Author: Jane Austen
published: 1817 (originally)
Challenges: Everything Austen Challenge at Stephanie’s Written Word
“You think me foolish to call instruction a torment, but if you had been as much used as myself to hear poor little children first learning their letters and then learning to spell, if you had ever seen how stupid they can be for a whole morning together, and how tired my poor mother is at the end of it, as I am in the habit of seeing almost every day of my life at home, you would allow that to torment and to instruct might sometimes be used as synonimous words.”
“Very probably. But historians are not accountable for the difficulty of learning to read; and even you yourself, who do not altogether seem particularly friendly to very severe, very intense application, may perhaps be brought to acknowledge that it is very well worth while to be tormented for two or three years of one’s life, for the sake of being able to read all the rest of it. Consider – if reading had not been taught, Mrs Radcliffe would have written in vain – or perhaps might not have written at all.”
-Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, pages 123-124
Northanger Abbey was actually Jane Austen’s first novel, though it wasn’t published until after her death. It was sold for ten pounds to a publisher who decided against publishing it and returned it to Jane’s brother, Henry, who did finally publish towards the end of 1817 (1818 on the original title page). The wonderful thing about this book being the first, and almost lost forever, book Austen wrote is that it just oozes with her raw wit and satirical voice. It displays her sharp tongue and passion about reading, women’s rights and plight in society, and the true value of novels.
The purpose of Northanger Abbey, besides using the text and characters as a mouthpiece to express Austen’s own thoughts, is to parody the gothic romance novels of her day, with particularly appreciation and affection for Mrs. Radcliffe’s. Young Catherine Morland is an ingenue taking her first trip to Bath, the place for polite society to see and be seen by each other. Miss Morland meets Henry Tilney and falls for him by the end of the evening. However, his quick departure leaves her open to the influences of other new acquaintances, the Thorpes, who are rather vulgar and self-serving. John Thorpe lies to make himself look better, lies to General Tilney (Henry’s father) about Catherine’s financial outlook, and lies to Catherine about Tilney in order to get her to go with him on a day trip. Catherine is forced to develop her own judgment and to excercise it.
When she goes to Northanger Abbey, the family manse of the Tilneys, she begins to stretch these muscles to excess and begins to see a villain in every wardrobe, and a tale of cruelty behind every locked door. She goes from blindly accepting that everyone is good and does good to deciding General Tilney is a cruel husband who has either murdered his wife or keeps her locked in a dungeon, feeding her gruel every night after the household has gone to bed.
Originally, I had issue with this sudden flip in personality. I thought it a weak ploy to be able to parody Radcliffe, et al’s work. However, after thinking it over, it occurred to me that Catherine was in love with Henry, and because of that wanted to be like him. In his presence, she defers to his judgment on all things. But when he’s gone from the Abbey, she tries to reason like him, but ends up over thinking everything to the point of ridiculousness.
“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to – Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians… Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?” -Henry Tilney, pages 195-196
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Northanger Abbey, and found it delightful to read a “new” (to me) Jane Austen. You know, everyone always reads Pride and Prejudice, and it’s a great book, I won’t argue that. But I think even those who are less-than-enthused by Austen’s writing can appreciate this book. It’s not quite as multi-layered as her other novels where people say one thing and everyone knows they mean a completely different thing (“Oh, Mrs Nesbit! What a lovely frock” really means, “Die, bitch! DIE!!!!”)
Northanger Abbey is my new favorite Austen book, toppling the long-standing, afore-mentioned Pride and Prejudice (still very much-loved, just second place, now) AND it has given me a new book crush. Oh, Mr. Tilney! *sigh… flutter… swoon* Also, reading this book was like taking a look back at the teenage version of me. I was definitely Cathy Morland: Dense in the way things really work, romantic-minded, and wanted what I read in books to be a reality. Ah, then I grew up into Elizabeth Bennet/Elinor Dashwood.
Obviously, I give Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen 5 out of 5 stars :-D
Filed under: Book Challenges, Book Reviews | Tagged: british literature, Catherine Morland, classic, classic literature, Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, gothic, gothic romance, Henry Tilney, ingenue, Jane Austen, Mrs Radcliffe, parody, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Tilney | 6 Comments »