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Northanger Abbey /ˈnɔrθˌæŋɡər/ was the first of Jane Austen's novels to be completed for publication, though she had previously made a start on Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. According to Cassandra Austen's Memorandum, Susan (as it was first called) was written circa 1798-99. It was revised by Austen for the press in 1803, and sold in the same year for £10 to a London bookseller, Crosby & Co., who decided against publishing. In the spring of 1816, the bookseller was content to sell it back to the novelist's brother, Henry Austen, for the exact sum-£10-that he had paid for it at the beginning, not knowing that the writer was by then the author of four popular novels. (Jane Austen had no public reputation as a writer during her lifetime, as all her novels were published anonymously.)
The novel was further revised by Austen in 1817/18, with the intention of having it published. Amongst other changes, the lead character's name was changed from Susan to Catherine, and Austen retitled the book Catherine as a result.
Austen died in July 1817. Northanger Abbey (as the novel was now called) was brought out posthumously in late December 1817 (1818 given on the title page), as the first two volumes of a four-volume set that also featured another previously unpublished Austen novel, Persuasion. Neither novel was published under the title Jane Austen had given it; the title Northanger Abbey is presumed to have been the invention of Henry Austen, who had arranged for the book's publication.
Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is one of ten children of a country clergyman. Although a tomboy in her childhood, by the age of 17 she is "in training for a heroine" and is excessively fond of reading Gothic novels, among which Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho is a favourite.
Catherine is invited by the Allens, her wealthier neighbours in Fullerton, to accompany them to visit the town of Bath and partake in the winter season of balls, theatre and other social delights. Although initially the excitement of Bath is dampened by her lack of acquaintances, she is soon introduced to a clever young gentleman, Henry Tilney, with whom she dances and converses. Much to Catherine's disappointment, Henry does not reappear in the subsequent week and, not knowing whether or not he has left Bath for good, she wonders if she will ever see him again. Through Mrs Allen's old school-friend Mrs Thorpe, she meets her daughter Isabella, a vivacious and flirtatious young woman, and the two quickly becomes friends. Mrs Thorpe's son John is also a friend of Catherine's older brother, James, at Oxford where they are both students.
James and John arrive unexpectedly in Bath. While Isabella and James spend time together, Catherine becomes acquainted with John, a vain and crude young gentleman who incessantly tells fantastical stories about himself. Henry Tilney then returns to Bath, accompanied by his younger sister Eleanor, who is a sweet, elegant, and respectable young lady. Catherine also meets their father, the imposing General Tilney.