I’ve never really liked reading Jane Austen novels (I know, controversial statement from a self confessed bibliophile). Now don’t get me wrong, I love watching Austen film/TV adaptations (Colin Firth as Mr Darcy…umm yes please!), but for some reason I’m not a big fan of reading them. Northanger Abbey, on the other hand, pleasantly surprised me and I absolutely adored it.
Austen’s novels tend to deal with themes such as love, courtship, and 19th century gender politics. For me, this is usually really compelling from a historical context point of view because I enjoy getting a glimpse of the past through the pages of a book. However, in the case of Austen, I typically find her description of 19th century life to be a bit too flowery for my taste. This is why I was so surprised by my reaction to Northanger Abbey. Even though this novel still deals with issues of love and courtship, Austen is much more satirical and tongue in cheek. She humorously parodies Gothic novels, she critically assess society at the time, and she discusses the conflicts of marrying for love verses marrying for money. It’s these attributes which makes Northanger Abbey a brilliant read.
The main character, Catherine Morland, is a young lady who is obsessed with Gothic fiction. She lets her imagination get the best of her and ends up getting herself into quite a few sticky situations. There is still an obvious love story within the novel, but I think Austen does a good job of making it seem realistic since it is full of complications, misunderstandings, and drama. Catherine comes from a lower middle class family, whilst the man she’s in love with, Henry Tilney, is super rich. Henry’s father does not want him to marry Catherine because of their class difference (welcome to the nonsense that is the British class system), and he fears that she is only after his son for their money. But love proves to conquer all, and Catherine and Henry show that money shouldn’t be an issue where true love is involved.
The characters in this novel are very well developed and either extremely likeable or completely detestable. Catherine is funny, good-natured, and honest. She can also be very sarcastic, which creates some very humorous scenes indeed! Henry is clever, witty, and sweet. He seems to greatly appreciate Catherine’s independence, which is perhaps unusual for the time in which the novel was written. Other characters, such as the manipulative Isabella Thorpe, and her arrogant brother, John Thorpe, round out the novel and add tension to the plot.
Most people suggest that Austen newbies start off with Pride and Prejudice because it is perhaps the most iconic of her novels. I, however, recommend Northanger Abbey for its louder comment on society, cheeky characters, and its touching, but not overtly sickly, love story.