Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (review)

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Jane Austen is not on my list of favorite authors – or even on my list of potential favorite authors. And maybe that’s wrong. Jane Austen rocks! Yes, she died almost 200 years ago in 1817 but she is one cool lady. She is so sarcastic and irreverent and just such a good writer.
From page 1 of this book, I was in love. At that point it wasn’t with the characters or the story or anything but with the writing, with the sarcasm. Look at how she starts the novel: No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.’ And then this quote: ‘Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and what is more remarkable, with a good consitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bring the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on – lived to have six children more – to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads, and arms, and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the world, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any.’ These are both from the first page of the book and already, she had me smiling and thoroughly enjoying myself – and reaching for my phone to write down all of these great quotes.
Northanger Abbey is the story of young Catherine Morland who grows up in a loving but plain family. She loves to read, especially gothic literature like The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. So when she gets the chance of going on an adventure of her own, even if it is only to go with her parent’s friends to Bath, she immediately accepts.
However, Bath turns out to be rather dull at first. But soon, she not only means a very nice young man, Henry Tilney, but also makes a new friend in Isabella Thorpe. And when Isabella and Catherine’s brother falls in love, Catherine is ecstatic. That is, until she is introduced to Isabella’s brother and kind of expected to fall in love with him as well.
But Catherine is more interested in Henry Tilney and luckily, he also has a sister she can become friends with. And when Isabella starts acting strange towards Catherine’s brother – and starts flirting with Henry Tilney’s brother, Catherine is very unhappy.
Luckily, she is inviting to go with the Tilneys to their home, Northanger Abbey, a place Catherine is certain is exactly as the abbeys she read about in her favorite books. And if that’s not the case, luckily Catherine has a great imagination and can invent gothic events that might have taken place there…
I really enjoyed this novel. The story was pretty straightforward, young lovers who are twarted etc., but the way Austen wrote it, is exquisite. This one ranks very high on my list of favorite Austens – probably right below Pride and Prejudice. It was just so playful that I could imagine Austen writing it with a smile on her lips all the time. Humorous, ironic, sarcastic, witty, playful – just entertaining in that particular Austen way. Quotes like this ‘A woman, especially if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.’ makes me want to get to read more about Jane Austen, to get to know her better. She really shows herself in this novel – and I enjoyed that.
And it didn’t hurt that she also spent several pages defending the reading of novels. ‘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 wiht their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroines, 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? I cannot approve it! and a bit later about novels ‘some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of with and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language.\ Austen likes her novels and she lets her heroine have many talks about books and authors with the people around her, even makes a bit of fun about one who doesn’t know who the author of his favorite books are. And what also fascinated me was, how she at the same time defended novels and the reading of them while also showing what happens when a vivid imagination fed by books and not constrained by any grasp on what the world is really like, is let loose in a gothic setting. This is probably meant to be more of a critique of the limited options for young women to be acquainted with the world, the people in it and the games they play than it is a critique of books and reading. Or definitely so.
This novel does read as a bit less developed than the most popular Austen books (Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Emma. But whether that’s because it’s one of her first novels or because she plays with the trope of the gothic novel, I’m not sure. What I do know is, that I really enjoyed it and I loved the playfulness of it. Even though the ending is quite as expected, she does write it with a bit of a twist in the writing, not the plot. It could be seen as taking the easy way out but to me, it just worked.
I love Jane Austen!

I read this novel for The Classics Club and for Austen in August. Two birds with one stone!

  • Title: Northanger Abbey
  • Author: Jane Austen
  • Publisher: Penguin Popular Classics
  • Year: 1994 (original 1818)
  • Pages: 236 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

Related posts (other books read for The Classics Club):

9 thoughts on “Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (review)

  1. I read this for Austen in August too and I just loved it, it’s definitely my favourite Austen, although I haven’t read Mansfield Park for Persuasion yet. I loved how alive Austen’s writing was in this one.

  2. This is one of the Austen’s that I haven’t read, but it’s on my Classics Club list. She’s not necessarily one of my favorite authors, either, but I do enjoy her books.

  3. The amazing thing about Austen is how her books only ever get better with rereads. Each time you see a new twist to her humour, a clever plot development unfoldand all the extra nuances in character reveal themselves in ways like a real life friendship – the more time you spend together, the deeper the appreciation and understanding.

    • I’m really looking forward to rereading her. I am still working my way through my first read of her novels but I’m looking forward to reading her novels a second time. I’m sure that rereads will be incredible!

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