As with most of Austen's books, the plot is simple because the drama is within the people and their relationships. Catherine Morland is a sheltered girl who lived with her family in the country and never had nay friends or suitors. When a friend of her parents decides to take Catherine to live in the city, her whole life changes. She immediately befriends Isabella Thorpe, a deceitful and self-centered girl. Isabella's brother, John, attempts to court Catherine but she remains unswayed for her interests lay with Henry Tilney. As the story continues, Isabella becomes more demanding and almost tries to force Catherine to be with John. Eventually, Catherine finds her voice and refuses John's advancements. Yet, it takes Catherine almost the entire novel to completely come into her own. The title comes from the abbey that Henry Tilney's family owns. Catherine, who spent the majority of her youth reading Gothic novels, is completely enthralled with the abbey so when she is finally invited she just about bursts at the thought of hidden chambers and locked away skeletons. However, what she finds it nothing like what she had planned and when her imagination runs away with itself her relationship with Henry is put at risk.
I really enjoyed this novel much more than I thought I would. I found other works by Austen to be boring, dated, and bombastic. Yet, Northanger Abbey is charming and has a message that still rings true today: don't allow yourself to be naive or prone to deceit because people will take advantage of you. In addition, I liked that the romance in the novel took a backseat to Catherine's development. Though it felt sluggish at times, I was never disinterested. I also loved Austen's defense of novels and the Gothic elements in this book.
"The building is haunted" or "There's treasure buried in the backyard" are a couple things you might tell a child to make an ordinary event like a wedding rehearsal or dinner at the neighbor's more exciting and interesting. The novel's protagonist, Catherine, does the same thing; only she's telling the stories to herself! After reading a Gothic novel (which this book is, in turn, designed to parody) Catherine convinces herself that the abbey she's staying at houses a dark secret, that her her host murdered his wife nine years ago. As a result she takes on the role of detective and tries to solve the case. Those who are looking for a strong female lead like some of Austen's other characters (i.e. Elizabeth Bennet) may be less than satisfied with Catherine, who sometimes acts more like a spoiled child than an adult. However, Catherine in endearing in her own right, and her efforts to make the "boring," normal life of the abbey into an intrigue-filled adventure are entertaining and enjoyable to follow. This reader certainly felt nostalgic for childhood games of make-believe, at least. The male protagonist Henry also makes a great counterpart to Catherine, as the voice of reason (or sometimes of teasing) that balances Catherine's imagination and naivete. This novel leads the reader on a fun, nostalgic adventure with Catherine, while also demonstrating the dangers (however humorous) of confusing fiction with reality.
"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
Living a sheltered and quiet life in the small, peaceful village of Fullerton, Catherine Morland, at the ripe young age of seventeen, is in want of an adventure. Since she is fond of horrid Gothic novels, the ideal adventure for Catherine would be one with sinister characters, secret mysteries, and many Gothic horrors! Catherine does receive an adventure of sorts when the she is invited to travel to Bath with her wealthy neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Allen. Leaving her confined and quiet world behind, Catherine embarks upon a trip that will introduce her to many new acquaintances, test her understanding of human nature, and teach her that the real world is nothing like the fantasy world of novels...
Out of all of Jane Austen's novels I find NorthangerAbbey to be one of her wittiest. Between her poking fun at Gothic novels and her biting social criticism, I experienced many laugh out loud moments! Moreover, in reading this novel a second time, I gained new appreciation for Jane Austen's unabashed sarcasm and sharp tone which pour out from every page of this novel.
In writing her first serious novel, Jane Austen focuses a great deal of page time on the subject of novels and heroines: (What is a heroine? Should people read novels?) I took pleasure in seeing the characters of this novel take part in enlightening debates and discussions of other novels whether it be a horror novel or history novel. In addition, I greatly enjoyed how warmly Jane Austen defends the reading and writing of novels in her narration and commentary.
"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 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 of it." - The Narrator
"'It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda;' or, in short, only 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 wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language." - The Narrator
Catherine Morland is an utterly delightful heroine! Some readers and critics may find Catherine to be an immature and inferior heroine, but I disagree. While it is true that Catherine is a little fanciful and young, I find her naivetÚ and ingenuousness to be endearing and engaging. In addition, Catherine's tendency to think the best of everyone reminds me a little of Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. At the close of the novel, Catherine emerges as a perceptive and discerning young woman. I took pleasure in viewing the significant improvement in Catherine's understanding, growth and maturity throughout her adventures and experiences away from home.
Northanger Abbey is a stellar masterpiece that clearly illustrates Jane Austen's great genius. This novel will be sure to divert and entertain Jane Austen admirers no matter how many times they have previously read it before. One of the great things about rereading a novel by Jane Austen is that it will be never a dull experience; the brilliance of her writing will forever be discovered and rediscovered with each reading.
"But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine..."
When I read the words written by Jane Austen telling me that Catherine Morland had been in training to become a heroine I knew I was going to enjoy this novel. This book allows us a glimpse of Jane Austen as a younger woman, as a beginning novelist and as a woman with a lovely sense of humor. There isn't any denying that this book, then titled "Susan", was the first to be sold by Austen to a publisher. There it languished in some forgotten corner for thirteen years before she tried to get it back from a firm which had no intention of publishing it. Ultimately she had to borrow the money to buy her own book back. People can probably get involved in scholarly discussions as to whether or not any revisions were made to this book by Jane Austen before her death, but that's isn't what I'm interested in. I wanted to read this book because I just couldn't believe that Jane Austen had really written a book which I didn't like. At all! Thankfully, I proved myself to be both right and wrong. I completely and thoroughly enjoyed this book and am only sorry that I allowed film versions of the book to turn me away from actually reading what the author had created.
