Good Ol’ Jane Austen
I’m leaving the country soon, and I need to send some books home when my family visits next month. Consequently, when it came time to find my next book to review, instead of perusing second hand stores, I looked at my own bookshelf. Last August, I visited Bath with two friends, and there was a bookstore with a deal on. Of course. Appropriately, I picked up Northanger Abbey. And it’s about time we had an Austen on our review list.
And the plot?
Catherine Morland is a naïve seventeen year old from the country town of Fullerton. She gets invited to Bath with the Allens and is pulled into a world of balls and parties. Here she makes friends with Isabella Thorpe and is pursued by John Thorpe. She also meets Henry Tilney, son of mysterious General Tilney. As she becomes better acquainted with the two families, her eyes are opened to the realities of human affection and deception. At Northanger Abbey, the Tilney’s family home, her conclusions on their strange history are greatly influenced by the gothic novel Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe that she is reading throughout the course of the story.
One of my faves
Northanger Abbey is, in my opinion, one of Austen’s most underappreciated works. It’s a compact work offering plenty of criticism on the school of gothic literature that was popular in the early 19th century. I’m not usually a fan of an over-involved narrator, but here I make an exception for two reasons: 1) it’s common in literature from this period 2) The narrator adds another element to the novel that I appreciated having. While I haven’t read any of the books that are referenced, my version of the novel included very detailed notes explaining each text, adding context to my understanding of the story.
But what about the story?
Let me just say that Henry Tilney is one of my favorite Austen heroes. Dudes: if you want somebody to emulate, HT is your man. He’s well-read, he’s understanding, he likes to dance. He has a job. When Catherine suggests that men do not like to read novels, Henry claims he has far out-read her:
I am proud when I reflect on it, and I think it must establish me in your good opinion.
Austen also expertly portrays the evolution of Isabella and Catherine’s friendship as Catherine comes to the realization that people do not always mean what they say, and some people will stop at nothing to get what they want.
Yes, it gets slow in parts, yes Austen rushes the ending, yes the narrator takes a lot of liberties. But in truth, Austen has accomplished a lot in this slim volume. She has successfully chronicled a young woman’s introduction to society and her (rather gentle) loss of innocence while parodying the classic gothic novel. A lovely weekend read.