by Jane Austen
Publication Date: January 1, 1975
Genre: Fiction, Literature
Publisher: Folio Society
During an eventful season at Bath, young, naove Catherine Morland experiences fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who introduces Catherine to the joys of Gothic romances, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father's house, Northanger Abbey. There, influenced by novels of horror and intrigue, Catherine comes to imagine terrible crimes committed by General Tilney, risking the loss of Henry's affection, and must learn the difference between fiction and reality, false friends and true. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, Northanger Abbey is the most youthful and optimistic of Jane Austen's work.
My thoughts about this book are about as uneven as the book’s narrative, but I’m … 90% sure I like this one even less than I like Emma.
This re-reading was done in parallel to Robert Rodi’s analysis of the same in his book Bitch in a Bonnet, in the hopes that he could show me this book from a more appealing direction. He didn’t, but that’s because he doesn’t think much of this book as a whole either.
As a story, there’s no there there in Northanger Abbey, and our ‘heroine’ Catherine is naive to the point of imbecility. The hero is an ass, charming and witty though he may be, and even Austen knew it:
…I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.
The narrative structure is meandering, at best.
But the satire is delicious and I lived for the moments, like in the above quote, that Austen breaks the fourth wall and talks to the reader as herself. Because this book was originally written and completed before all her other books (but published posthumously), her humor is much more in-line with her juvenile works. In other words, her wit is rawly scathing, and lacks the subtleties she developed in her adult works. When she has a go at someone, you know it. It’s a lot of fun.
I’m definitely not sorry I re-read it; Austen’s worst is still miles better than almost everybody else’s best. But I can now confidently put Northanger Abbey and Emma at the end of the shelf, and save my indulgent re-reads for the other 4 novels.