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.