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Northanger Abbey (Barnes & Noble Classics) First Edition Thus Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 738 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 858-7546587261
ISBN-10: 1593083807
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Alfred Mac Adam’s Introduction to Northanger Abbey

Austen writes at the outset of a total metamorphosis of European thought, a moment when every aspect of society was on the verge of mutation. The most obvious change is political: France enters the process of the French Revolution in 1789 and moves into the era of Napoleon, from which it emerges only after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. France, in only a few years, moves from monarchy to republic to empire and back to monarchy. The spirit of the eighteenth-century Age of Reason, with its emphasis on universal principles (such as “All men are created equal”) turns into the age of Romanticism, when individuals discover they are radically different from one another.



Austen’s sociology too reflects an evolving literary, political, and social reality. Her main characters are not nobles, though some may be members of the titled aristocracy. Catherine Morland is the daughter of a country clergyman; she’s seen nothing of the world until her visit to Bath, a health spa and meeting place for marriageable young men and women, and her subsequent brush with provincial highlife at the grand estate of General Tilney, the father of the clergyman she eventually marries. The novel, as Austen and her contemporaries conceive it, is not concerned with kings and queens but with ordinary people, and one wonders if she had any knowledge of Madame de Lafayette’s The Princess of Cleves (1678), an early transformation of the aristocratic and courtly setting of the romance of chivalry into something very much like the psychological novel. The novel’s task is to make ordinary, usually middle-class characters interesting by creating predicaments for them in circumstances its readers would find reasonably familiar. Austen has a strong cohort of women novelists among her contemporaries who did exactly that; she refers specifically to Cecilia; Or, Memoirs of an Heiress (1782) and Camilla; Or, a Picture of Youth (1796), by Fanny Burney, as well as Belinda (1801), by Maria Edgeworth: The fact that these novels are all named after their heroines certainly influenced Austen, who in its earlier incarnations gave Northanger Abbey the title “Susan” and then “Catherine.”



Again, none of us (we hope!) has ever seen a vampire, a werewolf, or a ghost, though these are standard items in the gothic novel. But many of Austen’s readers would know the tribulations of finding suitable mates and the disasters that beset young people as they try to get on with life. Austen’s England is alien territory insofar as her twenty-first-century readers are concerned, especially its class structure. Marriage, for example, while it could be the happy union of two people who cared for each other, was in Austen’s day really a union of fortunes; in the same way, becoming a clergyman did not necessarily reflect religious fervor: It was a profession like any other. In Northanger Abbey, we see the impoverished Isabella Thorpe desperately trying to find a man who will be able to maintain her in upper-class style, becoming engaged to one (Catherine Morland’s brother James), and instantly throwing him over when a better candidate (Captain Frederick Tilney) appears.



Little does she know that Frederick, a flirtatious rogue and therefore Isabella’s male twin, is simply toying with her, so breaking off with James Morland ultimately leads her to disaster. But James’s parents are relieved when the engagement collapses, because, as Catherine’s mother explains to her in the most precise terms, Isabella Thorpe has no money. The same argument—poor people are not suitable as mates—almost destroys Catherine’s chances of marrying Henry Tilney. Only because his daughter marries into the nobility (a viscount), does General Tilney allow his second son (who will not, because of the laws of primogeniture, inherit his estates) to marry the daughter of a country parson with ten children.



This is what Austen considers the material of novelistic lives: how members of contemporary English society confront the issues of the day and either overcome them (Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney eventually marry) or succumb to them (by the end of the novel, Isabella Thorpe finds herself virtually destitute and without either a fiancé or a wealthy prospect). Because Austen is writing with a comic view of society, her protagonist, Catherine Morland, will triumph, even if this means her author must resort to a deus ex machina to extricate her from her dilemma: General Tilney is so happy his daughter has married a viscount that he decides his second son’s choice of a poor bride is of little importance.



Money, then, is the great variable and the controlling factor in the lives of Austen’s characters, especially her women, because without it they are, in social terms, worthless. This was as true in real life as it was in fiction: Jane Austen fell in love with Tom Lefroy in 1796, but, since she was virtually penniless and her beau an impoverished Irish barrister-to-be, marriage was out of the question, a reality she accepted. That people did fall in love, run away, and live happily ever after was certainly possible in Austen’s day, but such relationships were the exception rather than the rule.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Barnes & Noble Classics; First Edition Thus edition (February 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593083807
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593083809
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (738 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #852,400 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Daniel Jolley HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 11, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
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.Read more ›
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
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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Format: Mass Market Paperback
" "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.
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Format: Paperback
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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