Sunday, December 13, 2009

'Northanger Abbey'

by Jane Austen
Fiction/Classic, written 1798-99, published posthumously in 1817
Feedbooks ebook (read on iPhone), 256 p.
Jane Austen’s first novel, Northanger Abbey – published posthumously in 1817 – tells the story of Catherine Morland and her dangerously sweet nature, innocence, and sometime self-delusion. Though Austen’s fallible heroine is repeatedly drawn into scrapes while vacationing at Bath and during her subsequent visit to Northanger Abbey, Catherine eventually triumphs, blossoming into a discerning woman who learns truths about love, life, and the heady power of literature. [Modern Library Classics]
I read this on my new iPhone and it was a truly wonderful way to pass the time while stuck in trains commuting. This was actually a re-read for me as I first read Northanger Abbey, along with all of her other novels, during my Austen phase in my teens, but I hadn’t read it since, and had never seen any adaptation of it to refresh my memory, so I had largely forgotten the storyline. This was quite nice though, as it was almost like reading it again for the first time. And what fun it was! I loved spending time in Bath (I really regret that we never got a chance to visit while we were in England), and getting to know the characters with all their foibles.  For the love story, Pride and Prejudice, and Persuasion are still my favourites but Mr Henry Tilney is definitely one of my favourite of Austen’s leading men. However for a bibliophile, some of the most enjoyable parts of the story are when the characters talk about their love of reading, and Jane Austen’s ‘Defense of the Novel’.
Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper from the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens – there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the perfomances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them.
“I am no novel-reader – I seldom look into novels – Do not imagine that I often read novels – It is really very well for a novel.” Such is the common cant. “And what are you reading, Miss - ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. (From chapter 5)
Her writing is always witty and clever, but Austen outdoes herself in Northanger Abbey. The satirical element is distinctly amusing, yet playful, never condescending. I chuckled several times while reading, as she poked fun at the gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe and others. I read The Mysteries of Udolpho back during my Austen phase as well, and like with Northanger Abbey, I have forgotten many of the details. Reading Northanger Abbey has definitely made me want to read Udolpho again though, and some of the other classic gothic novels that I haven’t read yet.
Catherine to Isabella on reading The Mysteries of Udolpho:
“Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. I assure you, if it had not been to meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the world.” (From chapter 6)

Catherine to Henry:
“But you never read novels, I dare say?”
“Why not?”
“Because they are not clever enough for you – gentlemen read better books.”
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days – my hair standing on end the whole time.” (From chapter 14)

I got the recent ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey on DVD earlier this year, so after finishing the book, I finally watched it, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the visualization of her dreams and gothic fantasies worked really well, and that the actors did a great job, especially for the characters of Catherine and Henry. Plus it stayed reasonably close to the original, and most importantly remained true to the mood of the book. My only real complaint is that I wish it were longer. I’ll definitely be watching it again.

Read Northanger Abbey online (courtesy of Project Gutenberg)
Subscribe to Northanger Abbey (via DailyLit)
Listen to Northanger Abbey (courtesy of LibriVox)

Buy this book at: | | | |

My Rating: 4/5
(#58 for 2009, Everything Austen Challenge)

Also reviewed by:
things mean a lot
Melody's Reading Corner
Trish's Reading Nook
Life and Time of a "New" New-Yorker
Shelf Love
Reading Upside Down
You Can Never Have Too Many Books
The Book Book
Everyday Reads
English Major's Junk Food
A Striped Armchair (the TV adaptation)
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.

The small print:  I downloaded this book for free online. I purchased the DVD for my personal collection.  Links in this post to Amazon (including book cover) or The Book Depository contain my Associates or Affiliates ID respectively.  Purchases made via these links earn me a small commission.  For more information visit my About Page.


  1. What a great review! This book has been staring at me from my bookshelves! I plan on reading it during winter break.

  2. Like yourself, I enjoy the satirical element of Northanger Abbey. I think you can definetly tell Austen wrote it when she was younger.

    I thougth the recent BBC adaption was suprisingly good,true to the tone of the book. I will have to re-watch it soon.

  3. I haven't yet read this one, but I do want too.

    I think it's so neat that you can read a book on your phone. Hubby and I had been thinking of getting iPhones but then my income was cut because of budget issues in the area and it made it impossible. Maybe someday . . .

  4. I didn't know there's an adaptation of it! I'll have to look out for it.

    Thanks for adding my link! :)

  5. Vasilly - It's such a fun read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    Sarah - There were so many great little digs and comments throughout. I think other people in the train must've wondered what I was smiling at. LOL.
    I really enjoyed this adaptation which was nice after being disappointed with the new version of Persuasion that came out about the same time.

    Wendy - They have some campaign in Japan to get more people using iPhones so it ends up being a little more expensive than our previous cell phones per month but with no initial purchase cost. Lucky for me I guess that iPhones have been slower to catch on here because there are already so many sophisticated mobile phones in Japan. I'm so glad we switched though, I just love it! I hope you'll be able to get your own too someday.

    Melody - I really enjoyed the adaptation. I hope you get a chance to watch it.

  6. Great review! I haven't read this one in a while, but I also recently watched the new film version and LOVED it. I thought it was pitch-perfect in tone, and I agree with you whole-heartedly on the wonderful casting of the main characters. Lovely film. And it made me want to read the book again...

  7. Fantastic review of this novel! I just reviewed it last week and you are so right about the bibliophile passages. I'll have to check out the movie, I didn't know it existed.

  8. I read this as a teen and I confess I was not engaged in it. I loved P&P though! I think it's time for a revisit.

  9. I saw the movie and Henry Tilney is a hottie for sure! I've been dying to read this book, along with "Persuasion." It's one of my goals for the coming year.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  10. I still haven't read Udolpho, even though I meant to after I read this last year. Like you, I enjoyed it a lot :)

  11. celi.a - The TV version was a lot of fun, wasn't it? I can see why it would make you want to read the book again. I'm so glad I re-read it this year. Ya gotta love Jane!

    Ash - I loved it when the characters chatted about books! It's a pretty good adaptation, I hope you enjoy it.

    Rebecca - I'm pretty sure I didn't appreciate Austen's satirical digs when I read it as a teenager. I'm so glad I read it again.

    Anna - Yup, Henry Tilney is a pretty wonderful leading man. :)
    Have fun with your Austen reading next year.

    Nymeth - Reading Northanger Abbey made me realize how little I remember of The Mysteries of Udolpho. I really want to read it again now. One of these days although maybe it would be perfect for the R.I.P. Challenge next autumn. :)

  12. Northanger Abbey has been on my TBR list FOREVER! I really must read it soon!

  13. Stephanie - I'm really glad I re-read it, it was a lot of fun. It would make for a good autumn read.. nudge.. nudge.. :)


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