SUMMARY (by the publisher): 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. Catherine’s invitation to Northanger Abbey, in her eyes a haven of coffins, skeletons and other Gothic devices, does lead to an adventure, though one she didn’t expect, and her misjudgement of the ambitious, somewhat villainous General Tilney is not wholly unjustified. However, with the aid of the ‘unromantic’ hero Henry Tilney, Catherine gradually progresses towards maturity and self-knowledge.
Northanger Abbey is a wonderfully crafted story about a young girl’s path to maturity. The writing is beautiful with exquisitely formed sentences clearly conveying their meaning. The dialogues, as well as the descriptions of people and places, transfer the reader with ease to the nineteenth century England.
The main character, Catherine Morland, starts off as an innocent, naïve, unlearned girl. As a daughter of a country vicar with numerous siblings, she does not know about the perils awaiting her in the elegant society of Bath and its conventions. Growing up in close connection to nature and absorbed in gothic novels, she is a person capable of wild imagination, but unfortunately a poor judge of people and their manners. In the world when few things are spoken directly, she is at loss to read people’s true feelings and intentions.
Having experienced a few unpleasant events as a victim of her innocence, Catherine gradually learns a few things about the world. With the help of her innate sense of what is right and wrong, she grows and becomes a person able to stand up for herself and her beliefs. Forced to be on her own, she starts using her brain and proves to be a smart and resourceful woman.
The final touch to Northanger Abbey is Austen’s skilful incorporation of criticism towards several social characteristics of the time. Thus, she wittily portrays everyone’s preoccupation with wealth and social status. In a humours way, she presents the general opinion of the time about literature, the worshiping of poetry and the dismissive attitude towards the novel.
Through her exceptional ability as a writer, Austen disproves the chauvinistic and condescending male view upon women and their capacity of writing. Northanger Abbey, with its story, characters and wording, is Austen’s best answer to her contemporaries and their doubts in women’s writing.
RECOMMENDATION: Northanger Abbey is a masterpiece for its writing, plot and characters. It is a must-read for everyone who wants to enjoy a good story, beautiful language, and a balanced view upon the English society of the 18th century.