Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey has been on my shelves the longest of all my Austen novels. As a young person perusing the classics section, I was taken with the promise of locked rooms and Gothic intrigue. It's just a shame it took me this long to read the book!

The most youthful and optimistic of Jane Austen's novels, Northanger Abbey, tells the story of naive, charming Catherine Morland, who is obsessed with reading Gothic romance and horror. When Catherine is invited to stay at her new friends' grand house, Northanger Abbey, with its mysterious suite of sealed-off rooms, her melodramatic imagination threatens to run away with her. As comic misunderstandings ensue, she comes to understand the gap between fantasy and reality, false friends and true feeling. 
--from the book Penguin English Library book jacket.
This was the first novel Austen sold (1803) but it was not published until 1818--15 years later and the year following her death. I'd read that it's the most lighthearted of Austen's novels, and I would agree that it is the lightest of the ones I've read: Pride and Prejudice and Emma. 
Austen's usual suspects are here...society balls, a widening social circle, a close female confidante, a love interest, some seriously annoying jackasses bent on manipulation.
Our protagonist, Catherine Morland, is delightfully clueless. She is naive, and wholly well-intentioned, she doesn't quite know her opinions yet, and she's far more likely to accept the convictions of those around her than to formulate her own ideas. In short, she ain't no Elizabeth Bennet. She's young; she's green. But that's what sets up the novel's conflict. She is manipulated by a set of false friends. The first half of the novel is mostly Catherine's introduction to the social scene in Bath and those crap friends, and the latter half of the novel is ironing out all of the mishaps in the way of her falling in love. And the Abbey! The Gothic goodness is concentrated in the second section.
One thing that is different from Austen's other couples, is that Catherine Morland and her true love are on very different intellectual levels. He's quite opinionated about everything, but he finds it charming that Catherine is a sweet, genuinely good-natured girl, but doesn't have an strong conviction in her head. Anytime she says something flighty he points out how pure of heart she is. How wonderfully sweet and bomb diggity
So yeah, that could get old in a longer book. It didn't bother me too much here, it was just different. The dynamics between Cath and her man were far-removed from Darcy and Elizabeth or Emma and Knightley. I don't see how it could be a workable long-term pairing, but that's neither here nor there. 
This was a fun, relaxing read. In comparison to the other Austen novels I've loved, this one is behind in the race. I rated it 4/5 stars on Goodreads, in comparison to the other novels which got 5 stars. Still not bad! Not bad at all. 
This post is for Roof Beam Reader's Austen in August event! I also have Persuasion on my pile. I would love to get to it this month, but that may not happen with some other reading commitments on the docket. 

This is also a book I chose for the Classics Club.
Which is your favorite Jane Austen novel? Have you read Northanger Abbey

Pub date: December 2010
Publisher: Penguin (English Library)
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780141389424 
Source: Purchased by me. 

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