Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Headline edition book cover of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey was the last complete Jane Austen I had yet to read and now I feel kind of sad. No more undiscovered Austen books to devour! I was kind of apprehensive about staring it actually – I liked Persuasion and Emma, but didn’t like Sense and Sensibility or Mansfield Park, so this is the book that would finally tip the scales one way or another! And how did it go? Well read on! πŸ™‚

Plot summary: Jane Austen’s first novel tells the story of Catherine Morland, the very ideal of a nice girl. But her naΓ―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.

The first thing I noticed about Persuasion, within just a couple of pages, is that the writing style seems completely different to all the others. This is Jane Austen’s first completed novel though, so perhaps that’s why. It just seems a little more rambly – the sentences are longer and more complex and, to be honest, it can be a little harder to follow.

However, this writing style does make it easier to pick-up on what Austen does best – satire. There’s a good few snide remarks and in this book she does what I don’t remember her doing in any of her others (correct me if I’m wrong?) which is to write in the first person. Quite frequently she directs herself to the reader and has a little rant with a few snarky comments. A girl after my own heart. It’s interesting, if occasionally a little off-topic.

What I loved about Northanger Abbey in particular was its frequent discussion of books and bookish pursuits. Catherine Morland, the heroine, loves reading gothic-style horror novels and so a large part of this book is her discussing them with her acquaintances or comparing scenes from real life to her favourite, The Mysteries of Udolpho (which I haven’t read yet, but I do plan to). Catherine herself is charming – she’s nice, but not annoyingly twee like Fanny Price from Mansfield Park. She just genuinely always thinks the best of people and it’s endearing.

Yes, novels: for I will not adopt that 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 takes up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust.
Quote – Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, ranting about authors who write novel-hating heroines.

It’s a shame about pretty much everybody else though. They range from mildly irritating, like Mrs Ellen who just repeats herself constantly and whines a lot, to John Thorpe who I actually wanted to choke with his own cravat. Then there’s dear, delightful Isabella who is as much of a bitch as you can get in a Jane Austen novel.

Speaking of, you know you’re ‘into’ a novel from 1817 when you’re genuinely shocked to the core at various actions you wouldn’t think twice about in the real world. I’d curled up into a wall of cushions and was so deeply engrossed in the story that when Isabella did something particularly… dishonourable, shall we say, I actually gasped out of shock and bewilderment!

I’m not sure what to think of Henry Tilney, the romantic interest. He’s no Mr. Darcy, that’s for sure. He’s nice enough and Catherine definitely likes him, but for me his reason for loving her just wasn’t damn good enough! I just didn’t ‘see’ them fall in love. I know that a lot of Jane Austen’s novels have sudden announcements not based on a whole lot, but at least you can usually see affection build somehow. Here, although they spend a lot of time together… eh, I just don’t see it. 

So the final result? Yeah, I liked it πŸ™‚ Not as much as Persuasion or Emma, but definitely more than Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility. The scales are firmly tipped!

Read my review of Emma or learn more about Jane Austen here.


  1. Adam says:

    Ahhh – my favorite Austen! I'm glad it was a good experience for you, if not your favorite. And I'm glad it's made you a "pro"-Austen person, rather than not. πŸ˜‰

    1. Hanna says:

      Oh no, I was always going to be an Austen person! I have 41 copies of Pride and Prejudice – I couldn't NOT be an Austen person!

      I was just undecided about the other books – it was two-for-two in like and dislike πŸ™‚

  2. Ahh so you loved the same things as I did about this one. Yay πŸ™‚
    And pretty cover! I have the pretty covers too, I love them. I really do need to get reading Ms Austen some time.

    1. Hanna says:

      I feel so sad that there are no more left! I might reread Sense and Sensibility though…

      I have all the Austens in this edition, I love them πŸ™‚

  3. Sophia says:

    Are you really going to read Udolpho now? I can't wait to see what you make of that piece of madness – ahem – I mean literature!

    1. Hanna says:

      Oh no, does that mean it's terrible!? I know it's really, really long, but I haven't heard ANYTHING about whether it's actually good or not!

