First edition: Northanger Abbey and PersuasionText by Rebecca Smith, Writer in Residence at Jane Austen’s House, 2009
We can imagine how Jane’s mother and siblings must have felt when their first copies of her posthumously published novels arrived. When they held their first editions of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion they must have felt their loss more keenly, but also that they had something of Jane back again. As they turned the pages they must have thought of Jane writing Northanger Abbey (or Susan, as it was first called) and her excitement when she sold it to Crosby and Co., and how that must have turned to frustration and disappointment when, despite being advertised, the novel never appeared for sale. The opening chapter must have evoked memories of Steventon and of a daughter and sister who, we can guess, “loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house”.
And then, when they read their first copies of Persuasion, the novel that seems like Jane’s swansong (even though she had begun another and, had she lived, would probably have written many more) their minds must have been filled with memories so sad and so sweet of Jane’s last autumn. They must have thought of times they’d had together in the countryside, in Bath and by the sea.
These two short novels seem to give us so much of Jane’s career – a sense of its beginning with Northanger Abbey, the first novel she sold, and Catherine Morland, so young and so in love with books; and then its ending with Persuasion, which, with “the cancelled chapter”, we can surmise Jane struggled to finish, and Anne Elliot, a heroine wiser, sadder and older than any of Jane’s others. Persuasion wasn’t meant to be Jane’s final novel. That lingering sadness wasn’t meant to be the final note.