Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is a story about young love, dark secrets and an overactive imagination. It’s also about a great love for reading and being able to create stories, whether on paper or in the mind.
I know! I know! I should have read this years ago. I watched the 2007 film adaptation and decided that it was high time to actually read this novel myself.
The main character is Catherine Morland, a seventeen-year-old girl who loves nothing more than reading gothic novels. She is invited by her neighbours to go with them to Bath to which she, of course, says yes. She probably imagined grand balls where she could make a lot of new friends, but at first she feels very uncomfortable since she doesn’t know anyone. Here comes her rescuer: Henry Tilney with whom she dances at the ball. After this night, she doesn’t see him again for some time, but she makes another friend, Isabella Thrope who becomes engaged to her brother.
And then Catherine’s dreams, or rather the stories she reads, come true: the Tilney’s invite her to Northanger Abbey, a spooky manor with dark secrets.
I must say I’m a bit disappointed in the character of Henry Tilney. Why is he such a know-it-all? He keeps correcting the ladies and Catherine never understands his remarks. The question to ask here is why he loves Catherine. That she loves him is clear. She’s a young girl and at one of her first outings she dances with him – BOOM – in love. But he? Austen writes that “Catherine did not know her own advantages – did not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot frail of attracting a clever young man.” So does Tilney needs to boost his confidence? What also frustrated me was that Catherine doesn’t really seem to become less ignorant. She keeps repeating her mistakes, for example by fantasising about gothic stories when she opens a trunk, a closet and later when she learns about the death of Henry’s mother.
Of course I liked Catherine’s lust for reading. What is so special about this book The Mysteries of Udolpho? How fun it would be to read it and read Northanger Abbey at the same time! I also liked Austen’s clever reflections on the act of creating and writing a story. The first sentence of the book, for example, stresses that we are reading a novel for it says: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine.” The reader immediately knows we are going to read about a heroine in the making. Austen also makes comments about other novels, novels I haven’t read, but it still amused me.
And who cannot love a book in which one of the characters (Henry Tilney) says: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” But in spite of this quote, and I don’t want to see myself as intolerably stupid, I prefer the film.