Friday, May 22, 2015

Classics Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Title: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Published: Originally December 1818 by John Murray
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist. 

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art. 

Executed with high-spirited gusto, Northanger Abbey is the most lighthearted of Jane Austen’s novels, yet at its core this delightful novel is a serious, unsentimental commentary on love and marriage.

I have an interesting history with Jane Austen. I know a lot of book lovers list her as one of their favorite authors and especially female book lovers probably list one of her books as their favorite classics. I however am not one of those people. I mean don't get me wrong, I like Austen but for me a lot of her stuff is kind of hit and miss. I have loved some, hated some, found some to be wordy, found others to be beautiful.

But that being said, I was really excited to read Northanger Abbey. I have heard it referred to as Jane Austen's Gothic parody. I love a good parody, especially of things that I enjoy (like Gothic literature) and I was not at all disappointed. This is definitely a kind of tongue in cheek response from Austen to her contemporaries but also to the people who love those sorts of novels. At times Austen breaks the forth wall and speaks directly to the reader explaining how ridiculous the characters have been and what we may have missed getting caught up in the story. She also directly names a list of Gothic novels including The Mysteries of Udolpho, a Gothic masterpiece, and debating whether they are great reads or horrible. It's definitely a book for book lovers in addition to being the most lighthearted of all Austen's novels that I have ever read.

One of the more lighthearted things about this book that also makes it quite an interesting parody is the romance. Jane Austen is the master of writing relationships that develop over time after a series of misunderstandings. But here she seems to be parodying herself. There are in fact misunderstandings but it is nor in terms of romantic feels or the characters feelings for one another. In fact the romantic leads spend a lot of time together flirting in a chaste 19th century sort of way. There is of course the typical Austenian love triangle and discussion of whether or not the character is an appropriate match but it never really seems to have the kind of drama that some of her other books have had.

But Catherine Morland is your typical Austenian heroine. She does not subscribe to your typical societal ideals for women at the time. She prefers being outside and reading to parties and social events but Catherine is also plucky and effervescent like Emma Woodhouse (though entirely less annoying). She has a sarcastic kind of humor and ends up getting caught up in her own world and assuming things that aren't entirely true. In this case she assumes that her real life is just like the books she reads. She goes to Northanger Abbey in search of adventure and mystery and this ends up causing problems for her. But throughout the book she learns from her mistakes and has a great character development.

I really enjoyed Northanger Abbey, it may have even beat out Sense and Sensibility as my favorite Jane Austen novel. It's a fast and fun read perfect for fans of classic literature especially if you enjoy Austen's other work or are a fan of books like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Dickens but don't mind a little parody of your beloved books.

I give Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen 9 out of 10

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy. This is definitely a classic I would recommend. It's not very long so you can probably cruise through it in a few days like I did. If you are a fan of Jane Austen then you must read this one. It's tongue in cheek but combines a lot of the best elements in Austen's novels to make something new and interesting.

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely love this book. I love how funny it is and I love Henry Tilney.