I find it almost impossible that I hadn’t read Jane Austen‘s Northanger Abbey yet in my years as a reader. Jane Austen is one of my very favorite authors of all time. In fact one of my English Lit professors once told me that I tried to live in an Austenian world. I think I very calmly replied that I’d rather live in an Austenian world and a Dickensian one, a favorite author of his.
But when I saw it at the library in the Large Print section I realized that it was the very first time I’d actually seen that book in print. I immediately put it in my bag to check out. Now that I have finished it I think I can finally say that I have read all of Jane Austen’s published works.
Northanger Abbey is a spoof of the Gothic novels that were so popular in Jane Austen’s time. I have never read The Mysteries of Udolpho by Mrs. Radcliffe, but I am very familiar with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by the Bronte sisters. Let me just say that I much prefer the lighthearted spoof that is Northanger Abbey.
Catherine Morland, a young lady of the gentlemanly classes, is invited to go to Bath with a rich and childless neighbor couple. At seventeen she has always been stuck in her little town and a trip to Bath seems like a wonderful treat to her. As a gothic heroine she is entirely unaware of dangers with which such a trip is fraught.
At first the trip rather fizzles because she and Mrs. Allen are not acquainted with anyone there. But eventually Catherine meets a handsome young man named Henry Tilney, who dances with her and pays her a compliment. Like most seventeen-year-olds who’ve been buried in the country all their lives, Catherine does the sensible thing and falls in love.
Of course, like all Gothic novels and Jane Austen novels, the course of true love never runs smooth. Catherine’s is littered with false friends, an overly confident conceited suitor who is sure she must love him as much as he loves himself, and terrifying parents who might have killed spouse. She learns more about people in her two months from home than she ever learned in seventeen years in the country.
There is one particularly hilarious scene where Catherine’s imagination gets the best of her. Mr. Tilney has told her a Gothic tall tale about his father’s house and the Japan chest it contains. Imagine her horror as she lives out his story almost to the letter, only to learn after a sleepless night that her discovery was simply a forgotten washing list and not a confession of murder.
This novel has a faster pace and is much more lighthearted than the rest of Jane Austen’s work. Even though she was spoofing the Gothic novels she stuck to guns about the suitably of the parties to be married. In some ways it was the best of both worlds. It’s a pity Jane Austen didn’t write a few more spoofs.
I will be on the look out to add this novel to my personal library.
- Northanger Abbey (somanybooksblog.com)