Confession time. There was one Jane Austen novel that I was supposed to read in high school; Northanger Abbey. My English teacher suggested that for my senior research paper that I read it and compare it the Mysteries of Udolpho, which I was supposed to read as well. I did read that one, just didn’t manage to finish it, which is odd since in those days I was the geeky girl with glasses peeking out of books on extremely rare occasions. I am only marginally better these days and I don’t read while driving. (Plus, I have better glasses, now.)
Anywho, I didn’t read it, wrote the paper and received a B on it. How? I knew my audience and did a lot of research.
Northanger Abbey was Jane Austen’s earliest completed novel, but wasn’t actually published until after her death. I think it is kinda of book karma that once again, this novel has come into my life.
And after all these years of not reading it, I actually like it. I loved the beginning pages of the novel, but without the twists of the later novels or the same love for the characters. Still, there is a lot more tongue in cheek humor present here.
Catherine, the non-heroine of the novel, is obsessed with Gothic novels. She is invited to vacation in Bath with a wealthier neighbor. Once there she is disappointed at first that her neighbor has no acquaintances in town. Her boredom is finally relieved when a young man takes notice of her, then disappears. Eventually, things start rolling for her. She makes friends and even finds her young man, again.
But, reality isn’t enough for her. She has given so much of her life over to the fantasies presented in her novels. Her naive personality doesn’t realize that the world of her novels isn’t one that she can be happy in, her beau chastises her lack of common sense.
Eventually, things work out for everyone involved. Austen doesn’t make it easy for these characters, even in her first novel, we watch them struggle in their world and with the problems they have created.
Our non-heroine doesn’t give up on her fantasy even when the facts don’t agree. A quality that one friend of mine would very much admire; unfortunately for our heroine, Mr. Mikey isn’t her beau. Austen may be commenting on people who give themselves over to a fantasy and don’t stop to see the of life around them. How many people do you know who have lost themselves to either Facebook or better yet, World Of Warcraft? I know one soul that lost her job.
Social commentary isn’t absent from this novel. The people in the novel are obsessed with consumer culture and how they are perceived by their possessions. Ms. Allen, the woman who takes Catherine to Bath, goes on and on about how her latest gown will be received by her peers. Similarly, Catherine, a girl from a lower middle class background, is asked to compare the possessions of General Tinsley against Mr. Allen. Something she was not really prepared to do given her humble background.
Austen takes direct aim at the Gothic novels of Anne Radcliffe, which were extremely popular in her day. Catherine at first loves then develops a disdain for them. She makes a fool of herself at her beau’s house by imagining that his father has done away with his mother. She is criticized by him and they have a falling out. It was this aspect of the novel that I was supposed to examine all those years ago. The parody in the novel can sometimes overshadow the rest of the story.
By some miracle of the romantic genre, Mr. Henry Tinley, forgives her and everything is nicely tied up. It still isn’t a book I would read again, but it is worth a read. You can see the bright star that Austen would become later on.