Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Literary Fiction / Classic
Published Date: 1818
Why I wanted to read it: I am reading the book as part of Austen in August, but I’ve wanted to read more of Jane Austen’s work since reading Pride and Prejudice years ago.
Overview (Barnes & Noble):
A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.
What I Liked
I love Austen’s use of satire and wit, especially in her earlier novels like this one. She parodies the Gothic novel brilliantly. I haven’t read The Mysteries of Udolpho yet, but from what I’ve heard she uses it well as the source of her parody. Catherine’s paranoia due to Henry Tilney’s “ghost” story of Northanger Abbey makes me laugh, because she’s just looking for an issue to come about to feed her obsession with the Gothic novel. Then again, I wandered Bath in 2010 looking for an early 19th Century gentleman to come by on his carriage and sweep me away, so I can’t blame Catherine for waiting on novels to become reality.
Because they had such a large role in the novel, I need to write about the Thorpe siblings. While Austen characterizes them in the most spectacular way, I have a great dislike of Isabella as well as her twit of a brother, John. It didn’t take long to see through Isabella’s false pretenses. While she may appear innocent at the start, she is indeed a fortune-hunter and treacherous little creature, and that is proven when she breaks away from James Morland after hearing how little money they’ll settle down with despite her so-called love for him.
One of my favorite parts of the novel is when Isabella (finally) writes to Catherine, lamenting over the loss of James and abhorrence of Frederick Tilney. She claims to to be wearing purple because it is James’ favorite color, and she asks, or assumes, rather, that Catherine will make haste to speak on behalf of her to James. Catherine concludes to being “ashamed of Isabella, and ashamed of having ever loved her,” and states that she will not speak on Isabella’s behalf. The novel takes a real turn during this scene, because until then she had such confidence in her as well as her innocence. Considering my dislike of Isabella, I love this scene, and praise Catherine for her courage to say no.
As for her brother, well, let’s just say that he’s even more insufferable than Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, and to me that’s saying something. Taking it upon himself to cancel Catherine’s plans with the Tilney’s so that she’ll spend time with him is one of the rudest things I’ve seen a “gentleman” do in an Austen novel towards a woman. The shame. The horror. Or, as I summed it up…
What I Didn’t Like
Despite my love for Bath, I thought there would be a lot more Northanger Abbey scenes. I felt almost cheated, like when you hear so much about something and become obsessed with the idea of it, but the experience – when it finally comes to pass – proves lackluster. I enjoyed the scenes, of course, but I wish there would have been more of them.
Also, if it hasn’t been made obvious, I didn’t like the Thorpe siblings. The reason why I put them in the “What I Did Like” category is because of the fact that I know Austen didn’t love them either. No one is rooting for them, at least not to my knowledge, so I can like their presence because they are so un-liked.
This spot goes to Henry Tilney. While he takes pleasure in teasing Catherine and overwhelming her with the possibility of Northanger Abbey being haunted, he also has an understanding and compassionate side to him. His true feelings are not made clear to Catherine until closer to the end, but his willingness to forgive misunderstandings and continue their friendship speaks volumes. He is also one of the more constant characters, and he uses honesty instead of deceit, and that is always to be admired.
Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.
There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature. My attachments are always excessively strong.
If I could not be persuaded into doing what I thought wrong, I never will be tricked into it.
The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
The narrator speaks of Catherine Morland being a heroine. Do you agree or disagree, and why?