Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jane Austen/NORTHANGER ABBEY

Catherine Morland is seventeen when she is invited by family friends to go spend some time in Bath, the hip getaway of everyone fashionable in England at the turn of the nineteenth century. In Bath, Catherine meets the Thorpe family, including Isabella, who is desperate to be Catherine's new best friend. She also meets a Mr. Tilney, who may just be the love of her life, if only her new friends didn't keep giving her terrible advice about what is socially acceptable.

I've now read all Austen except Persuasion--which is coming up soon--and I have to say that Northanger Abbey was not what I was expecting. Some basic rules of Austen held true--romance, thwarted romance, tons of etiquette and moral lessons, and a happy ending. But in other ways, it was very different. Where Austen is otherwise ironic, Northanger Abbey is sarcastic. Miss Austen goes as far as to address her reader directly with a lecture--the length of a full chapter--about why it is unfair to judge novelists, which was another surprise. The novel is divided into two volumes, and is very nearly two books: one, the high society intrigues and balls and flirting; the other, a mock-up of a "horror" (gothic) novel wherein "the heroine" becomes convinced her room is haunted, her host has murdered his late wife, etc etc. The disconnect between the first and second half was a little jarring.

My impression was that this was a debut novel--where Jane Austen cut her teeth, and clearly not the peak of her craft--but I know people have told me that Northanger Abbey was their favorite of all Austen. I'm afraid it's not mine, but I'm very interested to hear other people's impressions.

20 comments:

Amanda said...

This was her third novel, though, right? Third written, first sold (but never published by the buyer), not published until after her death. That's what I'd thought.

I imagine it's going to be very different from the others. I'm actually looking forward to it (it's the last of the six main Austen novels I haven't read now). I've heard very mixed reviews and think I will either love it or hate it.

Persuasion was my least favorite of the other 5 novels, btw. It was the first I read, and feels imcomplete, unedited, and a little flat in comparison to the rest. A little boring. When we read it for my book club two summers ago, my source material said she hadn't finished with it before she died, and that's why it's less fleshed out.

Amanda said...

Okay, that was a little confusing. I meant, of the six main Austen novels, this is only one I haven't read.

moonrat said...

well, i know she wrote P&P first, when she was only 21, but it wasn't the P&P we know and love--it was much longer and was very heavily edited when it was finally published almost 20 years later. what was the 2nd she wrote? i thought it was NA.

it's interesting how people have Austen preferences in violent directions... a couple people have told me PERSUASION is their absolute favorite. and now other people say NORTHANGER ABBEY. so far, mine is still P&P.

Amanda said...

I heard she wrote a version of S&S first, then P&P, then went back and edited S&S before writing NA. I don't know. I'm not an Austen expert by far. That's just what Wikipedia says, and we all know how accurate THAT can be.

My favorite is P&P, too. By far.

Designated Writer said...

Northanger Abbey is a sort of critique by Austen of gothic novels, which dominated the novel scene of the time. It is specifically an extended conversation with Anne Radcliffe's novel The Mysteries of Udolpho. It's my belief that with Northanger, Jane's intent was to be satirical and make fun of the conventional norms of the gothic novel. I think maybe when you approach the novel from that standpoint it's more enjoyable.

Also, I really liked the parts where she addresses the reader directly. I know it's not very Jane-esque but she's addressing critics of the novel and also calling out her fellow writers. I think it was a very interesting way to get a point across.

It's definitely not my favorite Austen novel, but I can definitely appreciate it.

Cassandra said...

Have you read Mysteries of Udolpho? It adds another layer to the book. I think that you have to read the novel like Catherine herself is in a gothic novel. Even though NA is filled with sarcasm, it reads best when you consider everything that happens to be rife with intrigue and superstition, reading it at a fast pace and racing heartbeat (I know the pacing doesn't really support this and the language is sometimes to blame). I think it's hilarious. Maybe watch the movie and see if it brings thing around for you?

moonrat said...

thanks, guys.

yeah, don't get me wrong, i definitely enjoyed it--i read it in two sittings; it's pretty compulsive. but im not a huge satire fan--in fact, i dont think i'd have enjoyed it at all if it hadn't been Jane.

Sarah said...

Northanger always makes me laugh- though in a different way from P & P (the merriest of the others, I think.)

For me, it feel so different because it's the only Austen novel that truly steps out of the story. Novels (gothic or otherwise) are practically characters in NA because Austen directs so much space and attention to them.

Can't wait to see what you think of Persuation, Moonrat. It's my favorite because, introvert that I am, I so empathized with Anne.

Barb said...

I do enjoy NA. I also recommend checking out The Monk, which Catherine reads. It's just crazy over-the-top. Also, I'm in love with Henry Tilney.

brionywilliamson said...

