Continuing my “Jane-uary” theme, I’ve just finished Northanger Abbey in time for our Jane Austen Book Club (JABC) discussion, which was unfortunately postponed due to a blizzard here in Boston. In addition, this acts as my revitalization of my Classics Club attempt. I apparently only read two books last year. How embarrassing! I’ll read at least six this year with the JABC so that’s a bonus.
Let’s start with I’m ashamed to admit I forgot how absolutely lovable and amazing Henry Tilney is! This is one of the two Austen books I’ve only read once and that is will most definitely change in the future. On the scale of Austen heroes he’s always been lost in the non-Mr. Darcy fray for me. I think he is still behind Darcy, but his bookishness and (what I see as his) disdain for social norms made me laugh on numerous occasions!
In contrast, we have the heroine, Catherine Morland, who needless to say needed a lot of work. If I forgot how great Mr. Tilney was, I also forgot how young, innocent and naive Miss. Morland was. If I’m remembering all the non-fiction about Austen’s novels I’ve read recently, Miss. Morland is the youngest of all Austen’s heroines. Towards the end of the novel her mother had this to say, and it is just a sample of the way people viewed her:
“It is always good for young people to be put upon exerting themselves; and you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad little shatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you, with so much changing of chaises and so forth; and I hope it will appear that you have not left anything behind you in any of the pockets.” (221-2)
Now this doesn’t completely discount her as a heroine as she does face her fair share of difficulties and she even overcomes them. When she realizes how wrong she has been, thanks to her belief in the infallibility of novels, in Chapter 25, my heart broke for her. She took her lesson in stride and, as seen by the quote above, learned to survive and to face the world as it was, not as it was fictionally represented.
The other things I particularly enjoyed about this novel were the amazing insults and compliments. I hope Austen will continue to live up to these as we read through the rest of her oeuvre in 2015.
Insult: “John would have me go, for he vowed he would not drive her, because she had such thick ankles. I dare say she will not be in good humour again this month; but I am determined I will not be cross; it is not a little matter that puts me out of temper.” (117)
Compliment: “And then his hat sat so well, and the innumerable capes of his greatcoat looked so becomingly important! To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world.” (150)
I feel like I should start telling people their hats sit very well and then pausing to blush. We really should look into bringing back some of the old compliments! They’re so much fun. I was disappointed that my Signet Classics (1996) had a typo in it just like my Pride and Prejudice copy from the same publisher.
Recommendation: Obviously this is a must read. It is definitely one of the more approachable Austen’s and I’m disappointed in myself for not having re-read it ever. If there is one complaint about the novel, it is that it ends to abruptly. This is a combination of Austen moving on to other projects once she finished it and to it being released posthumously.
Opening Line: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.”
Closing Line: “To begin perfect happiness at the ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced that the general’s unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, 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.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from Northanger Abbey
“‘Oh! It is only a novel!’ …only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineations of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” (43)
“She was separated from all her party, and away from all her acquaintance; one mortification succeeded another, and from the whole she deduced this useful lesson, that to go previously engaged to a ball does not necessarily increase either the dignity or enjoyment of a young lady.” (60)
“Was it the part of a friend thus to expose her feelings to the notice of others? Isabella appeared to her ungenerous and selfish, regardless of everything but her own gratification.” (100)
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” (107)
“But your mind is warped by an innate principle of general integrity, and therefore not accessible to the cool reasonings of family partiality, or a desire of revenge.” (207)