So, 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!