Review of Northanger Abbey

I am not going to provide a long or detailed summary of Northanger Abbey. As I read this book with absolutely no idea what it was about, I recommend you do the same. If you desire a summary, read on…

Catherine Morland is the heroine of Austen’s story, a sweet and naive girl of seventeen who ventures on her first extended stay from home with her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen. In Bath, Catherine and Mrs. Allen, after some delay, find society with which to pass their time. Catherine is adopted as a confidante by Isabella Thorpe, who turns out to be taken with Catherine’s brother, James. Before long, James and his friend John Thorpe, Isabella’s brother, arrive in Bath, and John is quite taken with Catherine. Catherine has no romantic interest in John Thorpe though and, as Isabella is busy in her annoying courtship with James Morland (wherein she consistently denies being interested or noticing the interest of her suitor), Catherine turns to Eleanor Tilney for friendship.

Incidentally, the young Miss Morland is rather intrigued by her new friend’s brother, Henry Tilney.  This attention does not go unnoticed and everyone, except for the object of affection herself, recognizes there is competition for her attention. Catherine’s naivete leads her to thinking everyone wants to be her friend and no one would employ trickery to woo her away. She, somewhat annoyingly at times, believes the best in everyone’s intentions, despite the clarity to the reader that the entire Thorpe family is meddling in her affairs. Finally, she somewhat figures out Mr. Thorpe is trying to woo her and shuts him down. (Thanks, but no thanks – and he does come across as kind of creepy.)

From Bath, Catherine journies to Northanger Abbey with her new confidante, Eleanor. To our young heroine, Northanger Abbey is awash is mystery and… perhaps a tragedy? A scandal? Catherine’s consumption of popular novels has sparked in her an imagination which is unsupported by all but the smallest details. It is so much like today’s teenagers and their
Twilight Justin Bieber fantasies that the reader often pauses to muse on the expected old saying: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ultimately, because it’s Jane Austen, a few small scandals do arise and more than one person, including our heroine, is truly impacted. But they are small bumps in the road to a happy ending. 

Really, Jane Austen has written something of a soap opera here, though the quality of writing and our appreciation of classic literature elevates it to a “romantic comedy.” Don’t get me wrong – I loved it. The plot moved quickly, and while twists were pretty easily anticipated, there is genuine delight in the protagonist’s constant surprise at finding out the blemished truth about the intentions of her acquaintances. Catherine Morland is adorable and identifiable. Who among us did not have daydreams rooted in literature or film in our teenage years?

One of my favorite aspects of the novel are the pages in which Austen breaks the wall and talks to us directly. The historian in me was delighted to learn there was something of a cultural debate going on about the appropriateness or intellectual level of novels. My summer is proving to be busier than anticipated, but I am hoping to dig into this a bit more in the near future. Isn’t it amusing to think that Austen’s level and intent of writing was demeaned by her contemporaries but now revered? 

You’ll tear through this Austen novel quickly, beach read worthy

One thought on “Review of Northanger Abbey

  • June 18, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    If I remember correctly from my days as a lit major, most of the controversy about the literary value of novels was rooted in the idea that they were written for (and more and more frequently by) women, which *obviously* means that they are silly and frivolous.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *