Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

From Amazon:

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.

Executed with high-spirited gusto, Northanger Abbey is the most lighthearted of Jane Austen’s novels, yet at its core this delightful novel is a serious, unsentimental commentary on love and marriage.

For the longest time, I never knew anything about Northanger Abbey. I knew it was one of Austen's books, (her first) but I had no idea what it was all about - up until a few months ago when I saw the latest TV production of it on Masterpiece Theatre and thought the story was charming and delighful. I was then determined to read the book. It was the only Jane Austen book I had yet to read.

At long last I have read it and loved it. I only wish I had read it much earlier and hadn't waited so long. Before I knew the story, I was under the impression it was like a Gothic novel, and yes, but more of a satire of a Gothic novel, a parody.

Catherine is so sweet and ingenuous, and Tilney is charming and just what every gentleman should be. He has a wry wit and a great sense of humor and in addition, the ability to put someone at ease immediately - and the sensibility to recognize when someone is in need of being put at ease. For a first novel, I believe it is amazingly good. She makes it look easy, the way she uses a simple sentence or phrase to sum up a John Thorpe's obnoxious tendencies, or the insincerity of Isabella Thorpe's conversations without coming right out and saying she is a liar and an unforgivable flirt!

Not only are her characterizations right on, but she pokes fun at the sensational novels of the day with their outlandish plots by cleverly having Tilney make one up right on the spot! Tilney has now become one of my favorite Austen men, up there with Darcy and Knightley!

Now I can say I have read the complete works of Jane Austen. Don't be like me, if you have not read this book yet, by all means do not delay! It is a must read and a joy to go through the ups and downs of Catherine and Henry Tilney, and it also has one of my favorite phrases from Austen (I had no idea it came from this book!)

"I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

Lastly, there is a wonderful quote from the book that I think is very a propos even today. I read a lot of historical novels, despite their historical innacuracies, I enjoy them for the storyline and characters. Some readers absolutely deplore these kind of books and cannot get past the idea that an author made up a lot of their stories based on fact, but then added in their own embellishments to create more drama and interest in what would otherwise be a dry and dull story. I do not feel the same way, it doesn't bother me. This quote from Miss Tilney sums it up for me:

"I am fond of history — and am very well contented to take the false with the true. In the principal facts they have sources of intelligence in former histories and records, which may be as much depended on, I conclude, as anything that does not actually pass under one’s own observation; and as for the little embellishments you speak of, they are embellishments, and I like them as such. If a speech be well drawn up, I read it with pleasure, by whomsoever it may be made — and probably with much greater, if the production of Mr. Hume or Mr. Robertson, than if the genuine words of Caractacus, Agricola, or Alfred the Great.”


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