Here’s my first post for the 2015 Classics Challenge! As we’re very nearly into February, I’m already thinking about which classic to read next, but here’s my thoughts on Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, which is my first classic of the year. It’s not too late to join me (and 100+ other people) in reading one classic per month!
‘To look almost pretty, is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life, than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive’.
During an eventful season at Bath, young, naïve Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine’s love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father’s mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen’s works.
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
I’m not sure when or how I first heard about Jane Austen. It feels like she’s one of those authors that I’ve always known. I didn’t know much about Northanger Abbey before I read it, but it kept cropping up while I was looking up Gothic literature, after enjoying Jane Eyre. Appropriately, I visited the British Museum’s exhibition on Gothic literature earlier this month, which is where I discovered the ‘Northanger Horrids’ – the Gothic novels that Catherine and Isabella discuss while talking about their love of reading.
WHY I Chose to Read It
I chose to include Northanger Abbey in a poll where readers could vote for which classic they’d like me to read in January. It was a close call – it only received two more votes than Great Expectations. I’d been wanting to read another Jane Austen novel since I read Pride and Prejudice and Emma (although I did not finish the latter) and this one seemed like one I’d really enjoy.
WHAT Makes It A Classic
Because it’s Jane Austen! It’s a classic coming-of-age story – although a parody of Gothic literature too! – even though it’s 200 years old. Catherine is young and naive (she’s not very perceptive, particular of those around her), but she does not stay that way throughout the whole story. Jane Austen is also famous for the way the story is told: through dialogue and a third-person narrator.
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
Is it a favourite? Unfortunately not! I struggled with Northanger Abbey for a while due to the writing style. As it’s told mainly through dialogue, I found it difficult to keep up with what was going on. But thankfully I got more into the story and the characters halfway through when the focus is mainly on Catherine’s point of view, and the more likeable characters, Eleanor and Henry Tilney. As for the unlikeable characters, John Thorpe, although extremely ‘odious’, is quite entertaining – I highlighted a lot of the rude things he said! I do appreciate characters who enjoy books and reading, so I loved that an appreciation of novels and fiction kept cropping up. I also enjoyed the second half of the book as this is where it parodies Gothic novels. It was a lot darker and humorous. Northanger Abbey is one that I’ll happily re-read, now that I know the story.
‘I never read novels; I have something else to do’.
WILL It Stay A Classic
I picked this question mainly for modern classics. As Jane Austen is still as popular as ever, there’s no reason why her books won’t stay classics for a long time. And people tend to appreciate a bit of humorous irony and sarcasm in fiction, of which Northanger Abbey has plenty.
WHO I’d Recommend It To
People who are looking for a short, witty classic. People who have previously enjoyed Gothic literature (and know a little bit about it – you’re likely to ‘get’ more of the humour and allusions. I wouldn’t have noticed them as much if I hadn’t visited the exhibition, where I learned about the novel The Mysteries of Udolpho). People who enjoy character-driven novels and are happy with lots of dialogue.