To mark International Women’s Day we’d like to inform you of a very special recent addition to our collection – first edition copies of Austen’s final two novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. The Library’s founder, Sir Redmond Barry, was not in favour of the addition of novels to the Library’s collection and when asked by a visitor whether the Library held many works of fiction, was overheard to remark: ‘Very few indeed sir … and I am thankful to say that these few are being rapidly appropriated by unscrupulous persons and will not be replaced.’ 1 This goes some way to explaining the previous lack of first editions of such prominent authors as Jane Austen. As such, this recently acquired 4-volume set is a landmark acquisition for the Library, representing this key author in first edition for the very first time in the State Collection.

Its procurement was made possible by the generous donation of the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust to the Women Writers Fund. This fund seeks to redress the historical gender bias in State Library Victoria’s collections by acquiring works by under-represented 19th and 20th century women writers.

Photograph of spines of 4-volume set of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
Northanger Abbey : and Persuasion / by the author of “Pride and prejudice”, “Mansfield-Park” &c. ; with a biographical notice of the author

Northanger Abbey, a coming-of-age, gothic parody, was written in the late 1790s. 2 In 1803 it was sold to publisher Benjamin Crosby & Co. for £10, with an understanding it would soon be published. After many years of inaction, and an unsuccessful attempt by Austen to get the publisher to either publish the book, or allow it to be taken elsewhere, it was eventually repurchased in 1816 for the original price by Austen’s brother, Henry, on her behalf. 3

Persuasion, Austen’s last completed novel, and one of her most popular, was written between 1815-1816 at a time when her health was failing.4 After some dissatisfaction with the novel’s ending, she revised it, writing two additional chapters. The book was completed in August of 1816 and Jane died less than a year later, at the age of 41.

The titles of these works are not thought to have been given by Jane herself. We know that Northanger Abbey was initially entitled ‘Susan’ after what was the name of the central character. However, between the time of its initial sale to Benjamin Crosby & Co. and its reacquisition by Henry, another book named ‘Susan’ was released. To avoid confusion, Jane renamed the heroine of the story, and the work itself ‘Catherine’. The title, Northanger Abbey, appears to have been given by either Henry, or her sister Cassandra, to whom Jane bequeathed the unpublished novels.5 It is believed that Henry or Cassandra also provided the title for Persuasion which was unnamed at the time of Jane’s death. 6

Both novels were published posthumously in 1818, with Henry and Cassandra negotiating with publisher John Murray to have the novels published in a four-volume set; the first two volumes containing Northanger Abbey and the second two, Persuasion. 7

This set, one of only 1750 printed, presented in contemporary bindings, is of particular importance as it contains a biographical note by her brother, Henry, revealing for the first time in print that Jane was the author of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and Emma, all of which had previously been released anonymously. 8.

Photograph of first page of biographical note by Jane's brother, Henry.
Northanger Abbey : and Persuasion / by the author of “Pride and prejudice”, “Mansfield-Park” &c. ; with a biographical notice of the author, Vol 1, p v.

Donate to the Women Writers Fund

If you would like to support the Library in our efforts to strengthen our representation of female writers from the 19th and 20th centuries, please consider donating to the Women Writers Fund.

More to explore

Read or listen to Northanger Abbey

Read or listen to Persuasion

(You will need to be a State Library Victoria member and resident to access some of these items. Not a member yet? It’s quick and easy to sign up online).

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  1. Armstrong, ET, 1906, The book of the public library, museums, and national gallery of Victoria: 1856-1906, Printed for the trustees of the Public Library, Museums, and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
  2. Auerbach, E, 2008, Austen, Jane. In Oxford encyclopedia women in world history, viewed 6 December 2022,
  3. Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), 2022, Northanger Abbey, viewed 6 December 2022, <>
  4. Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), 2022, Jane Austen: a brief biography, viewed 6 December 2022, <>
  5. Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), 2022, Northanger Abbey, viewed 6 December 2022, <>
  6. Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), 2022, Persuasion, viewed 6 December 2022, <>
  7. Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), 2022, Northanger Abbey, viewed 6 December 2022, <>
  8. As above

This article has 2 comments

  1. What a wonderful acquisition by the Library, and thank you for the information about Jane Austen. I was not interested in studying English Lit at school, but you have stirred my young middle-aged mind—& I am sure this will lead me to many more great female authors & their writing.

  2. I find this to be a very exciting addition to our Library. Makes me want to go back and read her words again.

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