Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen



Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine Morland, a seventeen year old girl visiting the town of Bath with some family friends.  Having been bought up in a solid, happy family and yet possessed of an imaginative nature, Catherine is completely unprepared for life in town and the reality that people are sometimes not all that they seem.  She quickly enters into a friendship with Isabella Thorpe, who showers plain Catherine with praise and affection and she also fancies herself in love with Henry Tilney from the moment of meeting him.  When she receives an invitation to the Tilney's home, Northanger Abbey, her imagination goes into overdrive as she imagines all sorts of gothic horrors and mysteries awaiting her.  But the real dangers for Catherine lie in the lessons that she must learn about human nature.

My original goal for the Austen in August event was to reread one Austen (I chose Emma) and read one new-to-me Austen, Northanger Abbey.  I'm always a bit hesitant with the Austens I've neither read before nor seen a TV adaptation of; I find Austen fairly challenging as I'm not always good with subtext (much like Catherine!).  But I shouldn't have worried - Northanger Abbey was by far the 'easiest' experience I have had with Austen and I just flew through the book in two days as I couldn't put it down.  It has become my favourite Austen novel, an opinion I know most readers don't share!

I loved Northanger Abbey so much because I loved Catherine.  This probably doesn't reflect too well on me, but Catherine at seventeen could have been me at seventeen.  Like Catherine, I had come from a loving family in which everyone got on and said what they meant, without playing any games.  I was always ready to believe the best of people, give second chances and accept apologies.  I hated being thought badly of myself, so never would have done it to others.  I looked for the positives in my friends, ignoring or not seeing the negatives.  I believed what people told me to the extent that I was officially what you would call gullible.  I lived in a fantasy world of my imagination based on the books I had read and was often not with reality at all.  To tell you the truth, I haven't changed that much since then!  I'm aware that I believe and trust too easily and do attempt to think things through more logically, but it's always a massive shock to me when people betray trust or deliberately deceive or hurt others.  So it was most definitely easy for me to relate to Catherine and put myself in her shoes, even if Austen is poking gentle fun at her for most of the novel.

I also really enjoyed the romance between Catherine and Henry Tilney.  Obviously Catherine thinks of herself as in love with him immediately (I may have been guilty of this in the past, too!) but throughout the novel we get to see the relationship develop slowly as they spend time together, first at Bath then at the Abbey.  They spend a lot of time in each other's company as Catherine becomes friends with him and his sister, and this is when she genuinely does fall in love.  This is how normal relationships work.  Although Henry does sometimes lecture Catherine about the real world, it didn't annoy me as it did when Mr Knightley lectures Emma in Emma.  Henry never aims to embarrass or hurt Catherine, only to gently prod her in the right direction.  When he really could embarrass her (after her imagination runs away with her about his father), he never holds it over her head or uses it against her, showing quite a lot of sensitivity.

When I finished this book, I read Andi's review, in which she points out the difference in intelligence between Catherine and Henry.  Whilst it is true that Catherine isn't Henry's intellectual equal, I think that she offers him something beside that.  As the son of a scheming, manipulative father, Henry is sick and tired of playing games and the acting that being part of society requires.  Catherine is incapable of deception or game playing, and I think this is something to admire.  I particularly liked the scene where she runs across town to Miss Tilney's house as she can't bear that she will think badly of her.

Although we do get to poke fun at Catherine throughout the novel, especially when her over-active imagination gets her into trouble, I was pleased to see her get a happy ending and for things to work out.  Sometimes being quick to trust and think the best of others isn't always a bad thing.

Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1818
My Edition: Modern Library, 2002
Score: 5 out of 5

 

The Classics Club: Book 15/72

19 comments:

  1. Loved your review! And I totally agree that Catherine offers Henry a sense of authenticity that he doesn't get from his father. What a beast that man was! Ack!

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    1. Yep, a total beast! I'm glad my father in law isn't like that :P

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  2. Great review. I love Austen. I gave this one 4*

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    1. I'm a recent convert, but I love Austen too :)

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  3. Fab review! I started reading this a few years ago but never finished it and, since I often call Jane my 'favourite author', I think I should get around to doing so!

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    1. Hope you enjoy finishing the book up, Sophie.

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  4. Oh yay! I'm so glad to find another reader who appreciates Catherine as well as Catherine and Henry's relationship! I re-read this one a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it.

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    1. I will definitely reread this in the next couple of years. I'm glad that you like it as much as I do :)

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  5. I'm glad you are enjoying Austen books this month :) My opinion (prejudices) of her have totally changed after 1.5 books I've read by now. Hoping to finish Mansfield Park very soon!

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    1. Mansfield Park is the one that I'm not that excited to read, compared to Persuasion, which is the only other one I have left. I'll be interested to see what you make of it.

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  6. Great review! I'm so glad to see you loved it. I loved it, too, though it's not my favorite Austen. I was surprised by how funny it was.

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  7. I hated Henry, but you've got great insight to why they could have worked as a couple. Excellent review.

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  8. I just read this for the first time too! I agree Catherine is a likeable character and thought the story was a lot of fun too. My post on it will be up next week.

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  9. I never understood why this one is not seen as quite on par with Austen's others. I adored it and, like you, flew through it. I think I'm actually due a re-read or a re-watch of the mini-series at least!

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  10. Aw, yay, I love this Austen book too. Henry Tilney is delightful and charming, which so many of Austen's heroes are not quite, and I love how Catherine grows up over the course of the book. Plus Austen's poking fun at the gothic novel genre delights me.

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  11. I'm with you. I really enjoyed this novel. I felt Austen really showed herself in this book and was so sarcastic, funny and playful that it was just a treat to read.

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  12. Great writing, great story, great characters...come to Northanger Abbey with a sense of humor and you will not be disappointed.

    (Jeremy Bell)

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  13. I used to rush home from work to read this book, and was not disappointed in it at all, from beginning to end. This is the best place to start with Austen (well, you could also read her juvenilia if you want... it is more silly than anything, but entertaining nonetheless), and it's definitely a fun read.

    Mica
    Online Dating Plenty of Fish Review

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  14. I am already a Jane Austen fan, but this was a little different. Jane Austen with a touch of sarcastic humor, and a "breaking of the 4th wall" from author to reader. Fun!!

    Marlene
    Info site for Top Towing in Austin TX

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