June 11, 2012

On Re-Reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: Thoughts

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northanger abbey coverSo, my online book club picked Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen for our discussion last month. I’ve read it at least twice in the past, but it’s been awhile. I looked forward to reading it again.

Catherine Morland has a pretty uninteresting life. Her parents are perfectly normal, they have a bucket load of normal kids, and they are neither poor nor about to inherit tons of money. Just average. Catherine’s hobby is reading ‘horrid’ gothic novels, the more horrid the better. (Catherine and I would get along well. We’d have lots to talk about anyway.) Finally, at the age of seventeen, Catherine has the opportunity to have an adventure. Family friends, the Allens, are taking her to Bath!

The prospect for fun is high but Catherine is disappointed because Bath is boring if you don’t know anyone and they don’t. But then Mrs Thorpe, an acquaintance of Mrs Allen, shows up and things get interesting. She has her kids with her including the chatty Isabella. Isabella declares Catherine her instant bff. Soon after, Isabella’s brother John arrives with Catherine’s bro James.

Now their little gang cruises around Bath. Isabella makes googly-eyes at James while John tries to impress Catherine with his fine horse. It’s not happening, not since Catherine got a look at Henry Tilney. O Henry! He’s so dreamy! She gets along well with his sister Eleanor too. So well that Eleanor invites her to their family estate, Northanger Abbey. With a name like that there’s sure to be lots of horrid adventures.

Northanger Abbey isn’t my favorite Jane Austen. It lacks the heart of Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice. It is more like two novels: the gimmicky satire, and the story of social manners. Although the satire is funny, I wasn’t as interested in that as much as once was. It’s funny at first but then it gets tedious. Austen used Catherine’s trip to Northanger Abbey to poke fun at the popular gothic novels, like Fifty Shames of Earl Grey does to Fifty Shades of Grey.

The other part of the story, Catherine and the gang in Bath, is more like Bath, 90210. Isabella manipulates the earnest Catherine, plotting to keep her from the delectable Henry and in the path of John. Meanwhile, Isabella keeps James on the hook as well as carries on a flirtation with Fredrick Tilney.

Catherine is naive and takes everyone at their word. I cringe because she reminds me of myself at that age. She can’t see that Isabella is not a real friend. She’s slightly bookish and some of the best interactions between her and Henry are their discussions about novels. They are well suited. I wish Austen had concentrated more on their courtship rather than the non-happenings at Northanger Abbey. In fact, I found the romance between the two of them rushed.

Still, an okay Austen is better than most novels. I loved Catherine and Henry and the social interactions between all the characters kept me entertained. Plus, it’s only about 200 pages. It’s a quick one and will gear you up for one of her better novels.

PS- My copy, The Oxford World Classic edition, was so chalk full of footnotes. I loved it!

PPS- I reviewed one of Catherine’s favorite horrid novels The Castle of Wolfenbach last year. It’s a riot!


  1. It's interesting to me that people always put P&P and Persuasion down as the best of her novels. For me, P&P is the best of the six, and Persuasion is the worst of the six. I did really enjoy Northanger Abbey, which joined P&P in my favorites. I'm not a huge Austen fan, and those two are the only ones I really enjoy. NA was the last one I read, and I'm glad I saved it to the end because it was almost better than P&P and worth the wait.

    1. I was surprised that I didn't like it as much as I once did. I think that is a problem with rereading some books. I loved NA when I was a young woman, but I sort of saw her this time as a silly girl. Where I reread Persuasion a couple of years again and loved it even more because the characters were 'mature.'

  2. This has always been my favorite Austen, and I've reread it several times, the last time during grad school, when I'd been studying 18th-C literature so hard it was a very intense kind of pleasure to enjoy Austen making fun of it. As I've been re-arranging my books, I've thought of re-reading it again. Now I'm not sure. It sounds like the suck fairy might come.

    1. Rereading can be scary. It either brings back fond memories or makes you wonder what you were thinking! Sometimes you just have to go for it though.

  3. Persuasion has always been my favorite Austen novel. Funny, I just posted on rereading Sense and Sensibility today.

  4. Bath 90210

    haha I love that. This one for me was a fun novel, not too be thought of too deeply but I did enjoy it overall. Not sure how it would stand to a reread though

  5. Northanger Abbey is one of the few I haven't gotten to, yet. Must amend.

  6. I'd be interested in rereading this one, too. I read it when I was 12 and didn't think much of it, but I really enjoyed the PBS adaption from last year (Mr. Tilney is totally dreamy), so maybe I'd get more out of now.

  7. I really enjoy Northanger Abbey, though like you, I do cringe when she lets Isabella rule her - but that's what shy bookish 17 year olds do, don't they? I do love how her imagination gets away from her, and how she is too shy to tell Henry's father (always The Colonel for me) that she is poor......and I love Henry and Catherine. In fact, I want more of their courtship too whenever I read this book!


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