back from Crosby, and writes the following “Advertisement,” apologizing for the book being outdated and rebukes the publisher quite tellingly:
BY THE AUTHORESS
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 further, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worth while to purchase what he did not intend 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.
[“Advertisement,” NA, 1st ed. 1818; see the online exhibit at Lehigh University: https://omeka.lehigh.edu/exhibits/show/austen/austen/northanger_persuasion ]
So what happened in 1803 and why wasn’t it published? What is known is that the manuscript of “Susan” (as it was first titled) was sold anonymously by William Seymour, Henry Austen’s lawyer (and possible suitor of Jane Austen! ), to the publisher Benjamin Crosby & Co. for ₤10.  Though advertised in Crosby’s 1803 catalogue Flowers of Literature of works being in the press, as well as The Dorchester and Sherborne Journal of August 26, 1803: “In the Press – Susan, 2 vols.” , Crosby never published it, and speculation as to why has again been the subject of much scholarly debate: Was is because Crosby published Ann Radcliffe’s widely popular gothic mysteries and perhaps did not want to undermine them by publishing this “parody”? Or perhaps we agree with Margaret Kirkham’s theory that the publisher shied away from Austen’s unpopular feminist views and her defense of the novel in this work? Jan Fergus posits that perhaps the advance notice produced no demand and why Crosby decided not to publish it after all . However, Mandal offers further evidence that Crosby was actually in financial difficulties at the time, and that, along with the “vagaries of the book-trade itself, rather than the textual specifics of “Susan” itself…” (518), is the reason Crosby did not publish.
No one knows for sure, but Austen did nothing about it until 1809, when she may have been spurred on by seeing an advertisement that February for a novel titled Susan to be soon published by a J. Booth. Austen sends off a biting letter addressed to B. Crosby & Co. under the name of “Mrs Ashton Dennis” demanding an explanation for her “Susan” never being published, inferring she had a second manuscript and would take it elsewhere if they did not publish it. She signed the latter “MAD” – always the humorist!:
To B. Crosby & Co. [Letter 68(D)] – letter now at the British Library
Wednesday 5 April 1809
In the Spring of the year 1803 a MS. Novel in 2 vol. entitled Susan was sold to you by a Gentleman of the name of Seymour, & the purchase money £10. rec’d 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 extraordinary 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 Yourselves 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
Direct to Mrs Ashton Dennis
Post office, Southampton
[Messrs. Crosbie [sic] & Co.,
Stationers’ Hall Court
What is interesting to note here is that Austen had a second copy of the manuscript of “Susan” – isn’t it surprising that neither this nor the copy that was eventually returned to her and used for its publication in 1818 have survived? All that remains is this scrap of paper now at the Pierpont Morgan:
[You can read about this here: http://www.janeausten.ac.uk/edition/ms/SusanHeadNote.html
Crosby’s response follows as Letter 68(A) – the letter is from Richard Crosby, and the source of the confusion through the years of scholars believing the publishing firm was called Richard Crosby & Co.:
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 any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it, Should you or any one else we shall take proceedings to stop the Sale. The MS. shall be yours for the same as we paid for it.
London Ap 8 1809
For B. Crosby & Co
I am yours etc.
Mrs Ashton Dennis
Post Office Southampton
[You can see a facsimile of this letter now housed in the British Library along with an explanation of the pencil markings under the letter indicating it was signed by J Austen, later written over as Mrs Ashton Dennis, in Axelrad, Persuasions 16 (1994): 37.]
This nasty rejection left Austen little to do but put thoughts of publishing “Susan” aside – she could not afford to buy it back (to put this in perspective, she was living on an allowance of ₤20 / year). She wrote this letter to Crosby in April 1809 – a few short months later she and her mother and sister were settled in Chawton. Mandal shows that this year of 1809 was a watershed year for Austen: she returned to her Juvenilia (there are a few changes indicating this dating), she writes to Crosby, and she begins on what was to be the beginning of her publishing career by reworking her S&S (1811) and P&P (1813) (524).
It was not until 1816, after the success of Emma, that Austen was finally able to purchase back the manuscript for the ₤10. As Austen’s nephew notes in his Memoir, Henry took great pleasure in informing Crosby that “the work which has been so lightly esteemed
was by the author of Pride and Prejudice.” She changed the title to “Catherine” and wrote her “Advertisement.” Susan Wolfson calls Crosby (“He had kicked it to the curb”) and his failure to publish NA “one of the signal blunders in London publication history, rivalled only by Cadell’s taking a pass on Pride and Prejudice” (2, 6).
