Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

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I am re-reading all of Austen’s work because of the Austentatious Goodreads Group started by Read by Zoe on YouTube – or @zoeherdt on Twitter, that will be re-reading all the Austen books. Here is a video by Zoe about it. Again, I’m not seriously reviewing the books – I’m just sort of rambling my feelings about it. I feel others have done better, more serious in-depth reviews on them. So prepare for knowing what goes on in the novel – I mean, even if you know what happens in a Jane Austen novel, they are still worth reading.

I believe this was the first novel that Austen wrote, but it wasn’t published until after her death. It’s probably my favorite. I LOVE all things gothic. I write gothic novels myself. I love gothic architecture, old rotting houses, imperiled heroines, old furniture and mysterious cabinets that won’t open. It’s also one of the funniest things she wrote. Her tongue is so firmly in her cheek, it’s wearing a hole in it. Nearly every damn review on Goodreads has something to say about how this is one of the least-loved of our precious few Jane Austen novels. Well, that’s fine, because I love it enough to bump it up to at least Emma’s level!

What many people always want to remind you about Northanger Abbey is that it isn’t a gothic novel. Not really. It’s a parody of a gothic novel. It rides that line between what society was saying, about how gothic novels, or novels in general BUT ESPECIALLY gothic novels, were bad for people. It’s what conservatives have done since the beginning of ….conservativeness. That somehow, what you consume affects your character. And as always, it’s what the women want that people are most concerned with. Just like with YA, Romance, *gags while saying this next “genre”* “chick lit” – women read it, it must be worthless. There is even a moment when Catherine’s imagination runs away with her and Mr. Tilney (my favorite Austin hero) gives her a hard time about reading too many novels, and at the end, even Catherine herself felt it was the novel-reading that was the culprit.

As for the plot, it’s very simple. Catherine Moreland is 17 years old and living in the country with her large family of 8 siblings. Her father is a parson and her mother is a wonderful angel of woman. I just love Mrs. Moreland – the best Austen mom we get. However…

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine…

As Austen famously says: “If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.” Not exactly movers and shakers, the Morelands are on good terms with a rich neighbor who whisks their daughter away to Bath. There, she meets friends both fair and foul. After much bemoaning that she wished for a greater acquaintance in Bath, Catherine’s patroness, Mrs. Allen, meets her old school friend who has several grasping, flirty daughters, one of whom Catherine befriends. Isabella Thorpe is shallow, vain, ignorant, a liar and boy crazy. What’s not to love? Yeah. I hate her. Her brother’s even worse. He has all her faults, except he’s also obnoxious, insulting, impatient, and has a great opinion of himself. But then, along comes Mr. Tilney.

And oh… Mr. Tilney. Here again, Austen’s humor is second to none. Mr. Tilney is charmed by Catherine’s sweet innocence, and can’t help pulling her leg when the opportunity strikes. He is a 26 year old parson, the 2nd sone of a wealthy landowner. The elder Mr. Tilney is… shall we say… an asshole. He suppresses his children’s happiness with his strict, rigid manner and rules. All he cares about is money, but his children have escaped his worse character traits. Henry is funny and smart, and his sister Eleanor is sweet and kind. I always thought it kind of stinks that Catherine is so in love with Mr. Tilney that she goes and befriends his sister. All she does is talk about Henry. I wasn’t sure Catherine/Eleanor friendship had as intimate a relationship as the one with Isabella, and that little hoe was unworthy of Catherine’s friendship. However, the Tilney’s know all about Isabella and people of her ilk, which just made me respect them both even more. After a lot of misunderstandings and the Thorpe’s trying to get in the way, Catherine is asked back to Northanger Abbey. Where to be honest, not much happens other than a misunderstanding or two. We do get to hang out with the Tilneys, and suffer through stiff, formal dinners with their papa, until he unceremoniously throws Catherine out of the house in the middle of the night and sends her back home. (Ok, technically, she had to leave first thing in the morning, but it was surely still dark out.)

Yeah, super dick move. Catherine is gone before poor Henry even knows about it. It’s left to Eleanor to tell her, with little or no explanation why. Yeah, all the evil in this goes back to the Thorpe’s. When John Thorpe (remember him, Isabella’s evil brother?) thought he’d get him some Catherine, he talked her way up, claimed she was Mr. Allen’s heir, that Mr. Allen was loaded and had no children. He gladly told Mr. Tilney-the-elder so. Then…. when denied Catherine’s favor, he told all kinds of lies about her family, saying that they were in debt and disrespected, and all kinds of garbage. Caring about nothing more than money, and learning that Catherine’s inheriting the Allen’s wasn’t a done deal, he is angered at her being less rich then he thought she should be, and threw her out.

One of the best scenes in all of Austendom is Henry showing up at the Moreland’s house. Oh my God. He is the perfect man. He’s there to apologize for his father’s behavior and of course… ask for Catherine’s hand. Shortly after this is the best ending of all of Austen… even if it’s a little convenient in places. I don’t care. I love it so much.

Super funny, full of interesting morals, clever misunderstanding and outright audacity (in the form of the evil Thorpe’s and money-hungry Mr. Tilney-the-Elder) Northanger Abbey is my favorite Austen novel.

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