Behind The Scenes: Northanger Abbey

Jane's first completed novel, Northanger Abbey, was originally accepted by a publisher in 1803 and was bought for the sum of £10. The publisher who purchased the manuscript was Benjamin Crosby & Co, who agreed that upon its sale it would be swiftly published. Six years had passed and the novel was still unpublished, resulting in a letter being sent by Jane to Crosby under a pseudonym expressing her displeasure at the delay. Jane told Crosby that if they delayed publishing her novel any longer, she would be "at liberty to secure the publication of my work, by applying elsewhere". 

After denying the agreement for an early publication date, Crosby offered to sell the manuscript back to Jane for the original price it was sold, and in 1816 her brother Henry bought it back from Crosby. Northanger Abbey was published posthumously in 1818, having been renamed three times and withheld from public view for over thirteen years. According to her sister Cassandra, Jane had written Northanger Abbey at some point between 1798 and 1799, thus meaning she was in her early twenties when she completed her first full work.

Jane retouched the novel in 1816 when the manuscript was first returned to her, although we know at that time she was already working on Persuasion and likely explains why she stopped short of revising the novel to a fuller extent. Jane added an interesting preface to the novel when revising the manuscript, indicating a conscious reflectiveness. 

"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". 

Northanger Abbey is weaved full of romance, suspense and comedy. Jane's unlikely heroine, Catherine Morland, is portrayed as a naive young lady who slowly matures as she moves away from her family to Bath and encounters new acquaintances. The novel is often referred to as a coming of age story and refers to the reading of novels as linked to the reading of the wider world. Jane gently satires the Gothic genre, as well as the polite manners of eighteenth century society and their educational treatises.

It is a commonly held belief that Jane first visited Bath in 1797, either with her mother or sister, staying with her maternal uncle and aunt. It is quite probable this journey inspired Jane to set a great deal of Northanger Abbey in the city, and she paid particular attention to The Pump Room.

"In the Pump-room one so newly arrived in Bath must be met with, and that building she had already found so favourable for the discovery of female excellence, and the completion of female intimacy, so admirably adapted for secret discourses and unlimited confidence, that she was most reasonably encouraged to expect another friend from within its walls."

Jane's letter to Crosby & Co publishers:

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.--

If this blog has got you in the mood for revisiting Northanger Abbey, why not take a look at our Northanger Abbey Gift Collection, and in particular, this Luxury Hardback Edition, featuring an embossed cover and sophisticated silver edged pages.

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