What is not known is whether Austen, other than changing the name of her novel to “Catherine,” did any other revisions to that second manuscript and then again in 1816 when the first manuscript was returned to her. No manuscripts survive as noted above, so all is speculation – the Letters give only an incomplete picture of her working on any of her novels. But the rather stark difference between the Bath and Abbey parts of NA has led many scholars to argue over the how, when, and whys of her revisions:
- there are a few internal references added after the initial composition dates of 1798-9: there is the inclusion of Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda, published in 1801;
- Wolfson cites “Union-passage” (Vol. I, ch. 7) as a clue to work after 1807, as this street was named “Cock Lane” until that date (Wolfson, 114).
- But all the references in the Bath scenes are from the late 1790s; and all of the “horrid” novels cited are pre-1798. Austen visited Bath for the first time in late 1797. She visited again in May – June 1799 (there are four letters to Cassandra from Bath – see Le Faye, Letters 19-22). Her October 24 letter mentions that her father is “now reading the “Midnight Bell”, which he has got from the library…” – The Midnight Bell by Francis Lathom was published in 1798 and is one of Isabella Thorpe’s must-read gothic novels.
“Company at Play” – Thomas Rowlandson, The Comforts of Bath (London, 1798)
- Brian Southam believes that Austen heavily revised the novel between August 1816 and January 27, 1817, when she began work on her left-unfinished Sanditon. Narelle Shaw continues Southam’s argument by suggesting that the parts of Northanger Abbey that incorporate instances of free indirect speech were definitely added after the writing of her mature novels, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion (which was finished in August 1816), and these passages are mostly to be found in the second part of NA and occur most frequently in the speech of General Tilney.
But Austen lays it all aside after writing her “Advertisement” – she writes to her niece Fanny Knight on 13 March 1817 [Ltr. 153]:
I will answer your kind questions more than you expect.- Miss Catherine is put upon the Shelve for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out;- but I have something ready for Publication, which may perhaps appear about a twelvemonth hence. It is short, about the length of Catherine. – This is to yourself alone…
And that work “ready for Publication” was Persuasion.
[Another ASIDE here: For many years, later readers of NA believed that Isabella’s list of “horrid” novels was a product of Austen’s imagination; it was not until 1901 when it was noted that they were all actual romances, and it was not until 1927 when Michael Sadleir showed that Austen’s selection of these novels was very deliberate. These novels were largely unavailable to the reading public of later generations, and thus it was and is NA that has survived the test of time! See Persuasions 29 for an essay linking NA with Regina Maria Roche’s Clermont in plot and character . See also Susan Allen Ford’s 2012 article in Persuasions On-Line for an analysis of these gothic novels].
We can’t know as Austen put aside her work-in-progress Sanditon, as her illness worsened and there was little hope for improvement, if she discussed with her sister Cassandra or brother Henry, what was to be done with her two largely finished but unpublished works. It has been written that Henry and Cassandra gave both titles to these last works: “Catherine” became Northanger Abbey, and “The Elliots” became Persuasion, both published together in a 4-volume set only five months after Austen’s death in July 1817. Henry Austen wrote his “Biographical Notice” , which for the first time gave up the “Great Secret” of the author being Jane Austen, though still not stated on the title page. This notice set in motion the view of Austen as the sweetest of characters imbued with high moral and Christian values, who never said a nasty thing about anyone… thankfully, we now know better.
But why the rush to publish? We can assume the Austen family wanted to take advantage of getting her last works into print while her earlier works were still selling. They did publish again with John Murray, Austen’s favorite “Rogue,” and by that September he had the manuscripts: Murray wrote in a September 9 letter to Lord Byron that he was in the process of publishing “two new Novels left by Miss Austen—the ingenious Author of Pride & Prejudice—who I am sorry to say died about 6 weeks ago” (Gilson, xxx). And sometime after December 4, Murray wrote a letter to Lady Aberdeen: “I am printing two short but very clever novels by poor Miss Austen, the author of Pride and Prejudice” (Gilson, 85).
They published again on commission with the author taking the risk and paying all the up-front costs with 10% going to the publisher. Murray advertised in The Courier on 17 December 1817 that “Northanger Abbey, a Romance; and Persuasion, a Novel” were to be published on 20 December in 4 volumes at 24 shillings. The Morning Chronicle of December 19, 1817 states the works “To-morrow will be published.” The title page is dated 1818, “By the Author of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ ‘Mansfield Park,’ Etc.” The “Biographical Notice” dated Dec. 13, 1817 with a Postscript dated Dec. 20, 1817 and Austen’s “Advertisement” served as prefaces.
Wedded with Persuasion:
What it looked like… [See the Grossman essay noted below for an analysis of why NA and P were published together, not just because they were handed to Murray that way as the two remaining Austen novels, but having more to do with publishing trends at the time – and how succeeding publishers either did or did not re-print them together in one or more volumes.]
