Monday, February 01, 2016

Jane Austen - Northanger Abbey

+Project Gutenberg

This was the last Jane Austen book of the lot that I read. I have not read the books later plucked from her manuscripts like Lady Susan and The Watsons.  My friends have assured me that they are is good, but I cannot somehow think of them as genuine Austens.

I was completely bowled over by Northanger Abbey when I read it first.  I loved Catherine Morland and I loved Henry Tilney. Catherine is an ordinary young girl, and Henry Tilney is nowhere as haughty and moneyed as other Austen heroes.

The plot of this book is simple and uncomplicated.  Catherine Morland is the daughter of a clergyman.  She is invited by her neighbours, the Allens, to accompany them to Bath for a visit.  She is sucked into a world of glamour, new dresses, dances and theatre.  She makes friends with two families, the Tilneys and the Thorpes.  She enjoys the company of Eleanor Tilney and falls for her brother, Henry Tilney.  She is pursued by John Thorpe whom she does not like much. She is very friendly with his sister, Isabella Thorpe.  Catherine's brother, James, arrives in Bath as well and seems to be sweet on Isabella.

In this pretty little scene comes General Tilney, the father of Eleanor and Henry.  He gives a lot of attention to Catherine and seems very keen to please her.  Will he approve of a match between Henry and Catherine?  Will Isabella and James unite?  

A Jane Austen book can never be written off as a mere romance, written to please the reader for a short while, to pass the time as they wait at Airports.  Her books are a mirror of her times.  She creates a charming picture of her society and their manners.  Her observances are full of wit and intelligence.

In Northanger Abbey, Austen chooses to remark upon the propensity of the young towards Gothic novels.  Catherine likes reading Ann Radcliff books.  It colors the way she sees the world, she is forever looking for dark secrets where none exist.  She needs Henry Tilney to show her that there are no deep secrets lurking in the locked up rooms of Northanger Abbey.  She also learns not to take people at face value.  A lot of people hide their true intentions under false words.

Henry Tilney is her teacher here.  He is a sensible young man.  He loves Catherine for her frankness and naivety, and also her unabashed love for him.   He is quite unlike Darcy or Knightley.  For one thing, he does not have the same kind of money or grandeur.  Despite that, or because of that, he is very likeable.  He is my new favorite. 

I recommend you read Northanger Abbey right away if you have not done so already.  If you have read it, re-read it as often as you can.  It is a delightful little gem which will keep throwing new things you missed noticing in previous readings.

I was drawn back to this book after I saw the 2007 ITV adaptation of the novel of the same name.  I was charmed by it.  Adaptations are not always very faithful and it is fun to go back to the novel to compare where they differ.   I have heard that the 1985 BBC adaptation is better.  I need to look it up sometime to discover that for myself.

Maybe I need to bring myself to read Lady Susan at last.


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