Classic Literature (236 pgs.)
A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen's "Gothic parody." Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.
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.
Aside from Pride and Prejudice, this has to be my next favorite of Jane Austen's novels. I think Jane Austen was really trying to get in touch with her Gothic darker side when writing this novel, and I heartily applaud her for that.
There is just something about the protagonist, Catherine Morland, that continually draws me to this story. I think it's maybe the way Catherine has a problem with separating the fact from the fiction, or the story from real life, which I can definitely relate to. She is undoubtedly a hopeless romantic, which I knowingly acknowledge myself to be. And she has such a vivacious passion for reading! Alright, I admit it... I see very much of myself in her. She is definitely one of my favorite literary heroines.
I also admire that Catherine lends a certain vulnerability to the story. She is certainly not the perfect heroine... she doesn't answer every question perfectly, she makes mistakes, and she has yet to be crossed in love. Definitely easier to relate to the shy, unassuming character in her.
I absolutely love Catherine's love interest, Henry Tilney! He is such the charmer, but still manages to maintain his sincerity towards Catherine. Definitely a step away from the likes of Mr. Darcy, but still absolutely wonderful in his own right. My favorite Henry quote:
"'Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again.'"
Not only are the characters engaging, the story is very well written. Once again, more of a step away from the traditional Austen novel, but definitely not short on the intrigue. Lots more of the Gothic-ness that was becoming increasingly popular during that literary time period. But I think it adds a nice excitement to the story.
All in all, one of Jane Austen's finest, in my humble opinion. But then again, which one of her works isn't great?
P.S. The Masterpiece Theater version of Northanger Abbey is absolutely terrific. Felicity Jones is outstanding as Catherine Morland, as is JJ Field as Henry Tilney. Watch the trailer here!
Part of Jane Austen week, hosted by Historical Tapestry.
Be sure to check out my "For the Love of Jane!" Giveaway!