“Catherine Morland, a quixotic young woman who sees things through the distorted lens of the Gothic novel, must grow out of that illusion. In doing so, she follows the trajectory typical of all true novels: she moves from innocence to experience. Catherine must change, she must react to life and become, by the end of her story, another person”- from the introduction by Alfred Mac Adam.
So what does this book teach you? That reading too many Gothic novels leaves you unprepared for the real world? That you ought to look out for ‘false friends’? That you shouldn’t make too many presumptions about other people, especially their parents- which can lead you into a lot of trouble?
If you have ever felt frustration, you will relate to this novel in some degree. The amount of times Catherine is stopped in pursuing a path, or keeping a promise, or thwarted in her plans is truly frustrating. It is definitely something the modern reader can empathise with, when often good intentions do not turn out quite as you expect.
It has a simple storyline, it is humorous, satirical and mysterious. Catherine is a romantic girl and dreams about things that, let’s face it- are unlikely to happen in real life, hence she is often disappointed. She is young, but also (another country girl comparable to Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby) a moral character. If she has done wrong or made a mistake, she will do all she can to remedy it, no matter pride or the consequence. In this light, it makes her a likeable character.
“She mediated, by turns, on broken promises and broken arches, phaetons and false hangings, Tilneys and trap-doors.”
The story details Gothic castles, suspicious looking chests, locked rooms and mysterious notes. Definitely something for the lovers of Gothic fiction. However Catherine’s romantic fancies lead her to some dramatic conclusions and she must learn to not only respect the feelings of others but also to atone for her mistakes- especially to those she has come to love.
I have known people to say they do not like this novel. It is perfectly fine, because Jane Austen isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. So what do other famous authors think of her? Charlotte Bronte resented what she called Austen’s lack of sentiment, “I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.” Mark Twain went even far as to say “Everytime I read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone..” Wow…steady on there Twain! Let’s just agree that all novels (and authors) have their merits eh!
On a more positive note, Penguin calls Northanger Abbey the ‘most youthful and optimistic’ of Jane Austen’s romances. Perhaps because it is fun, light hearted and a comparatively short novel; different to some of her other perhaps more universally liked works, such as “Sense and Sensibility” or “Emma”. But there is something reliable in the unlikely 17yr old heroine Catherine. She has a good heart and means well, thrust into an adventure she could little foresee. As Alfred Mac Adam claims, she matures as the novel progresses, changing her view on life, but most importantly, of herself as a person. It is something we as readers can definitely relate to as we follow her journey.