Being that summer is already halfway over, and I hadn’t read any of the classics yet this year, I decided it is high time I read one!
Northanger Abbey, the one Austen novel I had not yet read then, was a natural choice.
Catherine Morland is young, inexperienced, and naive. Catherine also loves to read Gothic romance, and is given to forming her opinions based upon her reading of novels. Thus the reader will not be too surprised to discover Catherine making mistakes and suppositions with both the relationships that she forms and the places that she visits.
The story takes shape when Catherine, who has grown up with a sheltered life in the country, is invited to spend some time in Bath with old family friends, the Allens. There she meets and makes some new acquaintances, who will have a great effect on Catherine’s outlook, her insight into human foibles, and will even result in changes to her future.
Austen’s writing did not disappoint! For instance, the reader can deduct much of Mrs. Allen’s character from just the following:
“Mrs. Allen was now quite happy – quite satisfied with Bath. She had found some acquaintance, had been so lucky too as to find in them the family of a most worthy old friend; and, as the completion of good fortune, had found these friends by no means so expensively dressed.”
Although this novel does not have a lot happening to move the plot forward (and therefore can be described as ‘character-driven’ rather than ‘plot-driven’), there is enough suspense to keep the reader’s interest. Will Catherine’s eyes be opened to the true nature of her newly found friend Isabella, and her brother Mr. Thorpe? Will Mr. Thorpe succeed in his pursuit of Catherine? How will Catherine, who is so inexperienced, handle the falsehoods and deceptions cast upon her character? And finally, will Henry Tilney be able to overcome his father’s opposition, and gain his admirer’s hand?
Austen’s wit and love of satire is, of course, present in “Northanger Abbey” just as much as in her other novels:
“It would be mortifying to the feelings of many ladies, could they be made to understand how little the heart of man is affected by what is costly or new in their attire; how little it is biassed by the texture of their muslin, and how unsusceptible of peculiar tenderness towards the spotted, the sprigged, the mull or the jackonett.”
The first half of “Northanger Abbey” gives an account of Catherine’s adventures in Bath, and the second half of her visit to the Tilney home, Northanger Abbey. Catherine’s eventual banishment from Northanger Abbey, we will find, results from a simple explanation (although maybe a bit far-fetched), as the true nature of Henry’s father rears its’ ugly head. (One must remember that in those times the absence of a dowry could be quite destructive to that most significant ambition of matrimony). In Catherine’s own words, speaking of financial stability:
“If there is a good fortune on one side, there can be no occasion for any on the other. No matter which has it, so that there is enough. I hate the idea of one great fortune looking out for another. And to marry for money I think the wickedest thing in existence.”
I enjoyed watching the character of Catherine Morland progress. Keeping in mind that seventeen year old girls can be very susceptible to outside (and inside!) influences (I recall I was once seventeen. sigh…too long ago!), I found Austen’s portrayal of Catherine to be both believable and intriguing.
I really liked this novel. It was easy to read and for a classic, not too lengthy! My only regret is that it took me this long to finally read it! Northanger Abbey was Austen’s first novel but the last to be published.