I got my 2021 reading off to a great start, as on my lazy New Year’s Day at home, I quietly finished my delightful re-read of the Regency classic, Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Having loved all of Austen’s finished novels, I took the opportunity when creating my second list for The Classics Club to include them all for a re-read.
After re-reading the utterly charming Emma and the achingly sad Persuasion, I fancied Northanger Abbey, the second of Austen’s novels to be published posthumously in 1817, next. While it is not one of my favourites, I felt in just the right mood for it’s delightful blend of coming-of-age tale and gothic parody, with its young, sweet, naïve heroine: Catherine Morland, whose love of lurid gothic novels has her imagining spooks and villains everywhere and which will eventually get her into all sorts of trouble…
But let’s start from the beginning, Catherine, the eldest daughter to a modest clergyman and his sensible wife, grew up in the country, in a large family of ten children. While neither educated or talented, Catherine grows into a healthy and amiable seventeen-year-old woman, who becomes a favourite of her wealthy and good-natured neighbours, Mr and Mrs Allen. So when Mr Allen is ordered to Bath for his health, they invite Catherine to accompany them.
There Catherine is dazzled and throws herself wholeheartedly into all the amusements of Bath, where she quickly becomes fast friends with the lively Miss Isabella Thorpe, who shares her love of lurid novels and finery. She is also reunited with her older brother, James who is quite smitten with her friend. All seems to be perfect, but our heroine is a fish out of water when it comes to society and very ill equipped to judge others’ characters. While trying to please everyone, she finds herself pulled and pushed around, and torn between Isabella and James and two of her other new acquaintances the genteel siblings Mr and Miss Tilney. Bless her!
I have to admit I enjoyed this even more on this second read and had quite forgotten just how much Austen had packed in to what is one of her slimmer novels! While this is perhaps the least romantic and even dramatic of her tales, I really do like Catherine, although more in the motherly concerned way, than say the admiration I have for other Austen heroines. I truly wanted to see things work out for her and for her to end up with the nice, sensible man.
So all in all, I took great comfort in re-reading Northanger Abbey and while perhaps still not one of favourites, it is a wonderful and exciting coming-of-age tale and satirical parody that playfully pokes fun at gothic novels. All told with with Austen’s careful, ironic observations on the people, etiquette and society of Regency England. Great read ⭐⭐⭐
Now I’d love to hear your thoughts: Have you read this? What do you think? Have you read any of Jane Austen’s other wonderful novels?