Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey Study Guide

Jane Austen wrote Northhanger Abbey while she was residing in her childhood home in Steventon, England, but the novel is largely set in the resort town of Bath, where Austen visited for a month-long vacation in 1797. Originally entitled Susan, the first draft of the novel was written between 1798-9, and it was the earliest novel Austen completed and intended for publication. In 1803, Austen made the final changes to Susan and sold it to publisher Benjamin Crosby and Co. for 10 pounds, but for unknown reasons the publisher never saw fit to print the manuscript. After enduring years of frustration, Austen bought back the manuscript in 1816, several years after her famous novels Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park had already been published. Austen changed the heroine’s name to Catherine By that time, Austen was already ill, and on July 18th 1817 she would die of kidney disease, five months before her earliest novel was published as Northanger Abbey. Her brother Henry oversaw the publication of the novel, and the Biographical Notice he added to the novel was the first public disclosure of Jane Austen’s identity as an author, though her friends and families had enjoyed her private readings for years. In the Notice, Henry mournfully laid out the merits of his recently deceased sister, remembering that “her temper was as polished as her wit.” Henry also attached a Postscript to the Notice in which he quotes from a letter that Austen herself wrote a few weeks before her death. In the letter, Austen modestly describes her prose as a “little bit of ivory, two inches wide, on which I work with a brush so fine as to produce little effect after much labor.” But if Austen’s novels are akin to miniature portraits, her literary brush never fails to portray the subtle shades of each character, and her skill is already evident in her youthful novel Northanger Abbey.