Book Review – Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger AbbeyTitle: Northanger Abbey
Author: Jane Austen
Genre: Classics/Gothic/Parody/Romance
2008 (1817)
Publisher: Oxford University Press (Oxford World’s Classics)
Pages: 379
Started: 1st April 2016
Completed: 9th April 2016
Rating: 3/5
Summary: Northanger Abbey depicts the misadventures of Catherine Morland, young, ingenuous, and mettlesome, and an indefatigable reader of Gothic novels. Their romantic excess and dark overstatement feed her imagination, as tyrannical fathers and diabolical villains work their evil on forlorn heroines in isolated settings. What could be more remote from the uneventful securities of life in the midland counties of England?

Northanger Abbey was the first novel that Jane Austen completed and it was written c.1799. However, it went through multiple revisions before the bookseller decided against publishing it. Northanger Abbey was eventually published in December 1817, often stated as 1818, which was a few months after Austen’s death. Austen did not intend for the book to be called Northanger Abbey and it can only be concluded that her brother, Henry, decided on this title when he had it published.

Austen wrote several novels but this is her only Gothic parody and it is very different from Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, and her other novels.

I’ve read this book several times before and I must admit that it’s not my favourite book. I’m not an Austen fan so please bear that in mind while you’re reading this review. I really don’t intend to offend any Austen fans.

I really enjoyed Austen’s writing style. I love that Northanger Abbey is full of intertextual references and I really particularly this section about The Mysteries of Udolpho and other Gothic novels of the time:

“Have you ever read Udolpho, Mr. Thorpe?”

“Udolpho! Oh, Lord! Not I; I never read novels; I have something else to do.”

Catherine, humbled and ashamed, was going to apologize for her question, but he prevented her by saying, “Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t’other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation.”

“I think you must like Udolpho, if you were to read it; it is so very interesting.”

“Not I, faith! No, if I read any, it shall be Mrs. Radcliffe’s; her novels are amusing enough; they are worth reading; some fun and nature in them.”

“Udolpho was written by Mrs. Radcliffe,” said Catherine, with some hesitation, from the fear of mortifying him.

“No sure; was it? Aye, I remember, so it was; I was thinking of that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant.”

“I suppose you mean Camilla?”

“Yes, that’s the book; such unnatural stuff! An old man playing at see-saw, I took up the first volume once and looked it over, but I soon found it would not do; indeed I guessed what sort of stuff it must be before I saw it: as soon as I heard she had married an emigrant, I was sure I should never be able to get through it.”

“I have never read it.”

“You had no loss, I assure you; it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man’s playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not.”

Sections like this prove that Austen was a very clever writer as she played on the stereotypes of the time, novels were only for women etc., but she twists them until they suit her own needs.

I also like most of the characters although they are annoying occasionally. Henry Tilney is intelligent, enjoys reading novels, but is rather cynical and I really liked him as a character. Much more than Austen’s other ‘heroes’. Eleanor is a lovely character too. She’s quiet and shy but she gets on with Catherine since they share a love of reading. Catherine is rather foolish but she’s a wonderful judge of character. She’s intelligent and even witty on occasion.

The settings were wonderful in this novel. I loved the sections in Bath because Austen focuses on the material nature and the pettiness of the English middle class. Northanger Abbey is also a wonderful setting because it really fuels Catherine’s imagination. I was glad that Austen didn’t make it into a ruin but rather she surprised Catherine and made her rethink her assumptions. A refurbished abbey didn’t stop Catherine from making paranoid assumptions about the General murdering his wife.

I dislike the plot of this book in general. I found it annoying and I think it’s because I’m such a fan of Gothic novels. I do realise that Austen’s parody was probably written out of an appreciation for Gothic novels, especially those of Ann Radcliffe, but for some reason it just sit well with me. It seemed to be to invested in ridiculing young girls who read Gothic novels, even though I imagine that Austen read Gothic novels herself.

I also hated the ending. It was far too rushed and I would have preferred a more ambiguous ending rather than the ‘fairytale’ ending that Austen wrote. The ending just didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the novel. That’s just my opinion though.

the mysteries of udolphoOverall, I liked aspects of this novel but I didn’t enjoy it all. I’m going to try and read more Austen novels in the future, I’m sure I’ll find at least one that I enjoy, but this one just isn’t for me. However, it is wonderfully written and very clever.

I do think I’d recommend this book because it is an enjoyable read. I’d suggest reading The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (which I reviewed earlier in the year) before reading Northanger Abbey just because I think it’s such an important aspect of this novel. Austen was writing with the assumption that everyone had read, or at least heard of, Udolpho since it was one of the best selling novels at the time. So, I really do think it’s important to read it.


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