Jane Austen's first novel tells the story of Catherine Morland, the very ideal of a nice girl. But her naÃ¯ve heroine is also in possession of an overactive imagination, fueled by her obsession with gothic novels. When Catherine meets Henry Tilney, she's instantly smitten. But when she's invited to his home, the sinister Northanger Abbey, she learns not to interpret the world through the pages of lurid thrillers.
If one were to take this sentence (made by Northanger Abbey's hero Henry Tilney) and replace the word "good" with its authoress' name, the statement would not become any less true. I should make myself clear: I am not saying that those who find Austen not to their personal taste are intellectually inferior to we fans, but I am disturbed by the popular assumptions that her novels are either lightweight precursors of our contemporary chick-lit, or else that they are heavy, outdated classics that have nothing to say to people or our age. Actually, I find her work consistently offers lasting lessons and insights for the average lady or gentleman—and isn't that the very definition of a classic?
Northanger Abbey is one of her earliest and (in my mind at least) roughest, yet it too has much to offer, including an unconventional hero and heroine, bucket-loads of sly humor, and much to say on reading in general and the Gothic novel in particular. It opens on the modest home life of Catherine Morland, who, at eighteen years old, is showing spirit and potential after a very inauspicious childhood. Her neighbors the Allens invite her to accompany them to Bath, and there she experiences all the delights of her first season in the city. In Bath, she falls in with two different sets of people. First there are the Thorpes; college friends of her brother's, they are poor, outwardly cheerful and attractive, but really quite vulgar and self-serving. And then there are the Tilneys, a mixed lot; two of the children become fast friends with Catherine, but there seems to be something depressing about their father's presence to them, and Catherine, her mind full of Gothic horrors, is sure there is something mysterious secret lingering in their home of Northanger Abbey....
Austen tells as at the outset that "no one who ever had seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine" and repeatedly says throughout that she is "in training to be an heroine." Certainly she belongs to neither of the major categories of leading ladies we see in Austen's fiction, having neither Elizabeth Bennett's sharp wit nor Fanny Price's retiring steadfastness. And in terms of intelligence, she may be inferior to all of them—a classmate of mine summed her character up as "ding-y." Yet she has a good heart, repents when she does wrong, and is a good judge of character as long as she remains in touch with reality. I do not adore her as a literary character, but I do not think she pulls the book down either. And in certain ways she is a breath of fresh air.
Henry Tilney, on the other hand, I find one of the most attractive and memorable of Austen's men. If Catherine is her dullest heroine, Henry is by far her wittiest hero. What conversations he and Elizabeth Bennett would have had if they ever met! He constantly pokes fun at everyone and everything around him, but he does so in such a way that you know that, despite appearances, he dearly loves most of the people he teases. Some critics have judged his treatment of Catherine misogynistic and tyrannical, and predict that their marriage will be a virtual recap of General and Mrs. Tilney's, which I find absolutely ridiculous. This is yet more proof that critics have no sense of humor.
Of course, Henry and Catherine are not the only interesting personalities in this story. Several of the supporting characters stand out in my mind, perhaps none more so than Catherine's avowed friend and her brother's would-be fiancee, the ridiculous and manipulative Isabella Thorpe. Austen often included vulgar females in her novels to set off the virtues of her heroines (see Mrs. Elton in Emma and the fascinating Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park among others), but never did she allow one of them to have such influence over the star of the story as Isabella has over Catherine. And rarely was her skill at characterizing through dialogue so well used. None of Isabella's speeches could be confused with that of any other Austen character: her vocabulary is completely distinctive.
Austen achieves a similar feat with General Tilney, who is outwardly all gentility and decorum, but who is in reality only after Catherine's supposed fortune. He is a villain through and through, something that Catherine suspects early on, although his crime is quite different from the one she pins on him. In fact, the more I think about it, this novel is very much about the relationship between appearances and reality. All of the evil characters (General Tilney, the Thorpes) put on fronts, whereas the people with whom we most sympathisize, such as Catherine, Henry, and his sister Eleanor, are sincere from the start. Eleanor is another of my favorite characters, sweet and reserved, never thinking of herself. She does have one secret, but she does not harbor it out of any sort of deceit, and her character is consistent throughout the novel.
