Northanger Abbey | book review

Is it just me, or do you feel like a 40-year-old woman sitting alone in an apartment petting her cat and drinking coffee when you read Jane Austen? It’s probably just me. I mean, to be fair, I’m a 20-year-old woman sitting alone in a dorm room petting her cat and drinking coffee, so I’m not that far off… Anywho, I had to read this for my Jane Austen class I’m taking this semester, and there are more to come.

The Synopsis

Catherine Morland is not the prettiest, wealthiest, or most talented woman in England. As a child she is very much a tomboy, but as she grows older, she falls in love with reading and decides to become the heroine of her own life. When Catherine’s neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Allen travel to Bath for the winter season of balls and theatre, she is able to tag along and begin her journey. In Bath, Catherine makes friends, reunites with her older brother, and falls in love with a very agreeable young gentleman. Catherine tries very hard to be a heroine and turn her life into a novel, but it turns out the real world is a lot more ordinary and beautiful than all the books she’s read.

The Plot

Northanger Abbey is, essentially, a parody or satire of the Gothic. Catherine was originally named Susan in Austen’s first draft and actually titled the novel Susan. Later, the character and the name of the work was changed to Catherine, but Austen died before publishing it. Austen’s brother decided to call the novel Northanger Abbey and published it after his sister’s death, becoming the novel we know and love. Though it is considered a parody of the Gothic, I don’t really see it as a parody. Though it is comedic and poking fun at the genre, it also fits into the genre itself. I was a little shocked, though, at her breaking the fourth wall throughout the story. Austen interrupts her novel with her own commentary, which I find fascinating. I didn’t expect that from her, but it really worked. Not only does it add to the parody effect, but it gives us readers insight into Austen herself, not just her characters. When Catherine finally arrives at Northanger Abbey and she’s constantly comparing this real life experience to the novels she’s read, I fell in love. I thought it was hilarious. I love when Austen notes the heroine of a Gothic would investigate and explore the strangeness, whereas Catherine just decides to go to sleep. My biggest problem was the ending, which I suppose was done on purpose being a parody and such, but I didn’t like how rushed it felt. The last two or three chapters seems very rushed and makes sure to tie up every loose end in a neat little bow. Not sure if that was intended as a comedic parallel to the genre, but I hope it was, because it seemed hurried compared to the rest of the novel. I mean, it’s an Austen novel, so you kind of expect everyone to live happily ever after. I just expected it to be a little more drawn out.

The Characters

Whereas Elizabeth Bennet is my favorite Austen character (so far), Catherine Morland is the most relatable. I don’t know if I’ve ever related to someone so well in my life, and just my luck, she’s fictional. Catherine is not very girly as a child and enjoys playing outside. She doesn’t have an affinity for all the things a woman should learn in her time, but she does enjoy reading, and that’s more than enough for her. She is particularly fond of the Gothic and tries to find connections between her life and the books she reads. I feel ya, girl, I feel ya. As a child, and still today, I sometimes catch myself thinking of my life as a novel. I know it’s not, but I can’t help wishing for something extraordinary to occur, something novel-like. I can tell Catherine feels the same way. Though she sometimes made poor decisions, I really liked her.

Someone I severely did not like, on the other hand, was Isabella Thorpe. Nor did I like her brother, John. Isabella and John were Catherine’s first acquaintances in Bath. At first, Isabella seemed like a good friend to Catherine, but she was very fake. She wasn’t quite as terrible as her brother, though. John Thorpe made me so angry that I didn’t even want to read the novel anymore. John was interested in Catherine even though she made it very clear the feelings were not mutual. Still, he did everything in his power to woo her and ignore all her wishes. I don’t know how else to describe him other than a complete and total asshole. Out of all the terrible things he did to Catherine, though, this statement of his has to be the absolute worst transgression:

“I never read novels; I have something else to do … they are the stupidest things in creation.”

This is a sign that says, “Walk away from this person and never go back.” This is a warning sign. What a terrible, terrible man…

Henry Tilney, luckily, saves the day. Henry is Catherine’s actual love interest, and he’s a helluva lot better than John Thorpe. Henry is smart, sarcastic, funny, and handsome — what more could you ask for? Though the two flirt occasionally throughout the story, there’s not much romance. I only call this a romance because it’s Jane Austen, and Catherine pines over the man throughout the entire novel. The good news is, he’s great for Catherine. He, too, enjoys Gothic novels, and reading in general:

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

Amen to that, Henry. Thanks for being so opposite of John. A man who reads is infinitely more attractive than a man who doesn’t. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong.

The Writing

How can one critique Jane Austen’s writing? I really do love it. Many of my professors say they never truly came to love Austen until the middle of their life. I am in love with it now, even though it makes me feel like I’ve reached the middle of my life. I really enjoy her writing, characters, and plots. She isn’t the best writer in the world, of course, but she is great, and I am enjoying studying her work.

Favorite Quote(s)

“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”

“No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.”

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