Northanger Abbey

Rating: +

Jane Austen

Though I've read all of Jane Austen's other novels several times, I've just re-read Northanger Abbey for the first time. I would definitely recommend reading this book after Austen's others. A parody of the gothic romance, it also points out some differences between the type of novel Austen is trying to write and the standard novel of her time. At times, it feels like Austen is also poking fun at herself. This is a must-read book for Austen fans.

The novel tells the story of Catherine, a young lady from a respectable family who goes to live with friends, visit Bath, and find a husband. Unlike other Austen novels, Catherine is not an exceptional woman. She is, in fact, naive and stupid. Much of the amusement comes from watching Catherine fail to react to the standard "heroine" situations appropriately, or, in fact, not even noticing them. To make these lacks on the heroine's part clear, an omniscient narrator is used who comments on social nuances that Catherine misses, and occasionally speaks as the author of the story, commenting on the choices made in writing it. All of the standard characters make appearances - the matron with social aspirations that Catherine stays with, the insincere friend, the scoundrel suitor, and the misunderstandings that separate the heroine from the man she is meant for.

While Austen is poking fun at novels, she is also clearly fond of them. As she comments in Northanger Abbey, she cannot write a heroine who refuses to read novels, as she is hoping people will read her own novel. Catherine is not a bright heroine, but she is a good character that both Austen and the reader feel affectionate towards. She is placed in direct contrast with the heroines of the gothic novels whose lives Catherine wishes she had. She is too composed to faint when she is supposed to, she is too unperceptive to tease her friends about the men they like, and she is too respectable to get herself into compromising situations. (It is worthwhile to note that Austen's heroines, in general, are too sensible to partake of these behaviors.) Ultimately she learns that, while novels make for enjoyable recreation, she is better off enjoying real life adventures and romance than trying to live the life of fictional heroines.

Definitely a fun read; a '+'.


Review written June 2001.


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