My rating: 4 stars
Every time I read a Jane Austen novel I expect to be delighted by a comedy of manners that satirises the society of the 18th century. In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen achieved that by alluding to the importance of social status and the use of marriage to improve it. But, at the same time, this book is also a satire on the gothic novels of that age, making fun of the plot machineries that they featured and which were sometimes improbable. Jane Austen used the same devices employed in gothic novels to make both the readers and the characters reach the conclusion that some things are just what they seem at first and don’t have any hidden story behind them.
Catherine Morland is the heroine of this novel. She goes with her wealthy neighbours, the Allens, to Bath and, while staying there, makes a few acquaintances. Among them are Isabella (who becomes her best friend at first), Mr Thorpe, Eleanor and Henry Tilney. Her interactions with these acquaintances have both great and dismal consequences.
Although while growing up she was a bit of a tomboy, Catherine is described as an almost beautiful girl since she has turned 15. She has a very active imagination and loves gothic novels. When she is invited by the Tilneys to stay for a time at Northanger Abbey, her imagination is propelled. She expects the abbey to hide secrets, as in the novels she likes to read, and looks for them whenever a chance arises.
Catherine also comes across as quite naïve. At first, she doesn’t make a good judgment on some of the characters, mainly Isabella. The way Jane Austen wrote Isabella’s dialogue made me realise that sometimes what she is saying is not really what she is thinking. This is done subtly at first, the meanings being progressively revealed. Her intentions are only completely disclosed, though, when Catherine finally discovers what her friend really expected to achieve.
Both Isabella and Mr Thorpe are quite unlikeable characters. My dislike of them was not immediate, but it grew with their remarks and actions. They only seem to care about themselves and are not really interested in the opinions of the people whose friendship they seem to cherish.
Henry Tilney, on the other hand, is my favourite character in this novel. He is quite amusing and his dialogue, which is cleverly sarcastic, is one of my favourites. I wish he was more present throughout the entirety of the novel, his actions wouldn’t seem so sudden and the reader could get to know him better.
Northanger Abbey was the fifth novel I read by Jane Austen. Although it isn’t my favourite, it is still quite a good book, featuring the witty remarks characteristic of Jane Austen and instances where the narrator directly addresses the reader.