Monday, November 20, 2017

Northanger Abbey: Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey was the first book written by Jane Austen, but it was not published until after her death, along with Persuasion. This book was a total unknown to me. Of Jane Austen's six novels, I knew Pride and Prejudice very well, and had some familiarity with Emma and Sense and Sensibility. I had seen the film adaptation of Mansfield Park but just barely remembered it. I had no experience with Northanger Abbey or Persuasion. I am now aware that this novel is a parody of Gothic romance novels, but to be honest, I am not familiar enough with that genre to have noticed while reading the book.

The story is basically this:

Catherine Morland is one of ten children in a middle class family; her father is a country clergyman. A wealthy couple living nearby invite her to join them on a trip to Bath during the winter ball season. She meets a young woman who befriends her, Isabella Thorpe. Isabella's brother, John, a friend of Catherine's elder brother, becomes interested in Catherine. She, in turn, falls for Henry Tilney, and develops a friendship with his sister, Eleanor. Things become complicated when John Thorpe begins to force himself on Catherine and tries to thwart her friendship with the Tilneys. Then Catherine is invited to visit for several weeks with the Tilneys at Northanger Abbey, which she imagines as a dark and frightening but exciting place to live.

My thoughts on this book:

I enjoyed Catherine's character as a naive young woman with little experience. I did not find her laughable as some readers do. Not many teenagers today would be quite as naive as she is, but I certainly was very inexperienced at her age, very concerned about what people thought of me, and just as much interested in attracting a boyfriend. I was impressionable and emotional at that age.

Another interesting character is General Tilney, James and Eleanor's father. He is overbearing and controlling with his children, yet befriends Catherine and invites her to their home. And then there is the contrast of Catherine's two new friends, Isabella and Eleanor, one self-serving, one genuinely a friend.

I have said it in other reviews, but I love that Jane Austen was writing from her experience as a woman in the late 1700s into the early 1800s, and that she was putting the focus on issues that affected her, but most important, that the themes she discussed then are still relevant. Sure, both women and men have a very different life now and many more options, but love and marriage and finances (or the lack of those things) still affects a person's life and happiness.

This book features reading and books a lot, and I enjoyed that. The heroine reads Gothic novels, and various books are discussed by the characters throughout the book. Catherine's reading choices have influenced her outlook on the world, and she believes (or wants to believe?) that life is much like a Gothic novel.

So far, Pride and Prejudice tops my list of novels by Jane Austen. Emma and Mansfield Park are running neck and neck right behind P&P. I haven't decided where Northanger Abbey fits. It is shorter and thus moves much faster than the longer novels by Austen. It is divided into two halves: the trip to Bath and learning to navigate the social scene there, followed by Catherine's visit to Northanger Abbey, each half interesting in its own way. Overall, I like the characters in this book better than those in Emma and Mansfield Park. They act more like normal people, and even the self-centered and manipulative characters are more interesting.

I would like to recommend the edition of Northanger Abbey that I read. It includes Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition, which I may never read, but are nice to have. It was the few pages of Explanatory Notes at the end that I especially appreciated. I don't find reading Austen difficult, but there were many terms that I would not have understood fully without the notes.

I read Northanger Abbey this month as a part of the Jane Austen Read All A-Long at James Reads Books. I read Pride and Prejudice in August, Mansfield Park in September and Emma in October. I will be reading Persuasion in December. 


Publisher:   Oxford University Press, 1990 (Northanger Abbey orig. pub. 1818)
Length:      205 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK
Genre:        Literary fiction
Source:      I purchased my copy at this year's Planned Parenthood book sale.


Anonymous said...

I've always liked the way Austen was able to hold up a lens to her own time and society, Tracy. And her style is often just the right balance between satire and critique. Glad you enjoyed this.

TracyK said...

I had no idea I was going to enjoy reading the Austen books so much, Margot.

dfordoom said...

Northanger Abbey is lots of fun if you love gothic fiction. It's obvious that Austen had not only read an enormous amount of gothic fiction, but thoroughly enjoyed it (even though I'm sure she regarded it as the equivalent of a guilty pleasure).

Incidentally the gothic novels (the "horrid novels") referenced in Northanger Abbey were all real.

You should give Ann Radcliffe a go. Her books all contain mysteries that have to be solved so they can be regarded in some ways as ancestors of the detective story.

col2910 said...

Not an author I need in my life, sorry.

pattinase (abbott) said...


Katrina said...

I've always intended reading the books mentioned in Northanger Abbey but haven't got around to it - yet. I did enjoy Lady Susan, Sanditon and The Watsons though although it must be 40 years since I read them.

TracyK said...

I had read that the books referenced in Northanger Abbey were real, dfordoom, but was not familiar with any of them previous to reading this book. That is another thing I like about reading the books by Austen, picking up new information. You are right, I should try something by Ann Radcliffe, especially now that you say they have a mystery element.

TracyK said...

This one is different because it is a parody, Col, but then I have difficulties recognizing a lot of the parody. But not your cup of tea.

TracyK said...

And those are the two I have not gotten to, Patti, so I have good reading to look forward to.

TracyK said...

Katrina, when I was reading reviews, several people said that they had read some of the books. I should do that after a while and then reread Northanger Abbey.

Anonymous said...

I have this one and want to read it as well. I've never read Jane Austen novel. Pride and Prejudice maybe a little bit in my teens but never fully finished them. I just put all of my classic novels in a collection and plan to really focus on those beginning next year hopefully. I changed my blog name for a reason even though crime fiction is my primary love. Thanks for the review and the insights, Tracy. --Keishon

TracyK said...

I hope you enjoy them as much as I have, Keishon. I have learned so much while reading the books and also from reading about them afterward.

Mathew Paust said...

Pssssst...please don't tell anyone--not a soul!--but I have yet to read anything by Ms. Austen. There, I said it. My heart is thumping madly, in shame, of course, in shame!

TracyK said...

There are plenty of authors that I have not read, Mathew. Walker Percy, Eudora Welty, I could go on an on. Austen's books have more depth than I expected, although a lot of her writing is too repetitious. I did not expect to enjoy reading about the time period she wrote in, and I was wrong about that too. I do like a happy ending, and she does give you that. There are several authors I now think I should investigate, but there is not enough time to read them all.

Clothes In Books said...

This is lower down my personal list of Jane Austen books, but still good fun: short and funny.

TracyK said...

I am amazed that I have found something different to like in each Austen book I have read, Moira.