Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Although Jane Austen’s revised version of this novel wasn’t published until 1818, the year after her death, Northanger Abbey was her first completed novel to be sold to a publisher.
A parody of the Gothic fiction popular in the Georgian period, it can be seen as a bridge between Jane Austen’s ‘Juvenilia’ and her mature, complete novels.
But, whilst it mercilessly takes down the far-fetched plots and hysterical style of Georgian Gothic fiction and plays with the popular contemporary fears of its harmful influence on impressionable young ladies, it also offers a passionate and well-argued defence of the novel as suitable reading matter for men and women of all ages.
Northanger Abbey is the story of how Catherine Morland, the young and impressionable daughter of a thoroughly mundane rural clergyman, becomes a heroine. In typical Georgian fashion, she is invited for a visit to Bath with her kindly neighbours. Here, she makes some unsuitable acquaintances in the form of the vulgar Thorpes. Isabella Thorpe shares Catherine’s love of Gothic fiction, and Catherine is in danger of being swept away by Isabella’s giddy ways, but meets a sobering influence in Miss Tilney and her clever brother Henry.
Mistakenly believing Catherine to be an heiress, the Tilneys’ father invites her to stay at their family home, Northanger Abbey, the Gothic potential of which place threatens to go to Catherine’s head. Fortunately, Henry Tilney is always at hand with sobering or amusing remarks as required.
A product of its time in slightly more complicated ways than the airy Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey is at once a clever pastiche and an engaging coming-of-age story, and a very entertaining and rewarding read.
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