Pump Rooms and Gothic Terrors: How “Northanger Abbey” Came to Be

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…

But first, I’d like to tell the story of my first reading what has been labeled the least-liked of Austen’s novels:

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:

Continue reading