>> Tuesday, June 11, 2013
The story's heroine, seventeen year old Catherine Morland, is invited by her neighbours, the Allens, to accompany them to visit Bath for a number of weeks. While, initially, the excitement of experiencing such a place was dampened by her lack of other acquaintances, she is soon introduced to an intriguing young gentleman named Henry Tilney, though her attention was quickly taken upon meeting a young lady named Isabella Thorpe. Isabella tries to make a match between Catherine and her brother John. John Thorpe continually tries to sabotage her relationship with the Tilneys, which leads to many misunderstandings.This was such a treat. While I reread some of Austen's books quite regularly (mainly Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility), I hadn't reread Northanger Abbey for quite a while. It was time.
Now, I found it very memorable when I read it, and I thought I remembered a lot about it. I didn't really. Somehow, in my mind, the whole book was a gothic parody, and it was all about the heroine, Catherine, being invited to Northanger Abbey and coming up with all sorts of crazy theories about murderous husbands and secret rooms. To my surprise, this was a relatively small part of the plot. While it's an element of it, it's not what the story is about. For starters, they don't get to Northanger Abbey until halfway through the book, and even while there, Catherine's drama-llama conviction that the General (her friends' father) is somehow to blame for his wife's death is soon disabused.
What I actually saw this as being about was Catherine becoming wiser in her judgment of the people she meets. Catherine was actually another surprise. I remembered her as a silly twit, and wondered how whether a whole novel with her as the protagonist could work for me. She turned out to be a much more rounded, interesting character than I expected.
The thing is, Catherine can be a bit of an idiot sometimes, but there's a very firm core to her character, an integrity and resolve to do what she thinks is right. She does get taken in by Isabella, a young woman who immediately becomes her BFF as soon as she arrives in Bath, but that's because of Catherine's naivete and inexperience, not to mention her being kind enough to think everyone is as honest and good as she is. And the important thing for me, is that even while completely captivated by her new friend, Catherine doesn't allow herself to be influenced by Isabella or her horrid brother into doing what she doesn't feel is right. She's quite mulish about it, in fact, when they try to bully her into doing stuff, and in that I could see the seed of what I was sure would become a strong, sensible woman.
I remembered NA as being funny, but I didn't quite remember just how hilarious it was. Austen's observations and characterisation are sharp and quite scathing, and they made me giggle like mad. Some of her characters, like Mrs. Allen and John Thorpe, verge on the caricature, but Austen manages to keep there just on the edge, and they are very recognisable.
The romance was probably my least favourite part of the book, not because it was bad, just because it was uninspiring. I think I would have preferred Catherine to have remained unmarried at the end (she's still 17, anyway). Although she does a lot of growing up during the story, she's still got a lot to do. Still, I liked Henry Tilney, and I thought he wouldn't be a husband who'd stifle her, so I wasn't particularly upset about it, either.
MY GRADE: While it's not perfect, and I like other Austens better, this was great fun to read and I enjoyed it immensely. A B+.
AUDIOBOOK NOTE: There are 7 different unabridged versions of this one at Audible UK, and it took me a while to choose one, because from the samples, they're all quite good. I was very satisfied by the one I went for, narrated by Juliet Stevenson. She's particularly good with Isabella and John Thorpe, who come alive as the fatuous, ridiculous people they are.