Begun when Jane Austen was in her early twenties, intended in part as a spoof of the ‘Gothic’ horror novels in vogue in the 1790s, Northanger Abbey had a peculiarly protracted publishing history. Austen wrote a first draft, titled Susan, between August 1798 and June 1799. She revised the manuscript in the winter of 1802 and sold the copyright to London publisher B. Crosby & Company for £10 in April 1803. Instead of rushing the novel into print, however, Crosby let it collect dust for many years. Even after Austen's masterpiece Pride and prejudice (given to another publisher) proved a hit with the English reading public in 1813, Crosby did nothing. Why the inactivity? It is possible, since Austen's fiction appeared anonymously, that he did not connect Pride and prejudice with the manuscript in his possession.
At the beginning of 1816 Henry-Thomas Austen, Jane's older brother, paid back the £10 and retrieved Susans from Crosby. Taking a break from the novel she was working on at the time, Persuasion, Jane revised her manuscript again, changing the title to Northanger Abbey and the name of the heroine to Catherine. Time was against her, however. She did not live to see either Northanger Abbey or Persuasion in print.
While completing the latter, she was stricken with a mysterious illness (some commentators say it was Addison's disease; others suggest Hodgkin's disease) that eventually killed her, at age forty-one, in July 1817. A few months after her death, Henry-Thomas took Northanger Abbey and Persuasion to John Murray, the foremost literary publisher in Britain. They were published together as a four-volume set. Both stories are set partly in the town of Bath and both are concerned, like all of Austen's fiction, with the difficulties of finding a worthy husband, but the links between them are otherwise not especially strong. They were probably issued together for commercial reasons. In the Regency period it was the norm for novels to appear in a three-volume format, but Northanger Abbey and Persuasion were both too short for this treatment. Released together, they made a a more substantial package.
Henry-Thomas contributed an introductory essay in which he revealed his sister's identity for the first time, but her name (too unfamiliar to readers to have much selling power) was left off the title-page, which simply says ‘by the author of "Pride and prejudice," "Mansfield Park," &c’.
The Library's set was purchased from the Surrey-based antiquarian bookseller Charles Traylen in January 1983.