An Austen Autumn is Here!

Well, it’s fall.

It’s true, I say fall instead of autumn. Though I do so love the adjective autumnal.

So, two years ago, I launched this website-blog with my first three-month project: Summer of Austen. Over that summer, I embarked on immersing myself in Austen’s works. I also ended up with a severe stress fracture which took me out of dance classes. I interviewed and accepted a new job, setting in motion my move to the East Coast.

It was not a quiet summer.

Like then, this summer was not quiet. I embraced my unemployment, put my belongings in storage, and headed out to California with a backpack and a suitcase. I wavered between a creeping panic with quiet waves of desperation and complete elation at how undeniably free I was. Predictably, once I relaxed into my routine of working in the morning, reading all day, and hanging out with AVH at night, I sent in a resume that would set me back on my path in Boston.

And so I’m back in Boston, somewhat settled into a new apartment in a very “city” neighborhood, and even more settled into my new job. And I find that with all the new, with all this busy, I’m looking for something quiet to anchor my routine. As I haven’t yet figured out how to make my favorite yoga class fit into my schedule, I am drawn to another Austen immersion.

It’s #AnAustenAutumn then and first up is Northanger Abbey.

Week of 9/22: Part I
Week of 9/29: Part II + Masterpiece adaptation
Week of 10/6: Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey + Google Hangout

I am hoping to incorporate some more community this time around, and to do so, I’ll strive to plan further in advance for everyone. With six books to read in three months, I won’t be able to give 3 weeks to each book, and I surely don’t expect everyone to participate in all of this. I hope you’ll join me for your favorite Austen readings, or for a new reading!

Who’s reading Northanger Abbey with me? What book sessions are you most excited for?

Check off all the “sessions” you’re interested in and I’ll be sure highlight updates for you. Dates are tentative but generally that should work out alright.

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

Reading Northanger Abbey

Note: As I move through this project, I will write and publish posts as events unfold. But at this point, I have already finished Northanger Abbey and am about to start Sense and Sensibility. Posts will be more frequent now, to catch up.

The conversation about annual readings of Jane Austen novels fresh in my mind, I started
Northanger Abbey on a whim Friday morning. All I knew about this novel, going into it, was that it had been made into a BBC miniseries which popped up in my Netflix recommendations all the time (presumably because of my viewings of Downton Abbey).

I was immediately struck by the humor. Jane Austen is sarcastic, y’all. I had no idea (which leads me to believe I have not been reading
Emma very closely and that I will find it an entirely new experience this summer). I am going to credit my repeated viewings of BBC’s Pride and Prejudice for developing my interest in actually reading Austen instead of skimming through for plot points.

Anyway… Northanger Abbey is, essentially, the story of a young, naive protagonist with a proclivity for creating fanciful daydreams while remaining blissfully unaware of some of the more obvious and actual plot developments in her own life. Catherine leaves home for an extended stay in Bath with her friends Mr. and Mrs. Allen and encounters all the exciting things a young girl should on her first stay away from her family: new friends, unwanted romantic pursuit, seemingly disinterested but very desired love interests, and something of a scandal (or two) for good measure.

In many ways, I feel like this is the first Austen novel I’m truly
reading. Will this become my new favorite or will this improved comprehension and appreciation extend through the rest of my readings? I don’t have any desire to replace Emma as my favorite novel, but I won’t deny it if it should slip down the rankings a bit. (Well… this is all a bit premature.) 

I spent the rest of the hot summer weekend reading about Catherine’s small adventure whenever I could. It’s fair to say I was addicted to Austen this weekend, though I did not let her tempt me into staying home from all the summer street festivals Chicago is famous for. 

Happily, I finished the book Sunday evening, which is above all other days, my favorite time to finish a book. (What a satisfying end to a fantastic weekend!) I was a bit sad though to finish the story. The ending is remarkably rushed compared to the length dedicated to the first part. Catherine’s time in Bath takes up nearly two-thirds of the tale, despite the title. 

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland in the BBC’s Northanger Abbey.

I am quite interested to see how the BBC adapted the novel for the screen as so much of the story takes place in the protagonist’s own inner musings. Of course, this miniseries is no longer available on Netflix Instant View. Hopefully the library will have this available. (Or I suppose I will just have to purchase it – sadder things have happened.)

Summer of Austen Begins

When Clueless came out, DMC (my then-very-best-friend) and I were the very first people at the local theater for the very first showing. (This surely betrays my age a bit since we were allowed to go alone and did not need chaperones.) Of course, we then spent the entire summer quoting the film (as if!) and pining for a closet like Cher’s. 

Oh, how I wanted that yellow plaid skirt!

And so it came to be that my first Jane Austen novel was Emma. Truly, I did not fall in love with the book upon this reading. I’m not even certain that I finished it. This is not a story of an adolescent love affair with the love affairs of Jane Austen’s imagination. But I’ve always held on to the book, and I did re-read it sometime in college – at which time, I guess liked it.

And then I read it again. And again. And somewhere along the way, I realized that I truly love this book. Recently, I exaggerated to a friend that I read Emma every summer, in August. That’s not entirely true (confession!) But I have read it several times, and typically in the late summer: those hot, lazy days when reading in your home with the curtains drawn to plead for some kind of relief from the sun is about all you can manage to do. The idea of reading Austen annually triggered a romantic curiosity though, and an idea – surely, reading any Austen novel in the summer is an enjoyable way to pass the time.
And so begins my first three-month project: Summer of Austen. I have read Emma, of course, and Pride and Prejudice (though I’ve seen the BBC miniseries countless more times than I’ve read the novel). I have not read any other Austen novels though and really know little about her life and contemporaries, beyond common popular knowledge.

I will immerse myself in Austen for the next three months: her novels, film adaptations, biographies, contemporary and current reviews and criticisms. I will read (and watch) with the eye of a historian, an amateur literary critic, an easily amused hopeful romantic.
First up: Northanger Abbey.