- 4 volumes
- 12mo or about 7″ tall, with text on pages not crowded but about 5-8 words / line and about 20 lines / page:
[Image: Lehigh University]
- Blue-grey paper-covered boards and off-white or grey-brown backs / and or white printed labels (the 4 volumes would have been similar to this 1st edition copy of Pride and Prejudice in its original boards at the National Library of Scotland)
- Price: 24 shillings (all 4 volumes or 6s / volume): this was a lot of money at the time; many sold to circulating libraries rather than to individuals
- 1750 copies printed, sold quickly, 321 copies left at end of 1818
- Cost to print: ₤238 / paper; ₤188 / printing. The 2 volumes of each title were printed by different printing houses: Northanger Abbey by C. Roworth; Persuasion by T. Davison
- Copyright retained by Austen family; published at Author’s expense, with 10% commission to publisher
- Total profit to family after expenses: ₤515, more than she made in her lifetime
- It seems, according to Gilson, that copies were offered for sale in Australia in 1821
- There was no second edition and was not published again in England until May of 1833 in the Bentley’s “Standard Novels” series with NA and P again being published together, this time in one volume, selling for 6 shillings
- First published in America in 1833 by Carey & Lea in two volumes, with “Miss Austen” on the title page and Henry’s biographical notice included. The text includes minor variations, mostly referring to the Deity. Persuasion was published separately in 1832:[Image: Gilson, 121]
- Translated by Hyacinthe de Ferrieres and published in France in 1824 as L’Abbaye de Northanger.
The earliest reviews and comments on Northanger Abbey, often with a comparison to Persuasion as part of the commentary, comprise a long (and interesting!) read that I shall post separately in the next few weeks. Please check back… to give you a taste, I will mention here one of my favorites:
Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, May 1818 – an unsigned notice of NA and P
We have no hesitation in saying, that the delightful writer of the works now before us, will be one of the most popular of English novelist’s… and if we could point out the individual who has attained the highest perfection in the art of novel writing, we should little scruple in fixing upon her.
So all Good (and True!) so far…but finishing up with a commentary on her admirable character as gleaned from the “Biographical Notice”:
We are very certain that Miss Austen’s writings (novels as they are, and filled with accounts of balls and plays, and such abominations,) could [not] have been formed without a feeling of the spirit of Christianity. 
Where you can see the First Edition: [see Gilson for a partial list]
As we are surely unable to see the Queen’s copy at Windsor Castle, and if you aren’t lucky enough to own a copy yourself (see below for current values), you might find these few options more accessible:
Goucher College in Baltimore, the Bodleian, the British Library, the Boston Public Library, Cambridge University, Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Columbia, the Library of Congress, Yale, Houghton Library at Harvard, the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, Pierpont Morgan Library, Oxford…and the list goes on.
Perhaps the finest copy to be seen is the one at the University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center – they have two copies, one is Cassandra Austen’s own, with her signature – though this is a copy of her P&P, signed Cassandra Elizabeth Austen.
Volume 2 of Northanger Abbey / Persuasion copy has the inscription “Emma Austen” – Emma Austen-Leigh (wife of Austen’s nephew James Edward of the Memoir fame):
Images from: https://sites.utexas.edu/ransomcentermagazine/2013/02/05/researching-austen-in-austin-archival-research-reveals-connections-between-jane-austens-characters-and-real-life-celebrities-and-politicians/
What is it worth today?
Values are determined first by how close the work is to the original publication – i.e. it is more valuable in its original plain boards; any re-binding of those original blue-grey paper boards, which is what early owners would have done with their purchase, is lower in value.
The next valuation marker is supply and demand: how many copies are there out there? and who wants them? Austen has been in demand for a long time and prices have gone up dramatically.
The third marker is condition, condition, condition, the all-important tipping point in whether a book holds its estimated value or will be worth less.
Looking at auction records over the past few years shows us prices ranging from £43,000 in original boards to £4,000 – £8,000 rebound. There are currently four first editions for sale on Abebooks, all are rebound, and range in condition and price from $10,000 (rebound in two volumes) to $25,000 (an interesting association copy owned by Louisa Taylor, wife of Edward Taylor, who was perhaps Austen’s first Romantic Interest). If only Jane Austen could have seen some of these profits!
Little did Jane Austen, or Henry or Cassandra, or anyone in her family realize that this novel that went through so many incarnations – Austen clearly wanted this story published – and finally seeing the light of day after Austen’s death, bring such joy to so many readers (and various illustrators) through its past 200 years. Is there any character better than Catherine Morland, overwrought by her gothic novels yes, yet also full of the common sense her parents gave her and so able to intuitively figure out the people around her…..?
Is there a more horse-obsessed and obnoxious character in all of literature than John Thorpe??
