Seventeen year old Catherine Morland is a rather unlikely heroine. As a young girl she was plain, awkward, inattentive, with not much that stood out about her. But through her reading, she is learning to be a heroine. Catherine often loses herself in novels, Gothic stories about old castles and great mysteries. But life for Catherine is nothing what she finds in books.
Until one day, her neighbours invite her to spend a few weeks in Bath where she meets the Tilney family and falls in love with son Henry. When she is invited to spend time at Northanger Abbey, the family estate, she jumps at the chance to live in her own Gothic story. Once at the Abbey, she begins to suspect that deep and dark secrets lurk behind its walls. Are there suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs. Tilney? Will Catherine's Gothic fantasy come true or is it all nothing more than fiction?
Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen's first novel, though it was not published until after her death in 1817. Referred to as a "Gothic parody," this book is a highly entertaining and funny coming of age story.
There is so much that I enjoyed in this book. As someone who has not read much Austen (actually I've only read Pride and Prejudice), I didn't go into it with much expectation of it being like her other works. I found so many parts of the book to be funny, especially the way the narrator commented on things. You have to love a book that has the line,
"Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them" (chapter 2).
I loved the use of the narrator in this book, the side comments and the explanation of society coming directly from Austen herself. I also loved the commentary on literature and novels and the way that people judged others by what they read. This is definitely something that translates well to today! The theme of reality and fantasy and the danger of confusing the two also translates well.
I was a little surprised that it took so long to "set up" the story. I enjoyed reading about the balls, the way society works, and the process of selecting a partner. But this part seemed a little long to me as compared to the part that takes place at Northanger Abbey. Once they were at the Abbey though, it was a thoroughly enjoyable story. Catherine's obsession with things being the way they are in the novel and her suspicions of General Tilney were, in my view, hilarious. Considering this is Austen's first novel, I was very impressed of the send-up it was giving of those who find themselves immersed in the popular literature of the time.
Fans of Gothic novels will love the themes in this book as well as the reference to many of the popular novels of the time. As I already mentioned, I haven't read many of Austen's works but this one is definitely my favourite so far, I found it more enjoyable and more relatable today than I did Pride and Prejudice.
Have you read Northanger Abbey? What are your thoughts of it compared to Austen's other works?