Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A new review of Northanger Abbey (part 1 of The Austen Series)

Posted by lea at 4:51 PM
I'm an unashamed fan of Jane Austen and my only regret is that she didn't write more than the six novels she left behind as a legacy.

For the past 20 or so years, I've read and re-read Pride and Prejudice the most (I estimate I probably read it over 35 times), followed fairly closely by Emma, then Persuasion, then Sense and Sensibility. I read Mansfield Park perhaps twice, and Northanger Abbey only once, because the two heroines Fanny Price and Catherine Morland annoyed me with their passivity and lack of wit - so unlike my favourite Elizabeth Bennett!

Anyway, having done a re-read of all her six works in recent months, I've decided to review them all through fresh eyes. Let's start with the one least travelled by.

Northanger Abbey

Perhaps more than any of her other books, re-reading this one surprised me the most because I realised my memory of it was so imperfect and prejudiced. I probably read it for the first time at around age 16, so coming back to it two decades later gave me an entirely new perspective.

I realised that Austen was doing something completely different with this book than her others. It's not just a straightforward novel - it's in fact a tongue-in-cheek parody of the gothic novels that were so popular at the time. It pokes fun of gothic sensibilities - the expectation of dark horrors in every empty wing of a large estate - through the very virginal and supremely innocent eyes of Catherine (Kitty) Morland. So influenced is she by these novels, that she makes a fool of herself in front of Henry Tilney, the love interest in the book.

The interesting thing about Northanger Abbey is how the tone is so different from her usual slightly detached but affectionate and wry narrative voice. There's something almost comedic in her tone, and this really saves the book from becoming insipid. I have to admit I missed it the first time and found it quite unlikeable. Because Kitty is so witless and innocent, it's easy to mistake Northanger Abbey as the same, but I found a new enjoyment of it this time and was much more charmed by it than before.


Fred Bloggs! on August 24, 2012 at 4:45 PM said...

Hi Lea,
What happened to your reading through the alphabet? You got so close to the end. Lots of Chinese authors with names with those weird letters at the end of the alphabet!

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