Northanger Abbey — gothic naiveté

Catherine Morland, an unremarkable tomboy as a child, is thrown amongst all the ‘difficulties and dangers’ of Bath at the ripe age of seventeen. Armed with an unworldly charm and a vivid imagination, she must overcome the caprices of elegant society, encountering along the way such characters as the vacuous Mrs Allen, coquettish Isabella and the brash bully John Thorpe.

Such are the challenges of a young woman in the late 18th-early 19th century. First world problem much?

Gothic novels I don’t know about

Gothic (adj.) in literary context means a state of gloom, mystery and the grotesque. Think Frankenstein. So apparently, Northanger Abbey was written as a kind of gothic romance satire. Because I have not immersed myself so much in gothic novels, I felt like I was at loss. Like, what was the joke?

Upon much reflection and getting some opinions on Goodreads, I began to understand. Catherine Morland, our heroine of this story, imagines life in a gothic way because she reads a lot of novels of that genre. As one Goodreads user said, “She jumps to the worst conclusions, creates grandeur images in her mind, and expands trifle situations into troublesome occurrences”.

Austen’s narrations

I loved that Austen gave her opinions through narration. At certain points, she used first person pronoun to indicate her thoughts, as though she was speaking directly to the reader. She did it so well that it fitted so well in the story. She went on a sort of rant about novel writers not permitting their work to be read by their own heroine… or something like that. I’ve bookmarked page 24 and have read it a dozen times yet I don’t quite understand its full meaning. Does anyone care to enlighten me?

About women

I found this line very intriguing:

A woman, especially if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can. 

This line is not a dialogue but part of the narrative. I think this tells a lot about the attitude towards women in the Regency era. Women could not be too knowledgeable, it seems lest they wound others’ pride, particularly their male counterparts. At least, that is what I understood from this. 

Besides that, there was also a remark on how women of that time would fuss over their appearance when actually men didn’t even care much about the value of a new dress and shoes. And according to Austen, men preferred neatness in women, and women liked scruffy men.

Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone. No man will admire her the more, no woman will like her the better for it. Neatness and fashion are enough for the former, and a something of shabbiness or impropriety will be most endearing to the latter.

 

Of muslins and Mr Tilney

Of course, it was only Mr Tilney who could tell how expensive a dress was. He understood muslins. And indeed, he knew a great deal more than that such as the arts and life itself. It seemed that Mr Tilney was a well-educated man with a good deal of morality. He’s just too perfect. And I think Austen purposely made him like that as a contrast to Catherine’s immaturity. 

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Final Thoughts

This post might seem like a ramble and not a proper review — apologies for that. But reading a classic novel requires so much of the mind that I thought it necessary to share my thoughts, no matter how jumbled they are. 

As a whole, the storyline was only mediocre. I got a bit irritated by Isabella and her brother during the first half of the novel. But I enjoyed Austen’s personal opinions within the narrative. It truly felt like she was talking to me directly. 


Title: Northanger Abbey

Author: Jane Austen

Publisher: Penguin Group

Language: English

Pages: 236

Rating: 3.5 violas

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