This book, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a bit of a humorous dig at some of the gothic romances that were around at the time. The heroine, the naive Catherine Morland, drinks up these torrid tales and when she finds herself in a situation that could be interpreted in the light of the likely events of one of these novels she imagines all kinds of horrors. Meanwhile, she misses all kinds of hints of a real intrigue going on before her, the behaviour of some new friends that she becomes acquainted with in Bath, when she travels there in company with a rich neighbour of her family.
My teenage self didn’t give Catherine credit, and I was unfair there – she is a mere 17 years old when our story unfolds and she is unremarkable in lots of ways – she isn’t particularly clever or beautiful, but she is a nice girl with good principles. She is very naive in the ways of the more worldly people than herself and she’s unused to having to understand the subtext of a conversation because in Catherine’s experience people have always said what they meant rather than playing the game of society manners.
‘...but why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?’Catherine’s main fault is a result of her reading matter – she’s been allowed to read what she likes and the result is that she favours reading some very lurid gothic novels without realising that they delineate some really unlikely events. The first few chapters of the novel are very heavily ironic on this very subject. I started highlighting the amusing parts on my kindle but I had to stop when I realised I would basically be highlighting the first few chapters in their entirety!
‘Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings – and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on.’
The Thorpes are interesting characters although deeply obnoxious – you see Isabella Thorpe reeling in the naive Morland siblings, and John Thorpe, her brother, is a wonderful character to read. He’d be horrible to spend time with, but I can find plenty of amusement in him on the page! As ever, with Austen’s work, a lot of enjoyment comes in her prose style. There are so many quotable quotes, such as:
‘The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.’And the novel itself unashamedly defends the work of novel writers, arguing that, although some novels are full of histrionic nonsense, some will also be of much higher calibre:
“And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.If you have never picked up 'Northanger Abbey', or haven’t read it in a long time, I suggest that you give it a go, and prepare to be amused. A 5 star read.