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Northanger Abbey

Yesterday morning, I finished reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I began it Tuesday night and read until quite late, then picked it up as soon as I was awake enough to do so and read through to the end.

To quote Henry Tilney, the romantic hero of the book, said (about a Gothic novel called The Mysteries of Udolpho by Anne Radcliffe), "when I had once begun it, I could not lay [it] down again; -- I remember finishing it in two days -- my hair standing on end the whole time."

Okay, so maybe my hair wasn't standing on end, because truly, there is little particularly Gothic about Austen's novel, although it is a send-up of Gothic novels at the time, as well as a caution against an overactive fantasy life. Nevertheless, I couldn't wait to finish it, and will likely read it again sometime soon, so very delightful are several of the characters in the book -- from supporting characters like Mr. and Mrs. Allen and Eleanor Tilney to the main characters, Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. I know at least one woman who hold Henry Tilney in higher esteem even than Mr. Darcy, and that is saying something indeed.

Henry is all wit and compassion and gentle teasing for most of the book, with a developing affection for Catherine that is plainly obvious from early on. While he, like so many of the heroes in Austen's books, "corrects" Catherine at one point in the book, he is decidedly not unkind about it, nor does he seem to harbor any continued ill-will when he next sees her. Catherine is a send-up of Gothic heroines, as Austen makes painfully clear from the very first page:

&emsp No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have
&emsp supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character
&emsp of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally
&emsp against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor,
&emsp and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard - and he had never
&emsp been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings -
&emsp and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother
&emsp was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more
&emsp remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine
&emsp was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as
&emsp anybody might expect, she still lived on - lived to have six children more -
&emsp to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself.


To that end, Catherine is an interesting anti-heroine, lacking in all "heroic" qualities until very near the end. She is, as Henry later describes her, "Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise." It should be noted that at the time he describes Catherine so, he purports to be denigrating another woman entirely -- Catherine's then-former friend, the conniving Isabella Thorpe, who jilted Catherine's brother to set her cap at Captain Tilney, the older brother and favored heir. While Henry and his sister are aware of the double meaning, it sails over Catherine's head.

This book succeeds on many levels. It is a delightful frolic of a Regency romance; it is a successful satire on Gothic novels, so popular at the time; it provides (in one of its most often-quoted passages) a defense of the novel, at the time a newer sort of literature, the reading of which was sometimes a guilty pleasure/source of shame; and it conveys an almost feminist view of flirtation and romance, with numerous statements about nothing being so attractive to a man as a woman who seems interested in what he has to say (among other lines -- the most famous perhaps being "A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.")

I highly commend you to it, and for a faithful in spirit (although a bit off in content here and there) adaptation, look for the ITV 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey, which is to be shown in the U.S. as part of Masterpiece Theatre's Jane Austen series beginning in January of 2008, during which adaptations of all six completed novels will be shown -- the three ITV productions shown earlier this year in the U.K. (Northanger Abbey is the best of the three, Persuasion is fine, and Mansfield Park is only meh; and yes, I've seen them already), along with the 1996 ITV version of Emma starring Kate Beckinsale (which is good, and widely available on DVD already), the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle (she's American, and just won a Tony this year -- did you know?), plus a brand-new 2007 BBC adaptation of Sense & Sensibility, which is to play in the U.K. in September.





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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
juliewinkler
Jun. 29th, 2007 01:01 am (UTC)
Hi! I'm glad to hear that I should read a book that has been in the "Austen" section of my bookshelves gathering dust. I'l dive in when I get home. How are the poems? Can't wait!
kellyrfineman
Jun. 29th, 2007 02:02 am (UTC)
The poems are going along quite well, thanks!
writerross
Jun. 29th, 2007 09:16 am (UTC)
I read NORTHANGER back during the NYU Honors English thing. {} I know it was a great book and I know I used this novel in one of my papers. What I do not know is how I am forgetting the details of all the books I've read and loved before. (I feel like breaking into a duet with Willie Nelson right now. "To all the books I've loved before... That travelled in and out my door...") ;}

kellyrfineman
Jun. 29th, 2007 01:28 pm (UTC)
You'd rather sing that with Willie than with Julio? Scandalous!

It is a very quick read, I must say, and entirely enjoyable.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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