Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Northanger Abbey" by Jane Austen

How is it that I'd never read this before?  Okay, it's because I really knew absolutely nothing about it before this year, whereas I knew the general gist of Austen's other major works, thanks to movies or articles I'd read or whatever.  But Northanger Abbey slipped through the cracks.  In my great quest to read all of Austen's novels in one year (which I have now completed, yay me!), I saved this for last because it's always nice to read something new by a beloved author.  And also, I was a little worried I wouldn't care much for it, since if people don't talk about it much, it must not be all that great, right?


Okay, it's obviously not as magnificent as Pride and Prejudice, as thought-provoking as Sense and Sensibility, etc.  Instead, it is fun.  The whole novel revolves around one long joke about how the heroine, Miss Catherine Morland, can't possibly be the heroine of a novel.  Nothing exciting happens to her, she's not beautiful, her parents and family are all alive and healthy, she's not unhappy, no one kidnaps her, no royalty fall in love with her, she never meets up with a ghost... you get the idea.  What she does do is lead a sweet, ordinary life, fall in love with a nice man, get involved in a misunderstanding or two, and wind up happy. 

I laughed aloud over and over during this book, and I'm inclined to reread it already.  I love books that make me laugh aloud; they almost invariably become favorites of mine.  On that merit alone, Northanger Abbey would join Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion as my most favoritest Austen novels.  But this book also has very believable characters, the sorts that you could meet up with in real life.  No archetypes, no mysterious and wealthy strangers, no near-fatal illnesses.  Just people being people :-)  I found that especially endearing.  In fact, I believe Henry Tilney has supplanted Mr. Knightley as my second-favorite Austen hero.

In case you're not up on your Austen, this is the one where Catherine Morland visits Bath with some family friends and falls in love with Henry Tilney, a young minister with a lively sense of humor.

Particularly Good Bits:

"Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love."

"...for I will not adopt the ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding -- joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust.  Alas!  If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?"

"The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity."

(Originally posted on Hamlette's Soliloquy on Nov. 24, 2012.)


  1. Yes, Northanger Abbey is . It's probably my 3rd or 4th favourite by JA depending on my mood. It's an incredibly underrated book and I'm always happy to find other fans :) NA tends to get criticised for not having the emotional depth and subtlety of JA's later works - which I get to a certain extent - and because it's a parody of Gothic literature it often gets dismissed for being JA's "weird" book. But those are two of the things that I enjoy the most about it! I love that JA inserts a lot of her own opinions into the narrative. I find that refreshing. And I love Gothic literature - not the Gothic literature that was popular in JA's time but later novels like 'Jane Eyre' - so it's interesting and funny to me when Catherine has those Gothic flights of fantasy :)

    I'm very fond of Catherine Morland. In a lesser author's hands she could have come across as dumb or shallow but JA makes her sweet and likeable. I looove Henry Tilney though. He's my favourite JA hero by far. I've always seen him as Elizabeth Bennet's male counterpart. He's witty and hilarious, he loves novels, and his best friend is his sister. Catherine has this really quite offensive theory about his father but he still forgives her and fiercely defends her when his father mistreats her.

    I haven't taken as much from NA on this reread as I did with 'Pride and Prejudice' but there have been a couple of things that have stood out for me;

    - Mrs Allen is a terrible guardian to Catherine! She lets Catherine go out on open-carriage rides with John Thorpe and is then like "Oh BTW, Catherine. Did I mention that that's actually quite improper?"

    - The scene where Isabella, John and Catherine's own brother James all gang up on Catherine and try to emotionally blackmail her into going out to Clifton with them made me intensely uncomfortable. I was literally squirming on her behalf. It's one of the few serious scenes in an otherwise light book.

    1. It pretty well ties with P&P as my 2nd-fave Austen book. I know that, for me personally, it is way harder to write humor than to write deep, emotional things, and I think that's probably part of why I appreciate Austen's humor so much, in this book and in others.

      Catherine Morland reminds me a lot of myself, especially when I was younger. And Henry Tilney is delightful. You're right, he rather is a male Elizabeth Bennet, isn't he? Sassy-yet-sweet. Mmmmmmm.

      Mrs. Allen is a very terrible guardian. Not quite as bad as Mrs. Foster in P&P, but that's no excuse.

      I hate that blackmail-ish scene too. They're awful people. Well, James is less awful, but ugh. John Thorpe is my least favorite character in all of Austen.

    2. I can see why John Thorpe would be your least favourite. At least Willoughby and Wickham have some charm.

  2. That should read "Yes, Northanger Abbey is a FUN book". I tried to highlight fun in bold but blogger didn't seem to like that. Grr.

  3. I need to read all of "J.A."'s books. I've read 3. I found Emma tough going, a very slow slog when I was 15-ish.

    1. John Smith, yes! Do read them. I read Emma in my teens too, and struggled to get through it, though Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion (my favorite) didn't give me the same trouble. Sense and Sensibility was hard for me then too, and I'm glad I didn't attempt Mansfield Park until I was an adult.

      How old are you, may I ask? Do you blog anywhere? Your blogger profile is blank, but I've been enjoying your comments this week.


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