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Friday, August 31, 2012
Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
A Gothic story was a popular writing style in the 18-19th centuries, containing elements of both supernatural or horror, and romance. The stories have an environment of a mysterious dark castle or estate. This setting fills the readers mind with the thought some creature is going to pop-out from behind a curtain.
Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey takes a step further by writing a Gothic parody. She has written a story that makes light fun of a young womans over-active imagination.
Catherine is the daughter of a country clergyman. She has an older brother named James. The Morland family is a respectable family, they are neither poor, nor or they wealthy. Catherine and her family are described as "plain looking." At age fifteen she began to "blossom". Jane Austen does not introduce Catherine to us in flattering descriptions, but does tell us she is to be a "heroine". Neighbors invite Catherine to spend a few weeks in Bath, this is her first excursion away from her family. While in Bath she meets the Tilney family. General Tilney is a widower, his sons are Captain Frederick Tilney an officer in the army, Henry Tilney a clergyman, and Eleanor who is about Catherine's age. Catherine also meets Isabella and John Thorpe. Isabella and Catherine become quick friends. Catherine does not like John because he is arrogant and "disagreeable". Catherine's brother falls in love with Isabella and they become engaged. As the story progresses we find out the true virtue of Isabella and it is a pivotal learning experience for Catherine. Northanger Abbey is not only a Gothic parody, but a coming of age story. Catherine is a young, naive, inexperienced young woman who has lived a sheltered life at home with her family. During her visit to Bath and to the ancient abbey Northanger Abbey she has an awakening to her immature outlook on life and in people. She learns that people are not always what they on pretense seem to be.
The Gothic element is added when Catherine is invited to Northanger Abbey. It is a brief stay in this ancient abbey. It is the climax to the story.
As in Jane's previous novels a woman of marriageable age that is in a lower society group than the male interest, is a stumbling point.
"Money, then, is the great variable and the controlling factor in the lives of Austen's characters, especially her women, because without it they are, in social terms, worthless." From the introduction by Alfred Mac Adam page XXV.
Jane had told us that Catherine would be a heroine. I believe Catherine is a heroine in the courage that was needed to face the actions of people who thought less of her because of her station in life. With a display of fortitude she learned she had a resilient nature hidden beneath the emotionally driven vigor of her youth.
For half of this story I was not sure I'd like it. It just was not working for me. As the story progressed and Catherine developed, I grew to love her and the story.
Published by Barnes and Nobles in 2005
Originally published 1817, manuscript began in the fall of 1798.
British Literature/Classic Literature/Austen in August 2012/The Classics Club/Gothic Parody/Jane Austen
Link @ Barnes and Nobles: