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126 of 130 people found the following review helpful
I approached this book somewhat warily, knowing that Northanger Abbey was to some degree a satirical take on the immense popularity of Gothic romances such as Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, a book I dearly love. Happily, Austen's means of poking fun at Gothic horror literature are far from mean-spirited and, as a matter of fact, can be delightfully humorous indeed. Her heroine, Catherine Morland, is by no means the type of heroine to be found in the giant tomes of Radcliffe and her indulgent imitators, as Austen tells her reading audience directly from the very start. "Almost attractive" on a good day, this unintellectual tomboy has reached her fifteenth year without inspiring a young man's fancy, nor would she be able to delight him with musical skill or even draw his profile in her secret notebooks if she had. Having encountered no strangers who would prove to be a lord or prince in disguise, her heroic ambitions seem stymied at best until fate steps in and grants her a stay of several weeks in the delightful town of Bath. Making her transition from naïve girl to equally naïve young lady, Catherine almost immediately falls quite in love with young Henry Tilney, while at the same time she becomes intimate friends with an older young lady named Isabella, whose inconstancy as both friend and intended beloved of Catherine's own brother eventually brings her much pain. To her intense delight, however, Catherine is invited by General Tilney, Henry's father, to spend some few weeks in his home, Northanger Abbey. Her joy at spending such private time in the company of her beloved and new best friend Eleanor Tilney is immense, but equally exciting to her is the chance to spend time in a mysterious former abbey of the sort she has read so much about. Such Gothic romances as Udolpho have been the source of her recent heroic training, and she is wildly desirous and fully expectant of discovering hidden passages, dark secrets, frightening circumstances, and possibly even incalcitrant perfidy in the halls of her beloved's family home. Her overactive imagination runs wild in Northanger Abbey, bringing her a fair share of embarrassment, but the very sweet and tender sensibilities that fuel her fire for Gothic mystery make her all the more endearing to me. Catherine is remarkably innocent, and as such she is absolutely delightful in my eyes.
Much of the story does fit in with your typical Gothic novel, but the frightening and dismaying things Catherine eventually discovers are of a far from supernatural sort. Ever so gradually, a true monster slowly coalesces from the pages of this remarkable novel. I, like young Catherine, was somewhat overenthusiastic concerning the Gothic qualities of this adventure I feel I shared with her, and the truly despicable thoughts and actions of the book's villain did not immediately strike me as forcefully as they should have; the afterword by Elizabeth Hardwick included in my Signet Classic copy of the book, however, served to make me fully comprehend its import. Greed, selfishness, pride-these are the horrors of Northanger Abbey, and it does deeply hurt a reader of romantic sensitivity to stand idly by, unable to aid and assist a sweet young lady such as Catherine in her time of despair and emotional suffering.
Lovers of Gothic horror or literature in general will surely find nothing but delight in the pages of Northanger Abbey. Austen's critique of Gothic literature is quite subdued, and I actually find immense pleasure in the overindulgence the author sometimes employs in her attempts to satirize it. Written by Austen at a tender age (though not published until the year following her death), Northanger Abbey features incredibly human, complex characters full of wit and charm. The hidden motives of seemingly delightful friends is brought to light, teaching young Catherine as well as the reader a painful lesson in real life, yet romance stands at the ready to right the wrongs of self-interest, deception, and greed. I absolutely adore this novel and everything about it.
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68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 1999
I used to love Gothic novels. I collected out-of-print Victoria Holt paperbacks, I had stuffed animals named after characters in Charlotte and Emily Bronte novels, but ever since I've read Northanger Abbey, I can't read a Gothic novel with a straight face. Jane Austen does a marvelous job of sending up convoluted scary novels (and melodrama in general) in this book, and creates her most masculine and fascinating hero, Henry Tilney.
Don't think that Catherine Morland, the heroine, is just a naive kid. Her naivete is a necessary component of the novel, as it allows her to see the wider world with fresh eyes, provide a foil to the more worldly characters, and ultimately capture the heart of the hero.
And then there's Henry...he teases, he teaches, he forgives Catherine's regrettable fancies, knowing that he had a hand in encouraging them. He's witty, he's charming, he's kind of a slob, and he wears his greatcoats so well!
As in all her novels, Jane Austen provides a great host of hilarious supporting characters, in particular John and Isabella Thorpe and Mrs. Allen. I defy anyone not to laugh at John Thorpe's nonsensical and contradictory comments. One wonders how many such "rattles" wearied Miss Austen's attention to provide such a character study.
Great writing, great story, great characters...come to Northanger Abbey with a sense of humor and you will not be disappointed.
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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on December 9, 1999
" "I see what you think of me," said he gravely--"I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow."
"My journal!"
"Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings--plain black shoes--appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense."
"Indeed I shall say no such thing."
"Shall I tell you what you ought to say?"
"If you please."
"I danced with a very agreeable young man, introduced by Mr. King; had a great deal of conversation with him--seems a most extraordinary genius--hope I may know more of him. That, madam, is what I wish you to say." "
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Northanger Abbey," the first, shortest, most satiric, and least read of Jane Austen's completed novels, is a delightful treasure that will make you quite literally laugh out loud (so beware bringing the book to the airport, as I did, lest you suffer strange glances for your smothered sniggers). Following the journey of the coming-of-age Catherine Morland and her misadventures in Bath to the "horrid" Abbey, Jane Austen presents us with perhaps her funniest sociological book, that proves not only that teens will be teens in any age, but that an overactive imagination is not always a blessing, and that love is often the result of being loved. Readers should keep on the lookout for the commentaries on novels, feminine wiles and homecomings from Austen herself - a technique subdued in her other novels. The cast also includes Jane Austen's wittiest hero, Henry Tilney (a.k.a. "Da Man"), as well as a female foil more duplicitous than "Sense and Sensibility's" Lucy Steele. The Signet Classic edition boasts a good introduction by Margaret Drabble, perhaps better read after the text as a commentary. Best viewed as a comedic parody, "Northanger Abbey" is a pleasure to read, whether you are a long-standing member of the JASNA, or just dipping into the boisterous literature of the Regency.
Felicitous reading! Yours, &c.,
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33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on December 7, 2003
More lighthearted and less polished than Austen's other novels, "Northanger Abbey" is the chronicle of its heroine's adventures in turn-of-the-nineteenth-century British genteel society. Catherine, of marriageable age and reasonably attractive and well bred, goes on holiday to Bath, where she meets the gentlemanly Mr. Tilney and befriends the fickle Isabelle and her callow brother John. Her adventures in Bath and, later, in the home of her new acquaintances comprise the plot of Austen's mocking tale.
As usual, Austen is mocking the meeting-and-mating customs of then-contemporary Britain. But she is also mocking the gothic novels of the day: Catherine, influenced by the lowbrow literature she reads, is forever attributing dark motives to her acquaintances and skeletons to their closets. "Northanger Abbey" is unusual among Austen's works in that it attacks not only the society in which its heroine operates, but the heroine herself. Catherine is easily manipulated and slow to learn from her mistakes, and she bumbles into her eventual happy ending completely by accident, none the wiser for her troubles. And Austen makes clear, at the book's opening, that she does not wish to attack the novelists who write the books from which Catherine derives many of her false ideas: the error is Catherine's misapplication of the stories' lessons.
Although it was not published until after its author's death, "Northanger Abbey" is clearly a first novel. Its tone is different from the main body of Austen's work, and its quality is lower. While a pleasant read, the book is not particularly compelling and would probably be most enjoyable for Austen aficionados seeking a comprehensive study of her work.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 26, 2009
This was the first of Austen's novels to be accepted for publication (although it wasn't actually published for many years after). It's every bit as clever, witty, and multi-layered as her other books, and if you enjoy _Pride and Prejudice_ or _Mansfield Park_ you'll like this one, too. Austen wrote this book as a satire & parody of contemporary gothic novels and romances, and much of the humor in it comes from the heroine (a well-meaning, humble, honest, naive, and slightly silly girl) unwisely applying the conventions of gothic novels to real life. I recommend it especially to fans of Austen's wit, as it contains some of her most sharply-pointed writing.

