Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

I just love this book. *happy sigh*  Adam at Roof Beam Reader is hosting Austen in August, and this is my contribution.  I was lucky and got to read most of it while I was away for a couple of days, so I just sat and read large chunks at a time--something I practically never do.  It was great!

I'm not going to reiterate the plot, since just about everybody knows it and if you don't you can easily look it up.  I'm going to talk about Catherine for a minute.  She is so breathtakingly young and naive!  Yes, she is only 17, but really it's mostly because she has lived deep in the country her whole life and hasn't known very many people.  She has a small circle of acquaintance, and they are all 'prosy' sorts of people.  To the modern reader, Catherine's incredible naivete must seem rather unlikely, but I don't think Austen is exaggerating.

In Bath, Catherine meets a whole lot of new people, and she simply doesn't understand them at first.  She believes whatever they say, which is a mistake with John and Isabella Thorpe.  John Thorpe may be the most irritating male character in Austen's books; I just want to smack him.  Isabella is a bit cleverer than her brother, but still, her manipulations and hypocrisy are transparent to everyone but the too-honest Morland siblings, and even Catherine figures her out before very long.

If the Thorpe siblings are an Awful Warning, the Tilneys are a pattern to follow.  Older than Catherine, they are better-educated and more acquainted with the world, so they can teach her how to cope.  Most importantly, they are truly good people--considerate and kind.  Catherine is safe with them.

The elements of humor, parodying Gothic novels, never fail to crack me up.  It probably helps that I read so much Gothic last fall, but this time I think I noticed it more than ever.  Catherine is humiliated when she realizes that she has been getting carried away by her imagination--as if such things could happen in modern England!--but General Tilney turns out to be just as bad as she had thought, only with modern English methods.


Somebody, I presume the BBC, made a movie of Northanger Abbey a couple of years ago.  I thought it was really well-done; Catherine and Isabella are wonderful.  It's been a long time since I saw it; I wonder if I could get it again?

Isabella and Catherine in Bath


11 comments:

Ekaterina Egorova said...

First Adam named this novel his favourite, now you write this praising post... I definitely need to re-read it. Maybe I just couldn't appreciate the humour back in my teens because of my ignorance or lack of English skills :)

Jean said...

Probably both. I tried to read it when I was about 16 and I didn't get it. I didn't know anything about Gothic novels, I probably didn't know it was supposed to be funny, and I wasn't good enough to understand the writing easily. Plus I tried to read it while on a trip with a bunch of obnoxious people, that did not help ;)

Roof Beam Reader said...

Yay, Jean! Great post - I love to see this kind of (rare, sadly) praise for Northanger Abbey. It's definitely my personal favorite from Austen, but I was fortunate enough to read it in graduate school, for a seminar on Victorian literature. Reading it in context with others of the same (and preceding) time period, especially looking back on the Gothic genre and Romantic poetry, really helped.

Jean said...

Rare, really? I don't know why anyone wouldn't love NA. I don't know that I can rank Austen books by favorites, but certainly NA is not near the bottom for me.

Nancy Leek said...

Hope that wasn't a family trip!

Jean said...

Ha, no it wasn't. :)

Jenny @ Reading the End said...

Aw, Northanger Abbey. So underappreciated. I love Mr. Tilney particularly -- he's the only one of the Austen heroes who jokes around with the the heroines from the beginning. Usually the guy who jokes around with the heroine ends up being completely untrustworthy (booooo).

I loved that BBC adaptation of Northanger Abbey. Carey Mulligan is always a delight, and Felicity Whatsit has just the right sort of sweet innocent face for the part.

Emily Coleman said...

I love Northanger Abbey, too! It's one of my favorite Austens, as well. I would love to see the movie. It does seem like people feel very blah about it in comparison with P&P and S&S.

amanda @ simplerpastimes said...

I don't think I can rank Austen's books as they're all such favorites, but there is something about this one...I really should reread it! If you're still looking for the TV adaptation, I believe PBS has it for sale through their web store--they seem to keep the Austen adaptations well-stocked!

Andi said...

I read this one for the first time for Adam's event, and I just adored it. I also watched the BBC miniseries on YouTube and it was wonderful as well. :)

Brona Joy said...

There's an older BBC movie starring Peter Firth and Robert Hardy which is worthwhile hunting down.

The Tilney siblings remind me a little of the Crawford siblings in Mansfield Park (the one I'm reading for A in A). Selfish, amoral, fun-loving and manipulative.

I keep meaning to read the Mysteries of Udolpho to get a feel for what JA was reading at the time to inspire this book.