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! 🙂
Plot summary: Jane Austen’s first novel tells the story of Catherine Morland, the very ideal of a nice girl. But her naïve 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 🙂 Not as much as Persuasion or Emma, but definitely more than Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility. The scales are firmly tipped!