Set of Austen first editions fetches £60,000 at auction

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A complete set of first edition Jane Austen novels was sold at auction in London yesterday for almost £60,000 ­ nearly double the estimated price.

The five books, which fetched a total of £59,572 at Christie's, included the first copy of Northanger Abbey, written in the late 1790s when Austen was in her twenties. She sold the rights to the work, then entitled "Susan," to the London publisher Crosby and Company for £10 in 1803 but waited in vain to see the novel in print.

Crosby eventually told her that he was under no obligation to publish and that she could have it back for the same figure. The offer was finally accepted in 1816, but, perhaps still uncertain about its prospects, Austen held back.

In the end Northanger Abbey was published posthumously with Persuasion, a later work, in 1818. The edition included a preface by Henry Austen, containing a biographical notice about his sister.

Austen, who died in 1817, did live to see success with later works. During the last months of 1811, the publisher Thomas Egerton agreed to publish Sense And Sensibility anonymously, with a cover that simply said: "Printed for the Author ... by a lady".

Austen begged family and close friends to preserve strict secrecy of her authorship. She was frightened of the world's response but need not have been ­ by the summer of 1813 it was sold out, netting the author a profit of £150.

Pride and Prejudice, the universal favourite which Austen described as "my darling child", enjoyed a more promising early life than Northanger Abbey, although it too almost never saw the light of day.

Austen's father, the Rev George Austen, wrote to a different publisher to ask if he would be interested in the book. The offer was firmly declined in the return post.

Initially called "First Impressions", Austen had to think of a new title when another novel of the same name was published in 1800. The copyright was eventually sold to Egerton for £110 in 1812, and the novel went on sale in January 1813 for 18 shillings. A first edition copy, of which 1,500 were sold, fetched £23,500 yesterday.

Book trade specialists in both Britain and the US purchased the novels.

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