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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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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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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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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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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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VINE VOICEon May 10, 2014
Harvard University Press is seriously spoiling me. With the release of NORTHANGER ABBEY: AN ANNOTATED EDITION, they have now produced five glitzy coffee table editions of Jane Austen's major novels. What true Janeite could possibly pass up an unabridged first edition text, an extensive introduction and notes by an Austen scholar, full-color illustrations, over-sized hardcover format and copious supplemental material - all wrapped up in a beautifully designed package? Not me!

I have enjoyed all of the editions in this annotated series so far, with only one exception. I am greedy. I want more annotation and was quite annoyed when I turned a page of a previous edition and saw white space in the sidebar columns instead of text. Such a waste when there is so much to write about and Janeites and newbies are eager and grateful readers. The first thing I did when I cracked open this new edition was to skim for the dreaded white space. It looked plump and promising.

NORTHANGER ABBEY is indeed the wallflower of Austen's oeuvre. Like its young heroine Catherine Morland, it is a naïve, wide eyed debutant in comparison to its light, bright and sparkling older sister PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. My heart sinks to admit it, but it is true. While readers continually rank it as one of Jane Austen's least popular novels, I think it is one of her hidden gems--highly under-rated and completely satisfying. I find its exuberant humor laugh-out-loud funny, hunky hero Henry Tilney witty and irresistibly charming, and the spooky Gothic parody brilliant. Why is my reaction so different to the average reader's? Knowledge. It is extremely helpful to be able to place the novel in social context and to understand Austen's layered tongue-in-cheek underpinnings. That's where this new annotated edition comes in handy. I believe that editor Susan J. Wolfson has pulled together a masterpiece.

In her 60 page introduction (including 7 pages of notes listing references sited) Wolfson takes us on an illuminating journey through the challenges Austen faced on the road to publication of NORTHANGER ABBEY--the first novel that Austen wrote in her twenties--and the last to be published after her death in December 1817.

"...the novel is an odd repository, of strange, uneven power...it has her youngest, most inexperienced, "strange, unaccountable" heroine, a girl "in the bloom of seventeen," ushered by a mature, self-possessed narrator, and the only heroine, moreover, sent into the busy world, with promise and peril. On these pressure points and risky cross-purposes, Austen involved an amusing but conceptually complex relay of genres: a romantic comedy of manners and a parody of its conventions; a spoof of the gothic that also harbored an evident enjoyment of it--along with a glance at its credible language for anxieties that rational society won't admit." (Introduction, 10)

Wolfson also elaborates upon historical context, Austen contemporaries, biographical background, her writing and publication career, and analysis of the novel formerly known as SUSAN, which would posthumously be renamed NORTHANGER ABBEY when it was published by John Murray in late 1817.

I found the introduction accessible and enlightening, the illustration well-chosen, with an equal mix of the familiar and the surprising, and the annotation refreshingly unpedantic. Readers new to Northanger Abbey will be taken on a heroine's adventure of discovery, and those familiar with the path will be equally delighted to make their appearance in the Lower Rooms with Henry Tilney or frightened with Catherine Morland as she reads THE MYSTERIES OF UDOLPHO at Northanger Abbey.

Was my desire for less white space and more text in the side columns fulfilled? Maybe. While this edition exhibited a vast improvement in quantity and quality, this Janeite will never be truly satisfied until every possible inch is utilized.

Laurel Ann, Austenprose
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on May 15, 2014
Northanger Abbey is a delightful read, and unlike any other book by Jane Austen that I have read. This book is not a character study much like her other novels. This novel is essentially a mockery of the, then, modern novel (particularly, Mysteries of Udolpho, as referenced in the book). It has references like "If my heroine was a normal heroine she would [do X], but she was too naive to know this." Fascinating, and quite enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

Here are some simply delightful quotes I found while reading this charming book (don't worry, they don't give the story away).

"...no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman's love is declared."

"You will allow, that in both [dancing and marriage], man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution' that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with any one else."

"If I am wrong, I am doing what I believe to be right."

"The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing."

"His departure gave Catherine the first experimental conviction that a loss may be sometimes a gain."
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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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on March 7, 2013
I have always been a Jane Austen fan, and studied a number of her novels at University, and have also taught them. Northanger Abbey is one that I have heard about, but had never read. I loved it for a number of reasons. It displays that fine Austen trait of exposing the social customs, snobbery and hypocrisy of her era. There were also many examples of Austen's skill in using irony to highlight these. What made this novel particularly enjoyable is an entertaining storyline dominated by a sweet, young, naive, self-deluded heroine prone to fantasy and melodramatic inclinations. A Lizzie Bennett, Catherine is not, and it is delightfully refreshing to follow the foibles of young Catherine as she becomes more and more bogged down in self-deception. There is a wonderfully light-heartedness in this novel that is a contrast to some of the moral heaviness that can pervade Austen's writing. I recommend this book most highly.
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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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