Northanger Abbey

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I’ve tried to read Austen a few times over the years but never had much luck, and I expected Northanger Abbey to be much the same as her other works.

Not so! Although the first few pages were a bit tricky, I got through them and really enjoyed the read. There were a few things about this reading that surprised me right off the bat.

Firstly, I think some of the points Austen is making are really interesting. She chooses to make them as part of a novel, but I think some of the things she is saying would perhaps be better put as some kind of essay? It’s hard to know, though, whether they would have had the same response had they been formatted differently.

For instance, she breaks the fourth wall a lot when writing, especially towards the end. I’m curious as to who the narrator really is in this case – is it Austen herself, or some fictionalized version of her?

Also, the relationship between Catherine and Henry is strange, to say the least. You can’t tell if he likes her for most of the book, and while she’s at Northanger Abbey he pretty much friendzones her. Then, eventually, his sister says, “hey Henry, this girl really likes you so maybe you should like her back?” and he goes “oh yeah, we should get married”. What? This is really confusing.

“I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.” (p. 180)

Then again, Henry seems to understand the details of female friendship more than most guys do! “You feel, I suppose, that, in losing Isabella, you lose half yourself: you feel a void in your heart which nothing else can occupy.” (p. 152) This whole speech pretty much sums up most girls’ feelings when they lose a close female friend, and you can tell that although the speaker at this point is a man, the author is a woman who gets it!

Lastly, I’d just like to comment on the ending of the book. “I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.” (p. 187) This follows a paragraph about whether the General was, in fact, being a good parent by sending Catherine away, etc, and strengthening their knowledge of each other. While I don’t think it was good parenting per se, none of the parenting in this novel seems to be particularly productive. Mrs. Morland tries to console her daughter and fails, so she gives up and starts being critical. Mr. Morland is practically useless. Mrs. Allen only cares about her clothes, and Mr. Allen is also useless. Mrs. Thorpe is just plain annoying and the General seems to order his children around more than he parents them. Is this what parenting was like in Austen’s time?

That’s all for now!