I'm with you Moonrat, I wasn't wild about NA. Maybe it was because I had to read it for uni and not for pleasure? I might have to read it again.

Alyssa said...

I was also really surprised by it. I read it on an Austen kick between a re-read of P&P and my first reading of Persuasion. I think as it went on I kept waiting for the particular style of wit I love about Austen to kick in... and for me it never really did. A fun book in its way, but not my favourite.

Jolie said...

I too remember being surprised by Northanger Abbey, but I also liked it. I recognized immediately that this was not Austen at the height of her craft, but the characters captured my affection right away. I have a huge soft spot for Northanger Abbey and find it every bit as re-readable as Austen's other novels.

(haven't read Persuasion yet either, or Mansfield Park, though I have seen two movie versions of the latter.)

Shelly said...

P&P is my favorite too. I like NA for the reasons mentioned by others (satirizing the gothic novel, especially), but P&P is just hard to beat.

Diane T said...

I wouldn't call Northanger Abbey my favorite Austen; Catherine is too silly a heroine for me to really love her as I do most other Austen heroines. That said, NA is the one Austen work that makes me laugh out loud the most. I love the sarcastic asides; Austen's snarky attitude is not just directed toward popular gothics, but to the way readers like Catherine internalize them to the point of ridiculousness. It feels very modern to me; were Austen to see today's fame-obsessed pop culture, I think she'd have many similar points to make.

I do wonder how different I might feel about the book had I actually read some of the gothic novels Catherine has. I think that when I revisit NA for my Janespotting blog feature, I shall have explore gothics further, especially since NA hasn't inspired very many adaptations/sequels.

Silicon Valley Diva said...

WOW, I read this back in college. I seem to recall (this was a LONG time ago so my memory is fuzzy) also being extra annoyed with the narration. And she appeared rather didactic with her attitude toward Gothic novels--she was trying to say they were bad, right? I can't remember LOL.
I love Jane Austen though. This novel just wasn't my favorite.
I REALLY need to break out and re-read all my Austen books.

Evie said...

I always had a soft spot for NA, in a way I think it's the most sophisticated of JA's work in that it gives you a clearer idea of her approach to literature in a time where to be a female novelist was unusual, and what she, and her contempories, wrote was being viewed with quite a lot of suspicion. It is a satire of the Gothic novel, but I'm not sure reading the Monk, or even Udolpho should affect how you read NA. Read NA because it is a writer exploring reactions to her writing and that of others, including the Gothic novelists, and the changing face of literature in her time, an the position of the novelist in the new landscape.

batgirl said...

I came to Northanger Abbey fairly late, having read the "Northanger Novels" (the books read by Catherine and her friend, all real, reprinted in the 80s) beforehand, when I was on an 'original Gothick' kick. My impression was that Austen expected her readers to be familiar with the conventions, and that her satire was fairly affectionate.
Catherine makes me squirm a bit in sympathetic embarrassment, but Henry Tilney is probably my favourite of Austen's men because we get to see so much of him and his tastes.

moonrat said...

interesting!! now two people have said Mr Tilney is a lovable hero. i found him to be self-righteous and sometimes a little bossy. i guess i like thinner, less well-developed, and more fabio-esque leading austen men. woops.

Kathleen MacIver said...

I really didn't care for Northanger Abbey. I think it was mostly because Catherine was so immature and silly and...just not the kind of heroine I like. And the hero didn't make up for her deficits.

As for Persuasion... I love it. Persuasion and P&P are my favorites, by far. I love Persuasion because of how powerful the emotions get, even though they are portrayed so very subtly. You can even see and sense Captain Wentworth's feelings and how they change throughout the book, and how he's getting desperate near the end...even though you're not in his POV! I just love it. :-)

Carolyn said...

I liked NA quite a lot. It's a brilliant commentary on the Horrid Novels so popular during the era. If you read for the subtext (and not everyone will or will want to) it's hilariously funny. The Horrid Novel, typified by the novels published by the Minerva Press, featured innocent young heroines who encountered villains, secret noblemen, ghosts and all sorts of skullduggery.

The heroine of NA interprets everything that happens to her through that lens -- hence the hilarious scene where she finds the hidden away list -- only to have it be a laundry list.

There is more subtle commentary as well, in the wealthy father who mistakes her for an heiress and then rudely (and dangerously) sends her packing when he realizes she's not. Is the man really such a gentlemen to put the naive young Catherine into such a patently dangerous situation (sending her home via the Mail, unescorted and with no money) all so his son won't *gasp* marry a poor woman.

I think a reader who is aware of the social commentary Jane is making -- on so many levels -- probably has a different experience of the book that someone who reads without that. This does tend to make NA one of JA's less accessible novels, I think.

I found NA a delightful read. But I admit P&P and Persuasion are my favs.