    2. Sophia says:

      No, it's not terrible! Well, actually the first 400 pages are pretty awful (that's ereader pages, so about 1/4 of the novel), but you can skim them easily as they're all description. Once you get past the beginning it's fantastic – a bit silly but wonderfully entertaining. I wrote a review on it last year which you can find here:

  4. Jean says:

    I love Northanger Abbey, so I'm glad you did too! I know what you mean about getting into a novel and being shocked by now-ordinary things–when I read Clarissa (in college), ***SPOILER ALERT*** it was so completely obvious that she had to die. There was simply nothing else to be done. My roommate had the same reaction. It was a week before we snapped out of it and came back to reality. πŸ™‚

    Henry Tilney is a nice guy. Catherine is a nice girl. I kind of like that they're ordinary people who fall in love. I'm ordinary too. πŸ™‚

    1. Hanna says:

      This was even more ordinary than that, it was when Isabella did what she did (which will make sense since you've read it!) and I was so mortified that she could do such a thing!

      I get that reasoning, I do. But he basically says 'I wasn't bothered about you until you started liking me. Now I like you too. But only because you like me.' and it was just like… WHAT!? How unromantic!

  5. Sarah says:

    Yay, I'm glad you enjoyed it! I love that you can kind of see Austen teaching herself how to write a novel, lol. I kinda want to re-read it now πŸ™‚

  6. Ellie says:

    Hmmmm, vairy interesting. I've already got 'The Mysteries of Udolpho' to maybe read BEFORE Northanger. Whenever I watch 'The Jane Austen Book Club' I always think of Bernadette protesting against the idea of skipping this book – "And miss out on Mr Tilney? *sighs happily* He's such a flirt!"

    I wasn't a fan of Fanny Price (a girl in our seminar group described her, in glorious Geordie style, as a "wet lettuce") but I LOVED Persuasion… Methinketh Northanger might need its turn sooner rather than later!

    1. Hanna says:

      He IS a flirt! Definitely flirtier than all the other romantic leads.

      Ohh, I'd forgotten about the Jane Austen Book Club. I read it years ago when I think I'd only read Pride and Prejudice. Looking back, it seems a really stupid idea… I might pick it up if I see it in a charity shop πŸ™‚

      No, I didn't like her either. Hence why Mansfield Park is at the BOTTOM of the Austen pile! I love Persuasion too, but have you read Emma yet?

  7. Pepca says:

    I'm glad you liked it! I loved how she talks about novels and writing, too.

  8. Laura says:

    Aw, I'm glad you liked Northanger Abbey! I like all of Austen (in varying degrees, starting with P&P/Emma all the way down to Mansfield Park because ugh, Fanny) and NA has a special place in my heart because it's all like 'books are awesome! They're better than life! And they give you a crazy ass imagination…'

    Also, I SO know what you mean about finding things shocking that just aren't, anymore! It's awfully fun πŸ™‚

    1. Hanna says:

      Oh :s Somehow Blogger didn't alert me to this comment, so when I clicked onto the page it was a nice surprise πŸ™‚

      My list is pretty much the same as yours though – Pride and Prejudice at the top, Mansfield Park at the bottom. It's just so boring and Fanny's so prim! There's some wonderful book quotes in Northanger Abbey πŸ™‚

  9. I've only read two Austens – Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I know what you mean about completely getting involved in the world though, I recently listened to P&P on audio on the way to work. When one of the children in my class misbehaved I told him I was 'utterly displeased with his manner of speaking'! The kids looked at me like I was from another planet πŸ˜›

    1. Hanna says:

      Haha, that's wonderful! If only you could inflict that manner on your kids, then they'd go home and shock their parents with their 18th century language πŸ™‚

  10. This was the first Austen I read. My mum recommended it because she thought Catherine was just like me. Not quite sure why she got that idea…

    I like Mr Tilney, because he has a sense of humour, even if it is on the snarky side (but what else can you expect from Jane Austen?) And I love the little narrator comments about how things ought to go in a story. I think this is my favourite Austen.

    1. Hanna says:

      Aww! I'd love to be compared to an Austen heroine, any of them! Actually, I take that back – not Fanny Price! Anne Elliot or Elizabeth Bennett maybe…

      I really liked him until he gave his reason for falling in 'love' with Catherine. NO! THAT is NOT a reason.

  11. I think I need to read Austen…I feel like I'm neglecting a wonderful world, especially after this review. Snarky comments are always good. And who can't love a main character who is into books? Sounds great to me. Good review!
    -Jenna @ Fans of Fiction

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