I’ve read most of Jane Austen’s more well-known works, but have never read Northanger Abbey. So, when I chance upon a copy very early last year at a used book store, I was inspired to buy it. Many, many books later, I finally took this off the shelf for a long overdue reading.
This is one of Austen’s most satirical novels, one of two complete works published posthumously, although it is her most youthful work. Besides being a comedy of manners, like most of her more famous works, this rather light-hearted piece serves as a sly commentary on the power of literature, or rather overindulgence of gothic novels, and also a cautionary tale warning young ladies embarking on society against being too naïve.
As seventeen year-old Catherine Morland discovered when she was invited to visit fashionable spa town Bath with her childless neighbours, the Allens. While there, she spent her time visiting newly made friends, like social climber Isabella Thorpe, and going to balls. At first, it seemed that was all she would be doing in her first outing to Georgian society, but as the author intends it, things started to look up:
But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.
Catherine found herself pursued by Isabella’s brother John Thorpe, a friend of her brother James, from university, and clergyman Henry Tilney. She also befriended the pretty Eleanor Tilney, Henry’s younger sister. Henry captivated her with his view, and shared interest, on novels and knowledge of history and the world.
Although the Thorpes tried to thwart Catherine’s growing friendship with the Tilney siblings, her sincerity won them over. And through some misrepresentaion by John Thorpe, she gained the admiration of their father, General Tilney, who decided to invite Catherine to visit the family estate, Northanger Abbey. As she had been reading Ann Radcliffe’s gothic novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Catherine expects Northanger Abbey to be dark, ancient and full of mystery. Of course, her overactive imagination led her to jump from one wrong fantastical conclusion to another, much to her chagrin.
It was there that she came to see Isabella for who she was and despite suffering a dissapointment in friendship, she was comforted by the Tilneys’ growing affection for her. All this while, she was nurturing a growing love for Henry, and had even dared to hope for marriage. However, when the Tilney patriach sent her away rather rudely, and without explanation, it seemed that their romance was ill-fated. For this is the Regency period after all, and money and social status do figure in the alliance of families and marriages.
But fear not, all’s well that ends well, despite all the Thorpes’ sabotaging and misunderstandings, the lovers were united finally, although this was rather summarily described in the novel.
I hope the movie will be faithful to the spirit of the book, although I’m already captivated by the two main cast. Felicity Jones really fit my image of Catherine Morland, and JJ Field is exactly how I imagine the amicable Henry would be. I’m definitely going to look out for the feature film.
Oh, and if you’re in a fanciful mood, go download the font type dedicated to this great author and have fun with it!