Jane Austen: "Northanger Abbey"

Jane Austen has surprisingly established herself over the years as one of my favourite authors and I have to admit my presence among the hardcore Pride & Prejudice and Mr Darcy devotees of which there are many in world. Knowing very well her "three big ones", Pride & Prejudice of course, Emma and Sense and Sensibility, I have recently decided to catch up with her other novels and bought Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park.

Northanger Abbey, published in 1817, is the story of young Catherine Morland who is a passionate reader of mystery novels, the more bloodspilling the better. She is sent to accompany Mr and Mrs Allen to Bath for some weeks and meets Isabelle and John Thorpe of which the former becomes her new best friend.
When she also gets close to the Tilney siblings, of which Henry becomes her love interest, the Thorpes start clinging to her. Indeed, as the Thorpes mistake Catherine for the heiress of the Allens’ fortune, they plan to make double marriage to Catherine and her brother. While Catherine refuses John, Isabella succeeds in getting engaged to James Morland. Catherine subsequently accepts Eleanor Tilney’s invitation to their mansion Northanger Abbey, where her imagination goes wild and she imagines that General Tilney killed his wife.
As in the meantime Isabella discovers the truth of their lack of wealth, she dissolves her engagement and tries to catch Henry’s brother Frederick Tilney instead. Thereby, General Tilney who had been mislead about the Morland’s wealth as well, more or less throws Catherine out and it is Henry who closes the story with a happy ending.

Catherine is a young, naïve but somewhat foolish girl, as her love for gothic romance and unbound imagination lead her first to wish for some mystery and horror in her own life and to imagine it herself and take it for reality later on. I did not feel very much with her, she is entertaining at most, often charming in her stupidity but overall not interesting beyond that.
Even though Henry presents some similarities with Darcy, the wit and sarcasm and the quality of being a good brother to his sister Eleanor, Catherine is no Elizabeth. Indeed, she barely understands what he is talking about in their long discussions and thinks he is utterly charming and intelligent from the first moment. That Henry ends up marrying her is based on his preference not for an equally intelligent partner, but a refreshingly naïve girl. I liked him in general but maybe he disappointed me somewhat as I thought at the end, “here goes a future Mr Bennett” even if that may be unfair to Catherine, who is by no means as insufferable as Mrs Bennett.

I watched the BBC movie two years or so ago but fortunately I did not remember exactly the details of the storyline anymore so that I could discover the novel on its own. I found Northanger Abbey a rather short read compared to the novels I previously read but not less entertaining. It is a surprising read, as Austen ventures into open parody and chooses as a target the gothic romance novel. Basically, if Austen was writing this today, she would turn Catherine into an even weaker Bella (is that actually possible?) and make fun of Twilight.


Post a Comment

Constantly changing places is inherent to my life. Books have always been steady friends which I could bump into wherever I was all over the world.
Stumbling upon Kaminer's German stories of "Die Reise nach Trulala" in Reykjavík's city library is as moving as meeting the Icelandic sagas in Boston's Borders.
To see a book again, that I've read thousands of kilometers away makes me smile "Hey I know you.." and shake hands by thumbing through it for a while.