Monday, August 16, 2010

Everything Austen: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey
by Jane Austen
New York : Modern Library, 2002.

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is not your typical heroine, as our narrator forewarns us. Her father is respectable, her mother is not of a sickly constitution. When Catherine is allowed to go to Bath with family friends, she is excited by the prospect of all the adventures that may befall her. But as readers, and Catherine herself, discover - she is not in a Gothic novel.

When I first attempted to read Northanger Abbey in my teens I was, I confess, much like Catherine myself. Much of the banter of characters and narrator was over my head. I didn't remember that there was sarcasm, much less humor, in conveying Catherine's story, and I daresay I must have taken much of it at face value and abandoned the book out of boredom (and the necessity of library due dates). But now a little older, more familiar with literature if not the exact Gothic novels which Jane Austen is skewering, and much more adept at picking up on when the narrator was laughing at our heroine, I found the story a much smoother read. At times, I laughed out loud over Catherine's propensity for viewing events in convoluted ways suggested by her novel reading. This is atypical of Austen's style. Though witty, the sarcasm is much more pointed than I remember her other novels, such as Pride and Prejudice. I was often laughing at the heroine instead of with her, though it was endearing to see how readily she believed the best of other people.

I am now pondering how I shall place it in the hierarchy of the five Austen novels I have read. Pride and Prejudice is first, followed by Emma. Mansfield Park is last in my book, though unlike some I didn't hate it, I just didn't love it either. I need to refresh my memory of Sense and Sensibility to determine whether I would rank Northanger Abbey above or below it, but from what I can remember now they're neck and neck for third place.

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