Catherine Morland became a heroine for me to love and to sympathize with, while I watched her grow and mature. At the age of seventeen Catherine is quite young to be starring in her own novel but according to the times she lived in this was a perfectly respectable age for a young woman to become a wife and mother. Up until the time Catherine was fifteen she was the epitome of a tomboy, much preferring playing games outside to learning the skills to help her in her housekeeping and marriage. When she was around fifteen she discovered novels. It was the most delightful thing to read Jane Austen's words in defense of her heroine reading novels and particularly Gothic novels. The information contained within those books colored so much of Catherine's thinking and when she is given the opportunity of having a prolonged stay in Bath with close friends and neighbors she is ecstatic. Mr and Mrs Allen will become the surrogate parents of this young woman for their stay and upon arrival Mrs Allen continually bemoans the fact that she knows nobody in Bath, therefore she and Catherine are restricted as to who they can talk to. Very quickly Mrs Allen meets a former schoolmate, Mrs Thorpe, her son and daughters, and from then on Catherine can move in society with Isabella Thorpe and later her brother John Thorpe. One process leads to another and Catherine makes the acquaintance of Eleanor and Henry Tilney along with their father Colonel Tilney. Austen uses Catherine and her new friends to demonstrate the social limits and restrictions on young women of the time. She also illustrates how easily deceit can be camouflaged as friendship.
My reading of this novel was enhanced greatly because I was sharing the experience with a friend. We discussed the novel from the viewpoint of our previous interest in the writings of Jane Austen. I must rank this book right up there with my other favorite novels now. Yes, there is melodrama. Yes, Catherine is a very young woman prone to being fooled by others. Thankfully it is also about Catherine conquering her fears caused by the melodrama by facing reality and Catherine learning to see the motives of other people more clearly.
This novel is Jane Austen at her most natural, at least it seems that way to me. She is obviously having fun with this writing, she also seems to genuinely like her heroine and the other "good" characters in the book and shows us the deceitful characters we all need to recognize and avoid. Austen seems young in thought and spirit in this writing. The prose is light and very readable. It is also a relatively short novel. I would have liked for it to be longer (of course!) but specifically because I would have liked for some of the characters, even major characters, to have been presented in fuller form. The only portion I'm definitely a little disappointed with happens in the final chapter, but I'll let you discover that for yourself. Who knows, you might not have the same reaction at all. I do highly recommend this novel as a truly great early novel from a writer who was to go on to a fame which probably would have truly surprised her. This Penguin Classic edition is a wonderful version of this novel. It contains much information aside from the novel which was a great help for me while I was reading. The Notes from each chapter by Marilyn Butler, Exeter College, Oxford, were invaluable in keeping me in the time frame of what was happening in Austen's world when this book was written. I also highly recommend this specific edition of NorthangerAbbey.
It's typical for the heroine in an Austen novel to have a pure biblical name and the virtues as delicate as a dove but for this Jane Austen masterpiece, the story is far from that. Intertwined with the themes of parody and the elements of foreshadowing and metaphoric language, NorthangerAbbey distinguishes itself far from the expected in a Jane Austen Novel.
The story starts out with dear Catherine, who at the age of seventeen is showing signs of the early peaks of beauty. Coming from a traditional family of ten children, Catherine is first described as very plain and subjected into playing Cricket and Baseball rather than with dolls. She is then introduced to a world in Bath, where society molds her years of adolescence and changes her into becoming a respectable young lady.
What is really impressive in this work by Austen is that Catherine is not the typical "Damsel in Distress". Rather than being a damsel just waiting for the world to rescue her, she is distressed with the idea of being rescued and finds refuge in reading gothic novels. Jane Austen cleverly weaves in allusions of period gothic novels such as The Monk. As Catherine mentioned the books, Austen slyly put in hidden parodies and critiques of the works through the ridiculous images that Catherine imagines after indulging herself. The villains, the Thorpes, gave great humor in their dialogue as well as kept me captivated throughout the book as a whole. They were the epitome of gold diggers and what really amused me was the fact that Mr. John Thorpe played the role so perfectly that he could be representation of the modern day nut-brain in our society.
The best part of the novel, in my opinion was Mr. Henry Tilney. Mr. Tilney, son of General Tilney, the hero of the story is by far in par with legendary Pride and Prejudice's Mr. Darcy. What puts him apart from the typical Jane Austen man is that Mr. Tilney has a personality that speaks volumes. He is full of wit and charisma that the slang word of "swag" wouldn't be enough to describe his aura. Early in the novel, when Catherine first arrives in Bath, he captivates her with his good looks and charming ways. Although Jane Austen is known for deceiving the audience with her men, Mr. Tilney is no fake, he is really charming. For the girls, like myself, who enjoy reading of distinguished English men with old school manners; Northanger Abbey is a seller.
I could read this novel over and over, my only critique is that some of the characters such as Catherine's parents and Mr. Tilney's family could have had further characterization. It seemed as though at some points in the novel, those characters lacked growth. Other than that, it is now a favorite book of mine. I must say, because of Ms. Austen's lioness ways and feisty writing style, it can be concluded that once again the reader has entered into the lion's den.