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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Appreciating Austen

Jane Austen, 1775-1817
Jane Austen is one of the most popular English writers of all time. Two hundred years of publication is a pretty impressive record.  There aren't too many people who haven’t heard of her.  Who hasn't watched a movie based on one of her novels?  But, for as much as some people happily get lost in the language with words like thither, mischance, and felicity (Kathleen Kelly in You've Got Mail, for example), other people shy away from the archaic vocabulary of the past. It’s not always easy, breezy reading.  If you haven’t yet dipped your toes into the world of Austen and don’t know how ready you might be for it, you may want to consider starting with Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey is Austen’s first novel, although it wasn't published until after her death. It is shorter than her other works but just as charming. Like the others, it’s about finding love in a time of great social restraints and rules. Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is invited to spend the summer with family friends in Bath, England. There she is immersed in the high society life of grand fashions and galas.  Her search for romance and adventure leads her to the Tilneys’ estate called Northanger Abbey, where she is later invited as a guest. Unfortunately, she’s not quite on her best behavior. After reading Gothic novels, her over-active imagination runs wild in the old home and she sets out to uncover the “mysteries” of Captain Tilney’s deceased wife.  This doesn'’t sit well with the Captain’s son, Henry Tilney, the man Catherine longs for.  Of course, complications and misunderstandings arise.  

I really liked this book and the characters. Critics note that the book is not as smooth as her later novels.  Who knows, they’re probably right. I’m not an Austen scholar. I don’t belong to an Austen club.  I cannot randomly cite Austen quotes. And I’ve only read three of her six books.  But I did find Northanger Abbey amusing.  I enjoyed her humor and the foreign world of an elegant yet stifled society.  

He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and if not quite handsome, was very nearly it.
(Henry Tilney) Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818; reprint, Cambridge, U.K.:Worth Press Limited, 2008.), 11.

It did not appear to her that life could supply any greater felicity. 

(Catherine when Henry asked her to dance for a 3rd time.) Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818; reprint, Cambridge, U.K.:Worth Press Limited, 2008.), 57.

Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love. 
(Catherine) Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818; reprint, Cambridge, U.K.:Worth Press Limited, 2008.), 18.

Catherine had expected to have her feelings worked, and worked they were. Astonishment and doubt first seized them and a shortly succeeding ray of common sense added some bitter emotions of shame. 
(When Catherine found Mrs. Tilney’s room) Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818; reprint, Cambridge, U.K.:Worth Press Limited, 2008.), 162.



Jane Austen Novels:

Emma (1815)
Northanger Abbey (1818, posthumous)
Persuasion (1818, posthumous)

Happy reading,
Annette


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