Like a lot of Austen's novels, there's an access problem; she presumes you're a member of 18th-century upper crust british society, and thus understand perfectly her references to carriage types, dress fabrics, etc. -- often, looking up precisely what different period terms refer to -- for example, what a "curricle" and a "gig" are -- will help explicate the jokes underlying specific passages. For similar reasons, it's often useful to watch a film or TV version of Austen novels before reading them, to help familiarize yourself with the socio-economic environment.

Similarly, it'll help when reading this if you've read a lot of contemporary Gothic fiction. The Kindle makes this easy, fortunately -- it may be worthwhile to grab a Kindle version of The Mysteries of Udolpho first (perhaps also The Monk).

Still, though, if you like Austen, this is one of her great novels, and you'll enjoy it regardless of whether or not you're familiar with the background she's drawing on. But doing some spadework beforehand will be richly rewarded.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I approached this book somewhat warily, knowing that Northanger Abbey was to some degree a satirical take on the immense popularity of Gothic romances such as Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, a book I dearly love. Happily, Austen's means of poking fun at Gothic horror literature are far from mean-spirited and, as a matter of fact, can be delightfully humorous indeed. Her heroine, Catherine Morland, is by no means the type of heroine to be found in the giant tomes of Radcliffe and her indulgent imitators, as Austen tells her reading audience directly from the very start. "Almost attractive" on a good day, this unintellectual tomboy has reached her fifteenth year without inspiring a young man's fancy, nor would she be able to delight him with musical skill or even draw his profile in her secret notebooks if she had. Having encountered no strangers who would prove to be a lord or prince in disguise, her heroic ambitions seem stymied at best until fate steps in and grants her a stay of several weeks in the delightful town of Bath. Making her transition from naïve girl to equally naïve young lady, Catherine almost immediately falls quite in love with young Henry Tilney, while at the same time she becomes intimate friends with an older young lady named Isabella, whose inconstancy as both friend and intended beloved of Catherine's own brother eventually brings her much pain. To her intense delight, however, Catherine is invited by General Tilney, Henry's father, to spend some few weeks in his home, Northanger Abbey. Her joy at spending such private time in the company of her beloved and new best friend Eleanor Tilney is immense, but equally exciting to her is the chance to spend time in a mysterious former abbey of the sort she has read so much about. Such Gothic romances as Udolpho have been the source of her recent heroic training, and she is wildly desirous and fully expectant of discovering hidden passages, dark secrets, frightening circumstances, and possibly even incalcitrant perfidy in the halls of her beloved's family home. Her overactive imagination runs wild in Northanger Abbey, bringing her a fair share of embarrassment, but the very sweet and tender sensibilities that fuel her fire for Gothic mystery make her all the more endearing to me. Catherine is remarkably innocent, and as such she is absolutely delightful in my eyes.

Much of the story does fit in with your typical Gothic novel, but the frightening and dismaying things Catherine eventually discovers are of a far from supernatural sort. Ever so gradually, a true monster slowly coalesces from the pages of this remarkable novel. I, like young Catherine, was somewhat overenthusiastic concerning the Gothic qualities of this adventure I feel I shared with her, and the truly despicable thoughts and actions of the book's villain did not immediately strike me as forcefully as they should have; the afterword by Elizabeth Hardwick included in my Signet Classic copy of the book, however, served to make me fully comprehend its import. Greed, selfishness, pride-these are the horrors of Northanger Abbey, and it does deeply hurt a reader of romantic sensitivity to stand idly by, unable to aid and assist a sweet young lady such as Catherine in her time of despair and emotional suffering.