And is there a better Hero than our Henry? who looks terrific in a greatcoat and drives so well…
Please stay tuned for upcoming weekly posts at Sarah Emsley’s blog series on Northanger Abbey and Persuasion – A hearty thank you Sarah for inviting me to participate again!
- See Deirdre Le Faye, “Jane Austen’s Laggard Suitor,” Notes and Queries 47.3 (2000), 301-4., cited in Mandal, 512; and the mention in http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol30no2/lefaye.html
- Gilson and others have continued to refer to Crosby as Richard Crosby & Co due to the letter he wrote to Austen in 1809; more recent scholarship has found that the publisher was actually Benjamin Crosby & Co. – Richard being either a younger brother or a son – see Mandal, 512; Le Faye’s 4th edition of the Letters makes this correction as well.
- See Mandal, 519.
- See Jan Fergus, Jane Austen: A Literary Life, 112.
- Tenille Nowak. “Regina Maria Roche’s ‘Horrid’ Novel: Echoes of Clermont in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.” Persuasions 29 (2007): 184-93.
- For a new take on who actually may have written this first essay on Jane Austen, see the just published Juliette Wells’ essay in Persuasions On-Line 38.1 (2017): “A Note on Henry Austen’s Authorship of the “Biographical Notice.’” http://www.jasna.org/vol38no1/wells/ . Also see Peter Sabor’s upcoming post on Sarah Emsley’s blog about this notice.
- Brian Southam, Critical Heritage, 266-68.
[Note that the CE and HM Brock and Hugh Thomson illustrations are all from Mollands.net.]
A Select Bibliography:
Aiken, Joan. “How Might Jane Austen have Revised Northanger Abbey?” Persuasions 7 (1985): 42-54.
Austen-Leigh, J. E. A Memoir of Jane Austen. [Bentley: 1st ed. 1870; 2nd ed. 1871. Also Kathryn Sutherland’s edited Oxford ed. of 2002.]
Axelrad, Arthur M. “Jane Austen’s ‘Susan’ Restored.” Persuasions 15 (1993): 44-45.
_____. “Of Which I Avow Myself the Authoress…J. Austen: The Jane Austen – Richard Crosby Correspondences.” Persuasions 16 (1994): 36-38.
Clery, E. J. Jane Austen: The Banker’s Sister. London: Biteback, 2017.
Ehrenpreis, Anne Henry. “Introduction to Northanger Abbey.” Penguin, 1972. An excellent intro to the novel, with notes on all the books cited by Austen, and a nice discussion of the “horrid” novels.
Fergus, Jan. Jane Austen: A Literary Life. Macmillan, 1991.
_____. “The Professional Woman Writer,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, edited by Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. Cambridge UP, 1997.
Ford, Susan Allen. “A Sweet Creature’s Horrid Novels: Gothic Reading in Northanger Abbey.” Persuasions On-Line 33.1 (2012). Web. http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol33no1/ford.html.
Gilson, David. A Bibliography of Jane Austen. Oak Knoll, 1997 (reprint with new introduction).
Grogan, Claire. “Introduction to Northanger Abbey.” Broadview Literary Texts, 1996.
Grossman, Jonathan H. “Anne Elliot Bound up in Northanger Abbey: The History of the Joint Publication of Jane Austen’s First and Last Complete Novels.” Persuasions 27 (2005): 195-207.
Johnson, R. Brimley. “Introduction to Northanger Abbey.” London: Dent, 1950.
Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: A Family Record. 2nd ed. Cambridge UP, 2004.
_____. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Abrams, 2002.
_____. Jane Austen’s Letters. 4th ed. Oxford UP, 2011.
Litz, A. Walton. “Chronology of Composition.” The Jane Austen Companion. Ed. J. David Grey, et al. Macmillan, 1986. 47-52.
Mandal, A. A. “Making Austen Mad: Benjamin Crosby and the Non-Publication of “Susan.” Review of English Studies 57.213 (2006): 507-25.
Modert, Jo. “Chronology of the Novels.” The Jane Austen Companion, 53-59.
Shaw, Narelle. “Free Indirect Speech and Jane Austen’s 1816 Revision of Northanger Abbey.” Studies in English Literature 30.4 (1990): 591-601.
Southam, Brian, ed. Jane Austen: The Critical Heritage. Routledge, 1979.
_____, ed. Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (Casebook Series). Macmillan, 1976. A compilation of reviews from early contemporary critics to the present.
Tanner, Tony. “Anger in the Abbey.” Jane Austen. Harvard, 1986. I love this collection of essays on each of the novels…every one is interesting and insightful.
Wolfson, Susan, ed. Northanger Abbey: An Annotated Edition. Belknap – Harvard UP, 2014.
And see also the Northanger Abbey page on this JAIV blog: https://janeausteninvermont.blog/the-works/northanger-abbey/