‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

‘To look almost pretty, is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life, than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive’

During an eventful season at Bath, young, naïve Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time.

She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine’s love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father’s mysterious house, Northanger Abbey.

There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney.

With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen’s works. 

My Review

The trashiest of Austen’s novels. Easy to read, utterly ridiculous and it’s got Henry Tilney… Love it….

So back in 2018 I was having a mini crisis of conscience recently. I had decided that my love for Austen was somehow waning. That maybe she wasn’t all she was cracked up to be….. LIKE THIS WAS A PROPER PANIC PEOPLE!!!

So when my friend suggested this Austen buddy read I thought okay. Let’s stop wondering and see if I could be as much into Austen now as I was as a teenager…(outside of Pride and Prejudice I hasten to add… My love for P&P never waned!!!)

Northanger Abbey is Austen’s gothic parody.

On one hand she sends up these expected gothic situations and tropes and on the other she devoutly defends the value of a novel read for enjoyment more than for its alleged literary worth.

“And what are you reading, Miss—?”

“Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”;

or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

This defence of novels is freaking fabulous. It’s an absolute two fingers to the concept that there is nothing valuable to be gained from reading a novel. That novels are somehow less than ‘proper reading’.

And to me this is why Jane Austen is so great. This is a very self-aware novel. Austen frequently addresses the reader in this novel, sharing almost salty remarks about the characters and, most strikingly, unashamedly voicing her own opinions about women and society through her writing.

I think it’s also very evident that this is Austen’s first novel because plot-wise it is probably the weakest. But as a piece of satire it works brilliantly.

Catherine Morland, the MC, is the most naive of all of Austen’s lead female characters. She’s pretty much oblivious to everything that is going on around her and at times as a reader you kinda sit back and just go… Naaaawwww bless you you sheltered petal.

But she’s seventeen.

And clueless AF.

And honestly I love how gloriously teenage she feels with her near-obsessive love for gothic novels that rivalled my own love for Austen at that age. I love how she lets this almost obsessiveness seep into her own life and causes her to almost daydream her life away….

But then she grows up. Her character changes but in ways that feel honest and not disingenuous to the storyline. She basically learns not to be quite so ridiculous and that people aren’t always genuine… and yet she still somehow retains that same naïve charm.

As for the Catherine Morland – Henry Tilney romance. It really isn’t the plot driver here. To me, this is a coming of age story. The romance aspect is the least developed and they are the Austen couple that you do sort of question is it going to last.

I love Tilney. He is witty and salty AF and I just don’t ever see Catherine as “getting” him because I struggle to see their common ground except that they are both nice…

But!

I like to think that those two lived happily ever after because of brief moments that showed the development of their relationship. Initially, the age gap between the two was noticeable. Henry 25/26, Catherine 17/18.

And Henry was just more savvy. He had to explain certain situations/people’s actions to Catherine when her naïveté and seemingly unfailing happy countenance just rendered her blind to harsh truths.

But then, with regard to events surrounding Captain Tilney and Isabella, Catherine COMPLETELY schooled Henry in how one should act and react. So with this glimpse of her truly knowing her own mind and Henry respecting this (as he should obvs), it gives me hope that these two can make it.

If not, I’ll happily take Tilney for myself. I live for his salty jibes!!!

So it’s definitely not Austen’s greatest of novels. But it is her trashiest. And I am trash for trash!!! So it’s one I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend if you want something with some utterly batshit craziness to lose yourself in.

It probably deserves a rating between three and four stars which I’ll round up to four stars because I laughed my butt off so much!

And as for my relationship with Austen. I think it’s very much back on track. Reading her words is what I have always loved. What I have always connected to. What has always made me laugh.

I think my brief disaffection with Austen has stemmed from a Jane overload in popular culture. No Hollywood adaptation is as smart. I’m sorry you can disagree all you want but to me adaptations lose that essence. That intimacy between writer and reader. No actor portraying a character is exactly like I would picture or imagine them. They disconnect me from the vision of Austen’s world that I have in my head and in my heart.

And any of these Austen rip-off novels that focus only on the romance make me want to tear out my eyeballs. They just don’t have that sense of humour. They don’t have the gossip. They focus on dull romance. And forget the vitality of life and community that occurs in Austen’s novels outside the romance stories.

So yes. I love Austen. What I don’t love and won’t accept are pale imitations of her literary genius. There really can be only one Jane Austen.

26 thoughts on “‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen – Book Review

  1. “I’ll happily take Tilney for myself. I live for his salty jibes!!!”

    You’ll have to fight me for him, Emer! Henry Tilney is MINE, ALL MINE!

    (Or, ok, we can share him, since he’s fictional anyway and will not object.)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I feel that as well. More than with the other novels, one gets the sense of her as a person here, in the way she directly addresses the reader at times (most famously in the defense of the novel you quote, but throughout), also in her general exuberance and you say, sass. It strikes me we’re seeing Young Austen here, before she had to learn to tone herself down to be a proper lady, not sounding either too witty or too intelligent or too snarky. Its very imperfections as a novel delight me for that reason: she’s here, living, on the page.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I’m really fond of Northanger Abbey because it’s the Austen novel that made me give Austen another chance after I hated her work as a teenager. (I was introduced to her at school, and I don’t think studying her was the best way to first encounter her for me at least – especially not when I was 18). The plot is a bit more all over the place than some of her other novels, but it’s still so much fun.

    I think Catherine is also a lot smarter than a lot of readers give her credit for. Sure, we can laugh at her for reading life like a Gothic novel and thinking the worst of Henry’s father – but she is still right about Henry’s father! She might be reading him through a Gothic literature lens, but she doesn’t fail to recognise that he’s shady AF and not a particularly good husband and father.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I agree with you Jess. This novel is all about Catherine and her growth. She definitely prices herself a lot smarter than initially given credit for yet still has this wondrous innocent charm about her. I think Austen got the balance just right with her characterisation really. And it’s definitely an undervalued Austen novel. There is so much to enjoy in it. So much wit and sass, and it’s really easy to see the potential of Austen among these pages. :)))))

      Like

    1. OOOH you’ve not read it yet!!!! Ah you’re in for a trashy little treat. It’s entirely ridiculous but Austen’s humour is so on point. It’s sick really interesting to read it and to see those initial flourishes of the Austen brilliance shining through. Thanks so much KB! I hope you end up loving this book a lot <33333

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Not yet! It sounds like such a fun read – I cannot wait to get around to it! It will be brilliant to see Austen’s humour and the beginning of her brilliance! You’re welcome, hun! Thank you – I hope so too! 💜😊

        Liked by 1 person

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