I have not yet spoken about the most famous—or perhaps infamous—aspect of Northanger Abbey: its satirical send-up of the wildly popular Gothic novel genre, especially Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. Some would say that you cannot fully enjoy Northanger without a thorough knowledge of Radcliffe, and I have no doubt that it enriches the reading experience, but the satire and humor of it all was evident to me without any real acquaintance with the books Catherine and Isabella were reading. Some of the passages dealing with this theme are simply hilarious; I am thinking particularly of Henry's narration upon the approach to Northanger Abbey, in which he describes what Catherine may find there, making use of all the cliches and motifs of the standard Gothic thriller. Given that Catherine's fascination with these books leads her into making a great error near the climax of the novel might lead one to believe that Austen was fundamentally critical of the genre, yet she was undoubtedly conversant with all aspects of it, and both internal and external evidence suggest she enjoyed the works of Radcliffe and her ilk. I think of her attitude throughout Northanger primarily as that of a loving older sister, who appreciates her siblings' imagination while still seeing their flaws.
And, of course, she is a great proponent of the novel in general. Book I of Northanger Abbey includes her famous "Defense of the Novel," in which she censures other lady novelists for having their heroines make fun of the very genre they are writing in. There's really not much more I can say about this passage: you simply must read it for yourself.
Normally I do not include information about specific editions in my reviews of literary works, but I simply must take this moment to say that Barnes & Noble Classics did a hideous job in this instance. The introduction and notes weren't bad, I suppose, and there is a good outline of The Mysteries of Udolpho included, but the footnotes? Awful. Just awful. I suppose some modern readers who are not conversant with the time period could benefit from learning what a "full season" is, but I really and truly hope everyone knew that "Oxford" is a university in Britain. For the love of criminy....
Perhaps because Northanger is considered one of Austen's lesser efforts, it has inspired the fewest number of movie adaptations out of all six of her major novels. I have not seen the BBC's infamous 1986 adaptation, but it sounds absolutely abysmal. I am told it totally misses the point and humor of Austen's story, turning it into a sappy Gothic romance, instead of a satire on the same. The clips I've seen reveal a far too serious ambiance, fluffy 80s hair, and a musical score that could only have come from that endearingly bizarre decade. The latest ITV film has its good qualities—including two perfectly-cast leads in Felicity Jones and J. J. Field, an expanded storyline for Eleanor, and a brilliant performance from the up-and-coming Carey Mulligan as Isabella—but the script by Andrew Davies includes its fair share of unnecessary invention as well. I can enjoy the film as a decent adaptation of the novel, but I absolutely cannot approve some of the added innuendo, the most notable of which is a long quote from M. G. Lewis' near-pornographic The Monk. It is no surprise when we learn that Austen's John Thorpe enjoyed this book, but Catherine Morland would never go within ten feet of it!
Northanger Abbey is a unique and charming fixture in Jane Austen's bibliography, although I did not enjoy it quite as much upon rereading as I did the first time around, and I would not suggest it as a starting point for Austen newbies. For gentlemen and ladies who have already had enjoyment from her other books, it is highly recommended: the novelty of it alone makes it worth a look.
The book is notably a send-up of the popular genre fiction of its day--the Gothic novels by writers we don't generally read these days from Matthew Lewis' The Monk to Frances Burney's Camilla and Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. I've read only the lurid (and cheesy and quite fun) The Monk of the works alluded to in Austen's novel, but I didn't feel lost. When Henry Tilney plays off the gothic works in telling a story to Catherine Morland and later Catherine's imagination runs wild in the ancient manse of Northanger Abbey, I get the jokes because we have our own successors to the Gothic tradition in slasher movies, thrillers, horror and "romantic suspense." No doubt a contemporary Catherine Morland, Austen's heroine, would be a huge fan of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight.
Moreover, the characterizations still feel real and are often funny. I was particularly taken with a passage where John Thorpe, a puffed up idiot, boasts to Catherine of his horses and carriages. Change all that to automobiles--and well, one is struck the male of the species hasn't changed much in two centuries.
Catherine herself is Austen's youngest heroine, only seventeen during the course of the novel. Unsophisticated, naive, head full of lurid novels and away for the first time in a city and for the first time having to make sense of male attentions. Given her flights of fancy, one might be tempted to count her as a featherbrain, but somehow she escapes that. She's a rather lovable combination of tomboy and bookworm. Her romantic interest, Henry Tilney, is among the most winning of Austen heroes--playful and witty, he's very appealing.
And the book itself doesn't take itself too seriously. Naive and unsophisticated Catherine might be, the narrator isn't, and the prose is filled with wit, irony and early nineteenth century snark--but rather good humored snark.
