I hope you are having a great week. It’s suddenly decided to be winter in Texas, and we are not prepared for the cold. So we’re mostly staying inside and trying to keep warm. Of course, staying in also offers plenty of reading time so I am off to a great start in 2019!
Today I am thrilled to review Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. This is the first book I finished in 2019, and it was a beautiful way to start the year. I first read this book several times in college both in a Jane Austen undergraduate course (which was awesome!) and as a graduate intern team-teaching a British Literature Survey course with one of my favorite professors. I already have many fond memories of reading this book for school (which is impressive) and I was excited to reread it purely for the fun of it.
- First, I just want to say that I LOVE JANE AUSTEN! Every time I read one of her books, I am transported to Regency England where I would like to stay and sip tea with all of Austen’s vibrant characters.
- I am amazed that Austen wrote this novel first although it was published posthumously. And this is not just a nice story. There is a wealth of interesting commentary on the novel from someone who had not yet become the premiere novel author of her time. Bravo, Jane Austen!
- I have not seen an adaptation of this novel before. Does anyone have a favorite? I would love to see how this novel is adapted to film.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen follows the coming of age story of Catherine Morland who learns to discern between fact and fiction as she visits Bath for the first time. According to Goodreads: “During an eventful season at Bath, young, naive Catherine Morland experiences fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who introduces Catherine to the joys of Gothic romances, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father’s house, Northanger Abbey. There, influenced by novels of horror and intrigue, Catherine comes to imagine terrible crimes committed by General Tilney, risking the loss of Henry’s affection, and has to learn the difference between fiction and reality, false friends and true. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, Northanger Abbey is the most youthful and optimistic of Jane Austen’s works.”
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel is intolerably stupid. ”
“Wherever you are you should always be contented, but especially at home because there you must spend the most of your time.”
The characters are memorable although less complex than Austen’s later heroines and heroes. Many of the characters are a bit single minded–meaning they have a few character traits that define their whole character. Catherine is innocent; John Thorpe is egotistical; Isabella is hypocritical; Eleanor is restrained; Henry is wise. While a few of them change in the novel, most of them don’t. For example, the Thorpes were atrocious and drove me crazy! They start egotistical and end the same self absorbed way. But regardless of characters’ changes, I still enjoyed several of them. I appreciated Eleanor Tilney’s character especially in contrast to Isabella Thorpe. I also really enjoyed Catherine’s family because they are hardworking, honest people who obvious care about each other. Catherine herself is a likable protagonist. I enjoyed her maturation through the story and her silly flights of fancy into the Gothic. Henry Tilney is an engaging character and proves to be as honorable and intelligent as we all thought on meeting him. While their love story isn’t a passionate or satisfying as Elizabeth and Darcy, it is still a sweet one.
I enjoyed the Northanger Abbey setting for all it’s possibilities and complexity. From the first moment of Catherine’s arrival, the narrator offers vivid descriptions of the old Abbey and how it blends classic and modern elements. It’s an intriguing contrast between history and the future. Catherine learns and grows a lot during her stay. And I think she is really happy there too. While Catherine is disappointed by the lack of completely Gothic architecture and embarrassed by the Gothic plot lines she inserts into the family home, I thought Northanger was rather compelling. It’s unique among Austen’s settings (Mansfield Park is probably the most similar), and I really enjoyed the way it drew Catherine in and made her imagination run wild.
Austen is a literary genius in creating a Gothic inspired story that both mimics and makes fun of the classic genre. I laughed out loud continuously as we follow Catherine through her adventures and the ways she sees Gothic elements in ordinary life. Sometimes, Austen makes Catherine look quite ridiculous like when she’s sure that Mrs. Tilney was killed and that she has found a mysterious journal in her bedroom at Northanger Abbey–only to find out it was simply a receipt forgotten by a servant years ago. Continually, Austen is teaching her protagonist (and us, her readers) not to lead with our emotions and that the Gothic is not reality. But there are a few subtle moments that complicate that conclusion. General Tilney, while innocent of the crimes Catherine creates in her mind, also acts ungentlemanly at the end of the novel. And there are parts of life at Northanger Abbey that are strained and mysterious. These Gothic elements make this story even more engaging. Is Austen simply making fun of the Gothic genre or is she offering a new, more complex version of the genre?
This novel is underappreciated and should be read more widely. I really enjoyed it this time! If you love Jane Austen, read this novel. If you enjoy a good mystery, read this novel. If you enjoy compelling settings, read this novel. Basically, read this novel!
What intrigues you about Northanger Abbey?
Which is your favorite Jane Austen novel?