This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, This other Eden, demi-paradise, This fortress built by Nature for herself Against infection and the hand of war, This happy breed of men, this little world, This precious stone set in the silver sea, Which serves it in the office of a wall Or as a moat defensive to a house, Against the envy of less happier lands,-- This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. ~~William Shakespeare, Richard III

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
3.5 roses

I love reading Jane Austen's books and after seeing a version of this on Georgia Public Broadcasting a few weeks ago I had to read it. This is a fairly short novel when compared to some of Austen's other works but it is an enjoyable and quick read in which the heroine has to learn the difference between reality and Gothic fantasy.

This is the story of Catherine Morland, a very un-heroine-like heroine, though a delightfully charming one. During a trip to Bath with the Allens she makes several new friends including Isabella and John Thorpe and Henry and Eleanor Tilney. As with most Austen heroines, her first impressions and naivety soon give way to misunderstandings and deceit. Her faith in her "dear" friend Isabella is shattered when her eyes are finally opened to the type of person Isabella really is. At the same time, Isabella's brother has set the scene for a serious misunderstanding that will cause Catherine much anxiety and trouble down the road. When she is invited by the Tilneys to stay with them at their home Northanger Abbey Catherine is thrilled, sure that the abbey will be as wonderfully haunted and mysterious as those in the Gothic novels she loves to read. Once under the abbey's roof, Catherine's very vivid imagination begins to run away with her and leads her to some extreme embarrassment and an estrangement from Henry Tilney. However, as we expect with Austen, there is a happy, sweet, feel-good ending.

This was one of Austen's earliest novels and while probably not quite up to the same standards as say Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility this is still a delightful read. Like most of her novels, this one is full of social commentary and it is very easy to imagine Bath and its inhabitants through Catherine's eyes. Austen really does a good job of describing life during this time period (though in this novel some of that description seems a bit tongue-in-cheek). Her spoof on the Gothic novel (which was all the rage at this time) really is hysterical to read. I had to laugh as Catherine searched in vain to find some evidence of spookiness and cobwebs in the abbey, only to be highly disappointed when she realizes that is is quite normal and there is no one locked away in a hidden room. Catherine herself is almost a spoof on the "typical" novel heroine of the day - she is a very average girl who just happens to have a very active imagination. Catherine's "hero" isn't your typical hero either; you won't see Henry showering Catherine with flowery love poems, though you will see him constantly teasing her, but he is quite charming and I couldn't help falling for him!

I really enjoyed all the twists and turns throughout the novel and finished in only a couple of days. My only issue with it was the climatic scene between Catherine and Henry which really was quite anti-climatic. I really had hoped to see more concerning the fate of this couple (as they are really delightful and I loved their story) but it was only vaguely mentioned. Aside from that, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read for any true Austen lover. I would also recommend it to those readers that may feel a bit intimidated by Austen's larger, more well-known novels and would like a shorter introduction to her writing. I only gave it a 3.5 because it was a tad slow to get into and, as I have already read other Austen novels, I couldn't help comparing it to them (and I positively love Sense).


  1. This was the only Austen I read as a child and I enjoyed it without really understanding what she was spoofing. Since then I've read a lot of 18th century fiction especially Gothic fiction and every time I read Northanger Abbey I find it funnier. I agree about the anticlimactic love scene but Austen's love scenes are always like that. She skims over them which is a pity.

  2. She does skim over them and I'd like to see a bit more. Though I suppose maybe it wouldn't have been proper to describe too much in a love scene during the time she was writing.