Saturday, June 26, 2010

Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen ★★★★

Northanger Abbey Description: "While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry's mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy?" (Source: Goodreads)

My Review:
I must start this review by saying that I had completely misrepresented this book in my head prior to starting it. After seeing it described as Austen's "Parody of a Gothic Mystery", I thought that it would be just that: that the heroine here would need to solve "The Mystery" (later revised about 30 pages in to "The Mystery of the Missing Mr. Tilney" after he mysteriously disappears), but I could not have been more wrong. (I tend to do that.)

This is a lovely and funny coming-of-age slash romantic comedy slash social parody with essence of a gothic mystery added to the latter half. Catherine Morland is something of a good-intentioned, honest-to-a-fault, persuadable, cup is half-full kind of a girl, who loves exciting romantic mystery novels. She's indulged as far as education goes by her parents not exactly requiring her to have any, but this really allowed her to be something of a blank slate - willing and eager to learn and be taught, and humble to a fault in assuming that the entire world is more knowledgeable than she, so she defers to the informed decisions of her friends... at least until she learns that she's misjudged some of them. I really liked the subtle way in which Austen communicated Catherine's thoughts and feelings to us. She did a great job in showing how naive Catherine is without making her into a simpleton.

The Thorpes are, to put it bluntly, utterly ridiculous. They honestly made this story for the sheer fact of their utter ridiculousness providing conflict and anxiety for poor innocent Catherine, and more than a little comic relief for the reader. Their perception of things, and the way that they interact with the world is quite funny, although it must have been pretty shocking back then.

The Tilneys on the other hand, were proper and true friends to Catherine, never proclaiming it, just doing it. They are the embodiment of actions speaking more loudly than words. They are kind, and sympathetic and good-hearted. I loved Henry Tilney. He is funny, witty, smart and understanding. He may be up there with Darcy and Wentworth among my favorite Austen men. His speeches were very enjoyable, even if they do have a slightly condescending "inferior female" air to them. That was the norm then, and despite that, Henry is certainly more understanding and kind to women than most men are. I loved that he was willing to explain things that Catherine did not understand, instead of patting her on the head and clucking over how precious little Miss Morland is.

I really enjoyed watching Catherine come into her own, and I enjoyed watching her make mistakes and learn from them. She is so innocent and naive and pure, and just generally good that you can't help but like her. It really had me laughing to see how oblivious poor Catherine was to all innuendo and hints, but then pride herself on her cunning suspicions regarding the mysterious death of someone who'd lived at Northanger Abbey previously. When she is proved wrong, she is deeply ashamed and concerned over the way her suspicions may have affected others, which is refreshingly unselfish and honest, and I just loved her for it.

There were two things that dropped this down from a 5 star to a 4 star for me. First was the narration interrupting the story. Granted, sometimes this was useful and moved the story along, but it just seemed strange and out of place to me here. The second was that the ending felt a bit rushed and unfinished. I would have liked to have seen some the the shining wit and understanding that Henry had previously shown come out when he spoke with her at her house. Rather, it was all just narrated and glossed over. I understand the reason for this, but I can still be disappointed by it.

Overall, I really did like this one, although it turned out to be a bit different than I'd been expecting. Very enjoyable!!

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  1. Great review! I love Northanger Abbey and I'm glad you enjoyed it as well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!