Northanger Abbey

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Northanger AbbeyNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Published: 1817
Narrated by: Juliet Stevenson
Length: 08:16 (251 pages)

The only other Austen I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice, and while I did enjoy the writing and the spots of humour, I just didn’t connect with the story at all. I did want to try some of her other work, but I just wasn’t left with a burning desire to seek them out.

Catherine is innocent to the point of being a bit dense, and she’s just moved to Bath to stay with relatives and attend the season’s social events. As with Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, everyone around her is frantic to find a spouse. She seems less concerned. I’m guessing this is a common theme in Austen novels, showing the absurdity of that aspect of a 17th century young woman’s life. While in Bath, Catherine becomes friends with a pair of siblings, who as we read on also show themselves to also be quite dense, stepping over the line into twit territory. As you might guess, the story then becomes a ‘will she, won’t she’ with a couple of men, but it plays out in a more interesting way than that sounds.

I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.

I enjoyed Northanger Abbey much more than Pride and Prejudice. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of Catherine, but her naivety and, let’s face it, simplemindedness serves the story perfectly. She is not your average heroine. But to counterbalance this aspect of her personality, she also has moments of incredible thoughtfulness and reasoning, a trait many protagonists sadly lack. I was reading this around the same time as The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, and what I liked about that also applies to this novel – misunderstandings that could erupt into unwarranted drama are easily dealt with by people just speaking to one another.

It’s a concept that won’t shock anyone to hear, but it’s an incredibly common method of pushing a plot forward. Something that could be fixed over a cup of coffee turns into a war. I supposed the same could be said about most real life drama as well, so it’s not just a case of plot manipulation, but it’s still frustrating when you notice it.

What I loved most about this, however, was how booknerdy it was! Catherine is obsessed with gothic fiction, to the point that she sometimes has trouble separating the stories she loves with reality (which leads to some trouble later in the novel). She’s put off by a wannabe suitor describing the reading of fiction as a feminine pursuit and was overjoyed when Henry Tilney contradicted that and shared with her his own love of reading. I couldn’t care less if Elizabeth Bennet ended up with Mr. Darcy, or any other man in that novel, but after this scene I was like “you make this man your husband right this instant”. From her obsessing over what was going to happen next in her book, to Henry making up a story for her on their drive to the Abbey, I loved every bookish moment.

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

I was lukewarm on Austen before this novel, but this has piqued my interest again. Considering my preference for this more lighthearted and humorous novel, I’d be interested to hear anyone’s suggestion for the next Austen I should pick up. I’m leaning towards Emma at the moment. I’m also now interested in reading Mysteries of Udolpho, after Catherine went on about it so enthusiastically.

2 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey

  1. james b chester

    I’d say go with Emma. I’ve not read Northanger Abbey, but your review and the recent A Good Read podcast from Radio 4 have me thinking it’s time for Jane. I am a big fan of hers by the way. The Mystery of Udolfo is also fun, by the way. Not really a great book but a fun read.

    1. Rob Post author

      I didn’t think I was a big fan, but I’m gradually getting there too it seems. Good to hear The Mystery of Udolfo is fun. I’m not expecting a huge amount from it, but this novel seemed recommendation enough to check it out.


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