Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Okay, if I’m going to be perfectly frank? I had a hard time getting through Northanger Abbey. Catherine, while sweet, is a bit of a ninny. Obsessed with the novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and Mr. Tilney, she was concerned with very little of consequence beyond her imagination.

“I never look at it,” said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, “without thinking of the south of France.”

“You have been abroad then?” said Henry, a little surprised.

“Oh! No, I only mean what I have read about. It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho. But you never read novels, I dare say?” (p. 88)

Now, nobody loves a good novel more than I. But, Jane Austen seems to poke fun of those who mock her very craft by saying they are silly things, then she goes ahead and creates a silly female character.

I had no patience for Catherine. While it was endearing to read of her friendship with Eleanor, and her romance with Henry Tilney (“Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love.”), it was annoying to endure her fantasies while staying at Northanger Abbey. Too reminiscent of Jane Eyre, in my opinion, is her pondering what the General has done with his dead wife. Perhaps, Catherine wonders, she is not dead at all; merely locked away and fed inglorious meals.

As in most romance novels, everything works out perfectly in the end, but it was all too trite for me. In this round of Austen vs. Dickens? Most certainly Dickens has my vote. Or, perhaps, Ms. Radcliffe, once I’ve read The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Find more reviews on Austen or Dickens this month at The Classics Circuit.

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24 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen”

  1. Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen's parody of the Gothic Genre. Catherine Morland, as a parodied character, is supposed to be naive and suspicious, result of her crave for Gothic novels esp. Radcliffe's TMoU. Have you read Ian McEwan's Atonement? That book uses Henry Tilney's reprimand of CM as an epigraph at the beginning… a parallel of the young girl's wrongful suspicion that sparks the rest of the story. Although I agree with you that CM is not my favorite JA heroines among all her six novels.

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  2. Arti, yes, I understand that Northanger Abbey is a parody of the gothic genre. Still, why? Aren't most young girls naive? Doesn't that go without saying? I read Atonement, and Briony is a girl I singularly despise. Combined with her so called innocence is a terribly manipulative personality, and I still cannot forgive her for it. Although it was not done to me, I felt every wound she inflicted as though it was personal.At least Catherine did not create destruction of the lives in her path. So I can like her a little better than Ian's Briony. Still, she bored me.

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  3. Agree with you there about how negative I felt about Briony too. The movie might have some effects… the then 13 yr-old Saoirse Ronan is such a good actor. Comparing the two, Briony makes CM looks like an innocent angel. 😉

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  4. How would the novel work if Catherine were less naive? What story would Austen tell?Or, the other way: How could we have a story about a character who swallows Gothicness whole, who drags Gothic nonsense into her ordinary actual life, if the character is also clear-headed, sensible, not at all impulsive, etc.?Northanger Abbey is part of a long tradition, going back to Cervantes, at least, of novelists mocking novel-readers and the idea of novel-reading.

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  5. Arti, true enough…every young girl pales in comparison to Briony! I'm in a very big minority here, as most people I know feel that Briony is innocent due to her youth. I don't buy that for a minute.Amateur Reader, it wouldn't work if Catherine were less naive; Austen wouldn't have a story to tell, or, at least not this one. And that, I think, would be fine. Who cares about all this 'Gothic nonsense'? I guess I want a novel to be an interesting story, or an inspiring hero/heroine, but I don't want to end up feeling that there was no point at all. In Pride and Prejudice at least we had a love story, as well as a ridiculous mother to scorn. Here, I wonder what I'm left holding. A dark cupboard in an empty room which is immediately obscured when the candle goes out…so? Why should I as the reader care? Catherine's whims are so irrelevant to mine that I found the novel pointless. I am thinking about the idea of mocking novel lovers, however. That bears a lot more weight than flighty girls.

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  6. I've probably bored people with my dislike of Austen, and also am on the individuals not really English, because of my constant reiteration of my antagonism towards her & that Dickens chap, It's probably due to over exposure growing up. But It's there.