No, Northanger Abbey isn't in my estimation to be ranked with Austen's mature masterpieces such as Pride and Prejudice, Emma or Persausion (which is why I docked it half a star) but if I were ranking it beside so much published these days, it would win full marks. The story is enormous fun.
As a parody, I found it a little more overtly funny than Austen's other novels and a little lighter in weight. The social conflicts and characters are typical Austen inventions, though General Tilney rather surprised me since it's not usual that someone changes his stripes midway through one of the stories, but fans of her work will find familiar ground. It is neither my most nor least favorite of Austen's stories, but thoroughly enjoyable.
Although published posthumously, Northanger Abbey was the first of Austen's completed novels and thus the tone is significantly different from her other works. The presence of the author is felt much more with much of her commentary made firmly with tongue in cheek. At the same time, humour is evident throughout, as to be expected in a satire. On this current re-read, I chuckled most over the following exchange between Henry and Catherine:
"As far as I have had opportunity of judging, it appears to me that the usual style of letter-writing among women is faultless, except in three particulars."
"And what are they?"
"A general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar."
While Austen never hesitates to poke fun at Gothic novels, educational materials, and sentimental novels, she also makes rather astute observations at the same time. I was particularly struck by the motif of characters saying one thing and while having a completely different meaning. Very few of the characters are immune to this behaviour, with Catherine and Eleanor being the two major characters to escape this flaw. A delightful satire of the novels of the time; a commentary on literature, education, and the nature of women; and a romance as only Austen can craft it. Delightful as ever.
I would have to agree with Henry Tilney! 'Northanger Abbey', Austen's first novel, contains many of the stock characters and situations of her later works - the 'Mrs Jennings' type chaperone, the Maria Bertram/Lucy Steele avaricious flirt - but is also a heavy-handed critique of the gothic romances which were popular in Austen's time. I was almost put off by Austen's constant presence in the narrative, particularly by her defence of reading and writing novels, but as the novel is fairly brief, I persevered - and was rewarded with a witty, absorbing adventure and an impulsive yet naive heroine!
Catherine Morland is probably the most inexperienced and socially inept of all Austen's heroines, because whereas Emma Woodhouse doesn't want to see, Catherine is simply blind to the intentions of others and the implications of her actions. Her naivete is endearing, however, and only occasionally frustrating! John Thorpe's one-sided interview with her is a comic gem! She lives in a world created by novelists such as Mrs Radcliffe, whom Austen is quick to defend whilst simultaneously warning of the consequences.
On a visit to Bath with Mr and Mrs Allen, Catherine makes a friend of flighty and daring Isabella Thorpe and also charms Isabella's dandified brother, John. Isabella latches herself onto Catherine's brother James, and John assumes that Catherine will be an easy and profitable match. In contrast to the conniving Thorpes, an introduction to wealthy and wordy Henry Tilney supplies Austen's non-heroine with her hero, and Catherine is smitten. When Eleanor Tilney, Henry's Georgiana-esque sister, invites her to stay with them at the family estate, Northanger Abbey, imaginative and inquisitive Catherine is in raptures. Another of my favourite scenes is Henry teasing Catherine about her Udolphan fantasies of his home - a real abbey, with secret chambers and 'some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun'!
I absolutely loved this snide parody, once the story was allowed to begin. As much as I appreciate Austen's thoughts on novels, education and vocabulary - the ubiquitous word 'nice' is suitably mocked by Henry Tilney - I have been too much spoiled by her other novels not to expect appealing characters and satisfying stories! Isabella's obnoxious behaviour, Catherine's overactive imagination and the General's curious volte-face at the Abbey soon combined to thoroughly engross me in this deceptively simple tale, and by the end, I found this novel very pleasing indeed!
Catherine is a young woman of seventeen who is just beginning to experience the world around her. Her naivety of the characters around her seems extreme, but she has been raised in a small village, in a loving home, with only her limited reading of novels to give her wisdom. When she is invited to stay at an ancient Abbey, her heart thrills. Will she be able to bear up under the mystery and suspense? Will the Abbey live up to all she has read? Or will she find real life's twists and turns a more thrilling adventure yet?
Henry Tilney is higher on my list of favorite Austen heroes then I previously thought. He would be the most fun to be around out of all of them, I think. He is very flirty and witty, but he is also a very loyal and kind man. He is very forgiving and understanding toward Catherine, even when she acts like a complete goose around him. Even though I think this is the least romantic plot of all her books, Austen got it right when she created Tilney, no doubt about it.
