review: ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen

northanger abbey

3 stars

Edit 23 March 2017: Take this review with a pretty big pinch of salt, I urge you. My reading tastes have changed quite dramatically in such a short few years that I think I would indeed rather love this if I read it again. Having said that, my thoughts here are still relevant. This is just older me letting you know that I kinda dig classics now. Still yet to read more Austen though. Need to fix that!

So, here’s the thing. One of my resolutions for 2015 (yes, 5 months into the year and I know it’s a tad late to be getting serious about this), was to read more ‘classics’. The reason for this, was because apart from the ones I had to read for school (this is scarily a while ago now), I haven’t read… well, any. *The Shame*.  This was the first one I picked up, in around late December of last year, and I only just managed to finish it about 2 weeks ago. Suffice to say, I’m a huge failure.

Originally I picked this up at Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination Exhibition at the British Library. It was awesome, and I came home with a load of merch that of course, I desperately needed. This novel was mentioned often as being one of the earlier examples of Gothic literature, and I thought it would be a good place to start

I got to Volume II, which is more than halfway through the novel, so I wasn’t doing too bad. I realised though, I wasn’t getting many Gothic vibes at all. Neither was I really enjoying the book at all, so I put it down, preceded to read several other novels, but finally decided to watch an adaptation to try and get myself back into it. I know, I know, you’re supposed to read the book before you watch the film, but I was halfway there ok? Let me live. I watched the 2007 adaptation with Felicity Jones, and I actually really enjoyed it. Little did I know beforehand that Volume II is where all the good stuff happens. If only I had the wherewithal to soldier on in the first place!

Personally i’m not sure if I would consider this a Gothic read. The protagonist, Catherine Morland, is herself pretty enamoured by Gothic novels, Ann Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ in particular, but other than this, I would consider the novel a classic, coming of age, romance novel – with Gothic undertones towards the end of the novel. In my opinion, this is more of a spoof take on a gothic novel, as Catherine’s own fascination with them results in quite the misunderstanding.

I found Catherine to be a naive, delicate, yet endearing protagonist who is seen to be very much out of her depth when she first arrives in Bath. Befriending the confident, and far more self absorbed Isabella Thorpe, and attracting the attention of two male suitors during her stay, which initially goes unnoticed by Catherine, seems to be the main focus of the first volume.

Personally, I didn’t particularly like either of the men trying to win Catherine’s affections at first. John Thorpe – who was arrogant, very self serving and manipulative, much like his sister (Isabella), was written in such a way that I’m pretty sure Austen didn’t want us to like him. But I found Henry Tilney, who Catherine becomes engaged to at the end of the novel, to often be quite haughty towards Catherine, often making a mockery of her naivety and warmheartedness. In the adaptation however, I really liked him. Moments in the novel where I had found him to be patronising towards Catherine, I soon found to be quite endearing and charming when seeing their interactions played out on screen.

In my opinion, anything that happened in the first volume that was actually relative to the story could have been condensed into far fewer chapters to better effect. High society season in Bath comes across as tedious and contrived, where all you do is hang around the pump room and attend countless balls – and if you don’t know anyone, you’re not really anyone. Whereas I totally appreciate these would typical events back in the day, and a sign of the times, i’m just not for it. Yet all this takes up a huge chunk of the first volume. Thus, we don’t actually get to Northanger Abbey until more than halfway through the novel.

As I’ve said previously, once I got to Volume II my interest was refreshed and I started to enjoy it as we leave behind the high society of Bath and are lead to the Abbey, which was a welcome change of scenery. Catherine is relatively carefree and is enjoying her time with Henry and his sister, Eleanor. The story got considerably more intriguing for me at this point, as a slightly spooky element is introduced when we begin to get the feel of Northanger Abbey, and experience the so called ‘mystery’ surrounding the Tilney family through Catherine’s eye’s. She manages to convince herself that General Tilney may have murdered his late wife, and this conspiracy theory understandably puts quite the distance between Catherine and Henry. Soon enough she’s kicked out of Northanger Abbey, which she has convinced herself is due entirely to her own doing, and travels home, alone and dejected. Never fear though! As of course, this is a romance, and this misunderstanding is all worked out in the end.

Despite my self imposed hiatus in reading this novel, I did enjoy it, and it’s given me the impetus to check out more classics in the near future. On top of that, all the covers of the Vintage Classics Austen Series are absolutely gorgeous, so I couldn’t refrain from ordering the whole set. So, I already have a couple other Austen’s to get started on!

I’m trying to explain my impulse buying away, but I don’t know who i’m trying to kid. I’m shallow sometimes, I can’t help it.

(But, just look at them):

vintage classics austen series

Thanks for reading!

– Jessica

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