Publishing Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen and the Writing Profession

by Margie Burns (University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

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“Northanger Abbey” should have been Jane Austen’s first published novel—it had been accepted under the title “Susan” and paid for by the publisher—but it did not appear in print until after her death (and then from a different publisher). “The Publishing Trials of Jane Austen”, drawing on its author’s impressive lifetime intimacy with Austen’s writings and an astonishing trove of vigorous, detailed, and innovative research, finds a more intelligible and complex story in that unaccountable delay than anyone else yet has. Burns discovers new documentation, corrects chronology, gets inside the dynamics and personalities of the publishing world in informed and imaginative ways, makes some carefully considered literary and biographical judgments, and also uncovers some genuine surprises that not just Austen scholars but Austen’s impassioned community of readers generally will very much want to know about. The result is a vivid and nuanced picture of what in day-to-day practical terms it was like to be a superlatively talented writer making her way in a world that hadn’t figured that out yet because it always had other things on its mind.

Dr Gordon Braden
Professor Emeritus
University of Virginia

Like “Northanger Abbey”, Margie Burns’s “Publishing Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen and the Writing Profession” has two parts. First, with impressive archival research and closely-reasoned forensic analysis, Burns examines why Austen chose to submit her novel “Susan” to Crosby and why Crosby chose not to publish it, painting a detailed picture of the late Georgian publishing industry and drawing plausible inferences about Austen’s strategy as a writer as she composed and revised her novel. Burns then uses her conclusions to illuminate our understanding not only of “Northanger Abbey,” which she defends against the common charge of having structural flaws, but also “Mansfield Park,” which she reads as Austen’s remaking of the earlier work. This lively, accessible study will interest both scholars and lay readers of Jane Austen.

Elaine Bander
President, Jane Austen Society of North America

Margie Burns’ book sheds a light on the conundrum of Jane Austin’s first novel, which remained unpublished for more than a decade after the purchase of her manuscript. Burns’ thorough research refutes some established opinions, including the belief that Austin’s unpublished years were also non-writing years, and that the author was occupied with family matters instead of engaged in writing. Burns’ hermeneutical style poses important questions and gives persuasive answers. Moreover, it is bookended by Burn’s infinite expertise on British literature, politics, and history during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Among the controversies discussed by Burns is Austin’s six year-long suspension before she confronted the publisher who bought and advertised her manuscript, but failed to publish it. The author takes us on a fascinating journey revealing the complicated world of publishing in Britain, examining the motives of the editors, writers and publishers in the background of contemporary historic events. Burn’s nonfiction demonstrates a deep understanding of the relations of power among canonical and obscure writers, reputable and non-established publishers. Burns unveils the role of personal interests in the context of anti-slavery and early feminist zeitgeist in the choice and promotion of various topics and genres. More important, Burns knows how to keep the reader’s attention by weaving intriguing, little known facts in the fabric of her uniquely rich, masterful writing.

Dr Tamara Hammond
University of Utah

List of Illustrations


Chapter 1. Advertising Susan : Why Wasn’t Jane Austen Published Earlier?

Chapter 2. The “Nine-hundredth Abridger” Who Buried a Manuscript

Chapter 3. Choosing a Publisher

Chapter 4. 1807: A Different Bath Novel

Chapter 5. 1809: A Different Susan

Chapter 6. Northanger Abbey Revisited: Mansfield Park

Chapter 7. The Unity of Northanger Abbey

Chapter 8. Revising Susan , Catherine , and Northanger Abbey for Publication

Coda. Jane Austen and Walter Scott: Who Influenced Whom?

Appendix: Newspaper advertisements


Romantic period, Enlightenment fiction, Regency fiction market, nineteenth-century advertising, Regency literature, nineteenth-century book reviews, Jane Austen and Walter Scott, gender roles and Regency, Bath (England) novels, gothic novels, gothic fiction parody

Language and Linguistics
Series in Literary Studies
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Bibliographic Information

Book Title
Publishing Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen and the Writing Profession
Physical size
236mm x 160mm
Publication date
March 2021