Catherine Moreland's coming of age is the star of the show here. I will re-read the other Austens when I'm in the mood for a classic romance story. This book I will re-read when I feel the need to laugh at (and be embarassed for) Catherine and her numerous adventures into idiocy and disaster. Bless her heart, she is so innocent and sweet - it really gets her into trouble. Our heroine-in-training is looking for an adventure throughout the story, and when she fails to find one that suits her fancy, she invents one in her head. Bad idea, Catherine. Bad. Idea.
This book is a lot of fun, and I definitely think it is worth a read! I don't know why so many people are down on it. It might not be your run-of-the-mill Austen, but it is still a classic and very much worth your time.
In the end however, Catherine’s daydreams aren’t all a mistake. She is sought after by a man with less than good intentions (her brother receives the same treatment from a woman) and the man she loves does have what seems a dark secret.
All in all I found this the funniest and most directly enjoyable of all of Austen’s novels. I also consider this one of my all time favorite books.
This was Jane Austen's earliest completed novel, though it wasn't published until after her death. As a result, her aims are a little different than in her later books. With Northanger Abbey, she comments on the popular literature of the late 18th century as she tells a story that works both with and against all the storytelling models that have come before.
The result is an extremely entertaining novel that I believe would appeal most strongly to those who greedily devoured fiction in their youth and were, perhaps, a tad too influenced by what they'd read. I found Catherine Morland a delightful heroine, pleasant to read about and easy to relate to. Austen does some wonderful things with her. She opens the novel by describing just how Catherine differs from the typical heroine of the day; as things progress, we see how Catherine's whole world corresponds to or diverges from the standard gothic structure, and how the main character's knowledge of such things influences the way she views her surroundings. This is smoothly and elegantly done, and in such a way that the reader may recognize the underlying themes without feeling that Austen has ever forced them upon her.
Overall, I found this a wonderful read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in giving Jane Austen's work a try. Some knowledge of late 18th century gothic literature would be helpful, but it's far from essential.
As I mentioned earlier, the book does have a slightly darker, more controversial side to it. Influenced by gothic novels, Catherine conjures up all kinds of awful crimes that General Tilney may have committed, including tales of murder and imprisonment. There is the same themes of young ladies misbehaving that was evident in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Lydia runs away with Mr. Whickam – here it is Catherine’s so-called friend Isabella who is shocking everyone with her misjudgement of situations and inability to behave respectfully.
Catherine is a younger and more imperfect character than Austen’s other creations. Elizabeth Bennet and Emma both had flaws, but were both seen to be very intelligent and beautiful. The first chapter covers of ‘Northanger Abbey’ covers Catherine’s childhood as an unsightly young girl, and although she does develop, it always seems that she never really becomes ‘beautiful’, and for this we feel more compassion for her. She is also quite a slow girl – not very able in picking up signs in other’s behaviour and simply lacking in general intelligence and wit.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ still remains my favourite Jane Austen book, but ‘Northanger Abbey’ probably comes in second so far. It is a lovely book that is very easy to enjoy, especially for someone more my age. I still, however, have Jane Austen’s other three published works to read before I can really make a fair comparison.
When I first attempted to read Northanger Abbey in my teens I was, I confess, much like Catherine myself. Much of the banter of characters and narrator was over my head. I didn't remember that there was sarcasm, much less humor, in conveying Catherine's story, and I daresay I must have taken much of it at face value and abandoned the book out of boredom (and the necessity of library due dates). But now a little older, more familiar with literature if not the exact Gothic novels which Jane Austen is skewering, and much more adept at picking up on when the narrator was laughing at our heroine, I found the story a much smoother read. At times, I laughed out loud over Catherine's propensity for viewing events in convoluted ways suggested by her novel reading. On the other hand, I think I would find her likable as a person, given her ability to see the best in people until proven otherwise. Though atypical of Austen's style, I will be recommending this to a friend who would appreciate sarcasm over romance.
Catherine was a likeable character, but lacked the depth found in Austen's later heroines Elizabeth Bennett, Marianne Dashwood, and Emma Woodhouse. The construction and story were also less complex than her later work; more predictable and somewhat less interesting. I read this book for Kathrin's Classics Challenge, and because I decided some time ago that I wanted to read all of Austen's work. Unfortunately, as much as I love Jane Austen, this is not a work I'd recommend to someone wanting to discover her talents.
