Northanger Abbey. Finished audio 5-7-14, rating 4/5, classic, pub. 1817
Unabridged audio 7 hours 40 minutes, read by Anna Massey
A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.
The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.
Catherine was a charming, and naive teen who lost herself in novels. Her imagination and youth made for a nice beginning as she sets off for Bath with family friends, wide-eyed and looking for adventure. She finds it with the Thorpes and Tilneys, both sister and brother pairs offering her a different view of the world. By the time Henry invites her back to his home, you would think that she had gained enough experience to settle her, but youthful exuberance and a penchant for looking for drama won out.
I liked Catherine. She wasn’t as nuanced as some of Austen’s other heroines, but I did like the her fresh, excited eyes way of looking at the world. Her imagination did come face to face with reality and she suffered from misplaced friendship and judgement based on her family’s wealth. She never lost her spark.
I’ve now read 5 of Austen’s 6 completed novels and this one felt so different from the others. I’d put it right in the middle with Persuasion and Pride & Prejudice at the top and Sense & Sensibility and Emma at the bottom (I may have to give Emma another chance someday because so many people adore her). The story was fun and enjoyable.
I listened to and read this book.