I’ll be upfront and honest: I’m not the world’s biggest Austenite. I enjoy her books for sure, but I’m hardly the type to go big over the stuff as seen in Austenland. However, I have a long and sentimental love for Northanger Abbey, one of Austen’s lesser known and lesser loved books.
Published in 1817, the book tells the story of young and modest Catherine Morland, the daughter of a country clergyman. Offered the opportunity to go to bath, she quickly makes the acquaintance of a charming young man, Henry Tilney, as well as that of the Thorpes, who are good friends with her brother since their eldest daughter Isabella is engaged to him.
As the story goes on we navigate the trials and tribulations of not just Catherine in her social environment but also within herself. Part of the reason I love Northanger Abbey is due to Catherine’s vivid imagination when it comes to the Gothic novels she reads. The lines blur between the books she loves to read (such as the Mysteries of Udolpho), and actual reality. When it threatens to really derail things, Catherine has to shake herself down and figure out the point at which she has to ‘grow up’, so to speak.
This parody of Gothic literature which appears in the book makes it not only amusingly enjoyable, but also relatable, especially to avid readers. Austen’s prose is light and engaging, at times conversing very directly with the audience, and whilst the ending might be predictable, the means by which we get there are far less so than you might think.
We’re all very familiar with Lizzie Bennet, Eleanor Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse, but I implore you to give Northanger Abbey a try. It’s might be less fine of a work than Austen’s more esteemed classics, but it is no less brilliant or wondrous to read. You won’t regret it, especially if you try to take up reading the whole list of Gothic novels that Isabella recommends to Catherine:
I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.
(photo credit: booksrevisited.com)