Just as an aside, it’s always intimidating to write a review on a “classic” book. I’m always worried I’m going to begin writing an essay or won’t be able to give my real opinion without feeling like I am offending someone. I’m also kind of unsatisfied with this review. It feels too short, too shallow.
Northanger Abbey was published posthumously, 15 years after it was written and therefore appears as one of Jane Austen’s later novels when it’s really one of her first. Despite finding criticism on reading like an unseasoned work, Northanger Abbey has turned out to be one of my favorites.
Catherine Morland is sent to live with the Allens, family friends vacationing in the city of Bath, a far cry from the Morland’s native country home. While there, our young, impressionable and “well-read” protagonist begins a series of social misadventures that inevitably strip away the veneer of her innocence and teach her much needed lessons about the real world she lives in and some of its more unsavory, questionable inhabitants.
Both a social commentary and satire on the popular gothic novel, Northanger Abbey is self-aware, especially juxtaposed against Catherine’s penchant for the gothic romances of her time often perceived as silly nonsense. The narrator provides a amusing glimpse into the power of Catherine’s imagination as it runs wilds conjuring probable scenarios better fitting a fictional tale. At every opportunity where one might expect certain predictable turn of events, the narrator steps in and politely reminds us that this is not one of those novels, Catherine is not the typical heroine and therefore, should not and will not lead the life of one. And where the narrator fails, there are an abundance of characters well versed in the tropes of the gothic novel to wittily prod Catherine along the way and insure a trajectory on the path of comedic enlightenment. Of course, as the reader, we too are set on the proper course with periodic reminders that we should not expect of the novel as Catherine is misguided enough to hope for in her adventures.
Catherine exudes the curiosity of youth and the innocence that comes with inexperience. But her habit of reading, and the impressions those books make on her, affects her daily life to such a funny degree I couldn’t help but feel charmed by her apprehensions and misunderstandings. Northanger Abbey is a novel about growing up and out of ignorance. The dangers in presuming too much based on little to no evidence, especially seen through the imaginative eyes of Catherine, a young lady with a mind bent for the fears of the supernatural and melodramatic, are heralded as youthful indiscretions tempered by the older, very patient, and extremely witty Henry Tilney and his sister, Eleanor.
The horrors held within the pages of Northanger Abbey are far from those of the gothic novels Austen satirizes quite delightfully. Suffice to say, I’ll never be able to read Jane Eyre without being reminded of Catherine, the girl who’s read far too much. Every Jane Austen fan should read this one, it’s an absolute must. I for one can’t believe I went so long without it.
Release Date: December 1, 1996
>Reviewed Format: mass market paperback