By Jane Austen
Paperback, 260 pages
2005, Barnes & Noble Classics
I wrapped up Austen Month by rereading Northanger Abbey and I’m so pleased with my choice. I thought I first read this when I was blogging, but it doesn’t look like I’ve got a review anywhere. I did rate it 2.5 stars initially and I know it wasn’t until I read the Marvel comic adaptation along with the modern novelization by Val McDermind that I understood the tone Austen was going for.
So, given the significant change in my star rating (I’d put it at 4.5 now) I thought I’d revisit my thoughts with this re-review.
If you don’t know, this is Austen’s tongue-in-cheek take on a gothic tale. Catherine, our heroine, is innocent, plucky and naïve, and she absolutely loves gothic novels. She goes to Bath for the first time and makes new friends, some more loyal than others. After she learns not to take everyone at face value (or perhaps, to truly see the faces they’re presenting), she finds herself invited to Northanger Abbey. She imagines the abbey will be something right out of a novel and her imagination runs wild while she’s there, threatening to destroy her true friendships and her shot at love if she doesn’t get her head out of the clouds.
This book is so funny! Its snarky, ironic and witty and I know when I initially read it I had no idea what Austen was going for. I recall wondering whether I was supposed to be chuckling at how two-faced and idiotic these characters were because the humor in this book is very different from that of Pride and Prejudice (The Collins proposal cracks me up every time, guys)! Austen is a more obvious narrator in this book and both pokes fun at and praises the merits of novels – at the time novels were usually looked upon with disdain and thought silly. I really enjoyed her tone.
Austen’s characters often act ironically, but the Thorpe family excels at saying one thing while doing another or even saying one thing followed immediately by a contrasting statement. There’s a lot of false sincerity here and Catherine’s innocence regarding her new friends is a cause for amusement, rather than frustration. Catherine means well and she is very trusting and good-natured, but she also wants to do what’s right – eventually, she smartens up to the duplicitous ways of the asshole Thorpes. No #fakefriends!
There are plenty of familiar character types in this story. Mrs. Allen is the idiot wife who only parrots the opinions of others; Isobel Thorpe is Fanny Dashwood levels of openly manipulative. John Thorpe has the charming quality of only hearing what he wants to hear, even if someone says the opposite, a la Mr. Collins. Love interest, Henry Tilney has a charming, brotherly sense of humor, like Mr. Knightley.
Overall, this is a light-hearted, humorous book. Not that Austen’s other works aren’t also sweet, in their own way. When I first read Northanger Abbey, I wasn’t expecting something so different from the familiar tone of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I now appreciate and understand (I hope, anyway) Catherine’s ability to see adventure around every corner. For instance, she finds General Tilney (Henry’s father) suspicious for walking early in the day because the other men she knows take later walks.
What book lover wouldn’t want to read about a girl who thinks she’s landed in the middle of a murder mystery? Catherine’s imagination is wonderful and her ability to learn from her mistakes and discover when she needs to be grounded in reality is admirable.
I know some may feel Northanger is less sophisticated than Austen’s other books, or perhaps more juvenile. Now that I understand what I was going into, upon rereading I find it charming and chuckle-worthy and I would recommend it. I’ll leave you with a (likely familiar) quote from Henry:
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”