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  7. I found Northanger Abbey to be quite funny, but it is quite different from her other works–not as subtle in some ways (she comes right out with her opinions, piling it on w/Catherine's silliness) but more subtle in others (for us, so far removed from Regency Era, much of the significance is lost and now can seem inconsequential and tiresome.) My opinions aside, I'm glad you were perfectly frank. 🙂

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  8. For me, even a bad Austen is just a less-good Austen 🙂 That said, I've always had problems with Catherine and Tilney's relationship.He feels responsible for her, and flattered by her love for him, but I'm afraid he'll be bored after a couple of months. He's such a great male lead, I wish he had a heroine that could match him 🙂

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  9. Bellezza – that seems much clearer to me, that your problem is not with the heroine, but with the premise and all that flows from it. Northanger Abbey is a conceptual novel. The concept determines everything. The concept is the point.I'm not convinced that it's that great a concept, either! But the more interested readers are in how Gothic novels work, why they were (and are) so popular, what their readers do with what they read, the more likely they will find Austen's concept similarly interesting.

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  10. I remember not really liking this one the first time I read it. I just didn't get the heroine. I mean why was Henry Tilney attracted to someone like her? But when I read it the second time, I had a different reaction. I don't know how much of that was influenced by the recent movie–which I thought perfectly captured the premise of the book, maybe even better than the book did? And how much of it was just that I'd grown as a reader? It could simply be a mood thing too!!! I've often found that to be the case in my own reading 🙂 I have to be in the right mood for a book to "work" for me. I *did* read Mysteries of Udolpho. And I do remember liking it. Though it is long and tedious in places 🙂

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  11. Parrish Lantern, I don't exactly dislike Jane Austen on the whole. But, I certainly wasn't thrilled with this particular novel. I think it's one of the rare cases where I can say I enjoy the BBC films better than the books. (How strange for me!)Melody, I always try to be perfectly frank (while finding the balance between truth and being rude). I think some of the ideas are lost to us in this generation to some degree.Col, I certainly wouldn't start reading Jane Austen with this one, although it is short. My favorite of hers so far is Pride and Prejudice, but I have only read a few. Two, I think. 🙂

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  12. Reviews by Lola, I actually went to Borders yesterday afternoon, with my 50% coupon which I receive from time to time in my email, to buy The Mysteries of Udolpho. Sadly, they didn't have it so I ended up buying a visit from the goon squad instead, but someday I'd like to read it, too.Alexandra, Henry is a good male character! I can see just what you said, that he'll soon tire of silly Catherine. Too bad Jane isn't around to write what happens to them.Amateur Reader, I feel that you understand the classics so much better than I; in my reviews I just burst forth from my thoughts and heart with not much intellectual depth. But, I like how you distinguish between concept and heroine, and the comments you leave are always so insightful to me. I'm not well versed in Gothic literature, so I'll have to read more before I can speak eloquently on that topic. Becky, I have to be in the right mood as well, and I don't think it was very wise of me to read Jane Austen after Owen Wister. To suddenly switch from the Wild West to Bath, England wasn't a very smooth transition to say the least! I like how you said you reread it, because sometimes the classics just need to be picked up again at a different time. I can well imagine that The Mysteries of Udolpho would be long and tedious in places. Goodness, if Catherine loved it maybe I need to rethink picking it up! 😉

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  13. Samstillreading, I agree with you that Pride and Prejudice is Austen's best. It seems to be her most enduring, and readers have such a connection to Darcy!

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  14. I wanted to let you know that I picked up The Virginian–and I think it was *just* the right book for me at the moment. I found it very satisfying and wonderful.

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  15. Oh, Becky, it just thrills me that you liked The Virginian! Hooray!Bookfool, I'm not one bit surprised that Austen would make you go blank. 🙂

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  16. I liked this one but found it to be really unpolished compared to the other Austen books I've read. Like you mention–it all just seems a bit silly and Catherine is a bit of a nitwit. I think I might be in the minority but Dickens always wins in my opinion. Though I'd love to read Radcliffe one day. For some reason she intimidates me a bit, though. 😉

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  17. I really enjoyed The Mysteries of Udolpho. If you're going to read it, wait until winter time when it's cold, gloomy, and overcast; or snowing. I don't think you can truly appreciate Northanger Abbey without first reading Mysteries of Udolpho. I laughed out loud in several places. The times Catherine acted on her fantasies were hilarious! She's a drama queen, for sure. I think that being married to Henry will mature her, and she'll settle down and make a good wife. She'll keep him interested because of her dramatic flair.

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  18. That's annoying – I've heard so many good things about it. In fact, one of my friends said, if I were to read only one Austen, Northanger Abbey should be it.I d'no… I still want to read it, and sincerely hope that I like it more than you do. 🙂

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