Lovers of Gothic horror or literature in general will surely find nothing but delight in the pages of Northanger Abbey. Austen's critique of Gothic literature is quite subdued, and I actually find immense pleasure in the overindulgence the author sometimes employs in her attempts to satirize it. Written by Austen at a tender age (though not published until the year following her death), Northanger Abbey features incredibly human, complex characters full of wit and charm. The hidden motives of seemingly delightful friends is brought to light, teaching young Catherine as well as the reader a painful lesson in real life, yet romance stands at the ready to right the wrongs of self-interest, deception, and greed. I absolutely adore this novel and everything about it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2000
I spent most of the story wishing to dance with the witty Henry Tilney, slap the artful and manipulative Isabella, lose my temper with the deceitful John, and give Catherine Morland a good shake to knock some sense into her.
That said, any book that can drag me into the characters' lives as Northanger Abbey did is praiseworthy. It's an easy read once you get the hang of the language.
I really enjoyed Austen's tongue-in-cheek lambasting of novelists whose heroines never read novels - "Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ingenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding-joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust." Her derision for the flights of fancy of the Gothic novelists of the day are readily apparent throughout the novel. Catherine imagines herself in romantic, mysterious situations (found in her favorite novel, Udolpho), as when she first thinks of her upcoming visit to the Abbey: "To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour had seemed too nearly impossible for desire." Yet when she arrives she is disappointed in its modernity and normalcy - something that wouldn't be tolerated in a Gothic tale!
If the ends of books are like desserts, then the end of Northanger Abbey could be compared to Jell-O rather than Cherries Jubilee, but the readers should focus on the meat and potatoes instead. All in all, an enjoyable read.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2001
This is actually one of Austen's first works, she kept it for fifteen years, polishing it. It is her lightest work but it is still very good, we all need something light once in a while.
Our heroine is Catherine, she is a rather silly young girl who has read too many gothic romances. "The Mysteries of Udolpho" in particular has turned her silly head. She seems to see a gothic mystery everywhere she looks. Catherine soon learns that the world is not all melodrama and eventually matures and marries a very sensible man. What keeps Catherine likable is her capacity to learn from her mistakes. She is certainly the least mature of Austen's heroines but she is never boring.
This is a marvelous book to start with if you want to get into Jane Austen, it does not have as many characters or subplots as her other works and it is very breezy. I enjoyed it and am now reading Udolpho myself. We'll see what happens. ;-)
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 2, 1999
Jane Austen was arguably one of the best writers of her time; however, only she took the bold leap into poking fun at the books of her time. Northanger Abbey brings Catherine, the heroine (on whom, among other things, Austen periodically comments from afar) through the joys and troubles of being an eligible young lady with a probing mind and endearing naivete, acquired from none other than the countless novels she has read. The elegance, and at some points speed, with which Austen plays out and then reconciles her young heroine's difficulties is at the very least extremely amusing. The foolish suspense and embarrassed relief which center around the Abbey are no less entertaining when one considers this book against darker novels where the papers in locked drawers have slightly more bearing. Catherine's friend Isabella, her vain (and in-vain) suitor John, and Mr. and Miss Tilney are brilliant foils for her character's development. Overall, I think this book rates as one of the true gems of the 19th Century.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2000
While this was one of the last Jane Austen novels published, it was the first one to be written. I read this book before I was familiar with the conventions of the Gothic novel, but this book is a worthy send up of all of those conventions. Even if you are not especially familiar with the works of Anne Radcliffe or Monk Lewis, this novel is worth your time. The opening three pages which describe why Catherine Morland really isn't the heroine type are as funny as anything you'd read today. Other great passages are when Austen defends the reading of fiction in a passionate aside, and when Catherine becomes convinced that General Tilney is keeping his wife locked up in the dungeon of Northanger Abbey.
In this book, we have the beginnings of Jane's devastating wit as she tears apart society. We also have the benefit of some witty one liners, flighty characters and hilarious situations. (Of special note is the fact that it would seem that college men have ALWAYS been drinking and swearing type guys... although Austen discretely blanks out the 'dirty' words so as not to offend her readers.)
I used to rush home from work to read this book, and was not disappointed in it at all, from beginning to end. This is the best place to start with Austen (well, you could also read her juvenilia if you want... it is more silly than anything, but entertaining nonetheless), and it's definitely a fun read.
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