Monday, September 28, 2009

Northanger Abbey

The title: Northanger Abbey
The author: Jane Austen
Publication: Crown, 1981 (org. 1817)
Got it from: Mom, Easter 1996

This month's Austen is Northanger Abbey, a witty satire of Gothic romances. Excluding Persuasion, which I haven't read yet, this is my second favourite of Austen's. It's not as depressing as Mansfield Park, as preachy as Sense and Sensibility or as overlong as Emma. It's the perfect blend of brevity, humor and romance.

Northanger Abbey delivers the youngest heroine yet, seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland, a heroine as likable as any of any of Austen's, who as a child "loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house." Catherine grows up and develops an addiction to Gothic romances. She's incredibly naive about the ways of the world and goes off to Bath with her friends the Allens full of romantic ideas and no clue how to spot untrustworthy people. She becomes entangled with two families: the scheming Thorpes and the kind Tilneys. Isabella Thorpe pretends to be Catherine's good friend and tries to snare Catherine's brother because she assumes they're rich; Isabella's brother John is arguably the biggest blowhard in literature and courts Catherine for similar reasons as his sister.

In contrast, Eleanor Tilney shows herself to be true friend and brother Henry Tilney tries to guide Catherine to good sense while flirting shamelessly with her. I won't assert that he's more appealing than Darcy, as some people do, but I think he could have been if the book was longer and he'd shown up more in the narrative. I particularly love the scene where Henry gets carried away teasing Catherine about all the horrors she'll encounter at the abbey. He actually ends up amusing himself so much he can't stop laughing. Those of you who know my husband will understand why I like Henry so much.

It's hard to believe Northanger Abbey was written over two hundred years ago. Considering the current teenage girl mania for vampires, I'd say this book is more relevant than ever.

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