The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.
Executed with high-spirited gusto, Northanger Abbey is the most lighthearted of Jane Austen’s novels, yet at its core this delightful novel is a serious, unsentimental commentary on love and marriage.
This book is primarily a coming-of-age satire, through which the author offers her own sardonic social critique of love, marriage, popular literature, and high society in the early 1800’s England.
Flying directly in the face of the gothic novel formulae of the time, Seventeen-year-old Catherine is an unremarkable member of the middle-class. One of ten children, and the unworldly daughter of a clergyman, she essentially considers herself a heroine-in-training. In lieu of any true life experience, Catherine is reliant on her extensive reading of novels to shape her perceptions. As a result, she spends a good deal of time seeing intrigue and potential menace where there is likely none. But as the story progresses and she marks the results of her real world choices, Catherine shows a steady rate of character growth and maturation.
Invited by her much wealthier neighbors to spend the winter season with them in the city of Bath, she is introduced to a number of social engagements and makes good acquaintance with a conversationally clever man named Henry Tilney. She also falls under the influence of charismatic and willful Isabella Thorpe.
Isabella quickly takes to Catherine’s older brother James, and pressure from the Thorpes lends to the expectation that Catherine will accept Isabella’s brother, John, as a suitor. John, however, is a crude and self-absorbed man—lacking even the superficial charm of his conniving sister. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Thorpe siblings become a continual source of sabotage to Catherine’s hope of spending time with Henry Tilney.
This reader has to give kudos to Austen on the portrayal of Isabella. She is a truly despicable character—a conceited, manipulative parasite preying on the good will and naiveté of those around her. I dare say her existence suggests that Jane Austen invented the original “mean girl,” presenting the slyly antagonistic archetype as a graphic and cautionary teaching aid for the socially inexperienced.
It didn’t surprise me to find that this was the first book Austen attempted to publish—bought by a publisher and never actually released at the time. The rights were bought back and it was revised just before the author’s death, ultimately published post-humorously. It has the feel of something written as a response to the author’s comical aggravation over tropes and stereotypes—intentionally countering what would have been predictable in popular fiction at the time.
The actual intrigue that comes into play doesn’t show up until the last quarter of the book, and so I could understand how readers who prefer tighter tension and more going on might be disappointed. The issue of Isabella also felt as though it was left a bit untied at the end—though she served her purpose well enough in terms of Catherine’s character development. This reader’s enjoyment ultimately revolved around Austen’s exquisiteness of prose and signature refinement of wit.
“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much, that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”
Catherine Morland, the "heroine" of the story, shows the lively, polite, feminine, but constraining side to the time Jane Austen loved writing about. Catherine travels with her family's friends, Mr. and Mrs.Allen to six weeks at Bath, a rather exciting place for her. Being brfriended by the Thorpes, Isabella and her brother John, Catherine is torn between them and her new friends, the Tilneys. But after some unsettling actions that come between Isabella and Catherine's brother James, Catherine accepts the Tiney's offer to stay at their residence, Northanger Abbey. Fed on her imagination and dreams, Catherine quickly snatches up and abandons evidence and reason that is shocking and frightening. Jane Austen gave this funny romance twists and turns, quirky characters and mistaken rumors. I enjoyed this story immensely, and would reccomend it to anyone.