This is also second time listening to Juliet Stevenson narration - and what a good job she does. I like so much the young heroine - her innocence, charm, her wanting to please everybody and fear of doing anything that will cast shame upon her family, friends and benefactors.
You can easily imagine how Jane Austen must have delighted in this mild satire over young Catherine Mansfields first romance and her passion for gothic novels. The way she is introduced to society in Bath (a town Austen disliked) - it’s the perfect setting for Austen to satirize over the shallow and empty lives of characters who only wants to be seen by others and gossip and spend days shopping and dancing all the time (excemplified in the vain Thorpes family).
Catherine is overwhelmed by the glitter and pomp of Bath but fortunately meet some sensible people in Henry and Eleanor Tilney who can guide her - and eventually take her away from Bath.
Jane Austen wrote this in the beginning of her twenties and although it doesn’t shine as much as her later work, it has risen in my estimation over the last couple of years. And I know I will return to this again. And Juliet Stevenson.
And if you want some “suspense” from Jane Austen this is the novel (although there’s also a bit of that in Mansfield Park).
To its credit, though, I believe Northanger Abbey has the distinction of being the only Austen novel wherein the characters marry for love alone, *not* money or property.
Jane Austen parodying her own style and genre. Fun!
This was my third time reading Northanger Abbey, and it never gets dull – indeed, I notice new nuances with each reading. The take-away from this novel for most readers (and admittedly for myself the first couple of times around) is that it is a parody of the Gothic novels that were popular at the time Austen wrote it. While that is true in parts, it is by and large a novel of Austen’s creation and quite like her other big five novels in terms of themes and even plot in some respects. It concerns itself with the courtship rituals and accompanying trials and tribulations of young ladies and men of the upper middle classes.
Like with Austen’s other works, two major things stand out in this novel – its wit and its characters. Austen shows her trademark humor in small asides and through the foibles of her characters. Even though this was an early work, it already shows her mastery of free indirect discourse, and she often interrupts as narrator to remind readers that this a book she is writing, thus not only trampling down the “fourth wall” but also acting as a commentary on the novels popular in her time. While this book isn’t usually considered a favorite, even among Austen’s biggest fans, it is still ripe with oft quoted lines, such as “Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love” and “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
Likewise there are certainly some notable characters here, even if they don’t usually end up on anyone’s “best of” list. The protagonist, Catherine Morland, is a bit of a former tomboy who lets her imagination run wild and is charmingly naïve, thinking that all people should be as caring and honest as she herself is. Henry Tilney is not generally considered at the level of some of Austen’s other heroes, but he is well-mannered and perceptive, stands up to his father when needed, and certainly can tell a detailed and imaginative story on the fly. Meanwhile, his sister Eleanor is a truly unsung heroine from the Austen oeuvre as she is a perfect gentlewoman and true friend. And, of course, this being Austen, we have a fair share of more objectionable but certainly not less entertaining characters, including the ever fickle Isabella Thorpe, the obnoxious John Thorpe, the harsh and overbearing General Tilney, the flirtatious Caption Tilney, and the fashion-obsessed Mrs. Allen.
For the audiophile, the version I read this time was an audiobook narrated by Anna Massey, who was absolutely phenomenal. Her reading was never placid or monotone; she injected appropriate tone and emotion into each line. She also did an excellent job developing a distinct voice for each of the myriad of characters, with every voice reflecting that person’s characteristics. I highly recommend this edition for anyone interested in a reading or re-reading of this novel as an audiobook.
This is the first novel Austen attempted to publish, but it wasn't actually published until after her death. I found it very interesting to see the vast difference in style to her later (and some much more popular) novels.
I found the relationship between Henry and Catherine to not be as developed or full of tension as in Austen's later works. And other parts are a little juvenile but I found it more endearing rather than annoying.
Not that it's bad. Quite the contrary - it's well written, and the story that's there is interesting. But, for me, as I read through it, I found myself a bit bored with the manners of society. Once I realized that it was more of a mockery of other Gothic novels, though, I started to enjoy it more.
Some people have told me that this is a horror novel, but it really isn't. Gothic, yes. Horror, not at all. Perhaps it's the culture I grew up in (and the fact that I work in a forensic field). Either way, I would recommend it to fans of Austen, and even to those who haven't read her yet. It's always good to get your feet wet at least once.