Northanger Abbey (1817) by Jane Austen – Fiction
Northanger Abbey is my least favorite Austen novel. It only receives this distinction because it is the book I have read the least. Northager Abbey was the first completed novel by Austen but published posthumously along with Persuasion. Keeping that idea in mind, it makes the novel even more interesting.
I first read Northanger Abbey in a graduate English class I took in college that was dedicated to reading Austen. Perhaps when I first read the book I was surrounded by my favorites that I did not give it the attention it deserved. I have never picked it back up until now.
Northanger Abbey is an incredibly funny book. Surprisingly funny. Noting the time period Austen was writing and that women authors were a bit frowned upon, the fact that Austen imports so much comedy, satire, and social commentary into the novel is pretty extraordinary for the time period.
Catherine Morland is our main character. She is young, just 18, and excitedly gets asked by her nice neighbors to go to Bath with them – a resort and vacation spot that any young woman would jump at the chance to go.
Austen shapes Ms. Morland’s character and emphasizes her immaturity by Catherine’s obsession with Gothic novels. Incredibly popular at the time, Gothic novels were the books that emphasized the fantastical and picturesque. Not necessarily in the horror genre, but novels that tended to focus on tragic women put into compromising positions, murderous earls and nobleman, and haunted mansions and villas.
Catherine loves them. And like any young person who loves something, it becomes a slight obsession. I am always amazed how Austen’s themes still resonate today. While today it wouldn’t be Gothic novels a young person is obsessed with, swap in any popular fantasy novel, movie, or TV show. We all do it. Whatever our focus is at the time, we see it in everything. As adults, we (normally) get over it pretty quickly. As children and young teenagers, it stays with us until something forces us back into reality.
Catherine enjoys her time at Bath. She is kind and susceptible and grows up quickly – she learns that people are not always honest in their intentions when they say they are “in love” with somebody. She learns that men can be assholes and I don’t think Austen has written someone as detestable as Mr. John Thorpe in any of her novels (perhaps Mr. Collins). She learns that she doesn’t know everything and that she is pretty ignorant in the ways of the world when discussing literature and current events with her new friend Eleanor and Eleanor’s brother, Henry Tilney. Mr. Tilney is the love interest in this novel and he is one of the more talkative of our Austen gentleman heroes but nonetheless embodies the qualities that Austen clearly thought the most important in a husband.
Northanger Abbey was initially sold by Austen to Crosby & Co. in 1803. The publisher did not print the work and sat on the manuscript. Austen fought many years to get her work back and in 1816 her brother Henry was able to repurchase it for the same price the publisher paid for it. Jane Austen died before she was able to republish it and Henry gave the final title name and arranged for publication in December 1817.
Lover of the written word.