“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.” She is not beautiful, accomplished, or brilliant; has a rather uneventful life in a parsonage with her 9 siblings, and resides in a small village with rather uninteresting neighbors. “But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.”
The Allens, a nearby older couple with no children, invite Catherine to come with them to Bath. She happily accepts, of course; “if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”
At first Bath does not rise to her expectations – the first ball is extremely crowded and they know absolutely nobody. After a few days of having no one to talk to except Mrs. Allen, she meets Mr. Henry Tilney at a ball. She doesn’t quite understand his singular sense of humor, but is amused and altogether pleased with him. Anxious to meet him again, she keeps on the lookout for him whenever she is out, but in vain: he seems to have vanished from Bath.
Meanwhile Mrs. Allen happens across an old friend, Mrs. Thorpe. Two of her children, Isabella and John, become closely acquainted with Catherine – especially Isabella. From that day they are inseparable. Isabella introduces Catherine to such “horrid” novels as The Mysteries of Udolpho and other popular ‘horror mysteries’ of the time.
Catherine is rather oblivious and not very perceptive, so she does not notice the falseness and inconsistencies of Isabella, or that John Thorpe, who she does not like, seems to have a fancy for her.
Henry appears once again with his sweet sister Eleanor, who quickly becomes Catherine’s friend.
Just before the Tilneys are to leave Bath, General Tilney (the father) invites Catherine to visit their home, Northanger Abbey. Surprised but delighted, she accepts; relieved not to have to part from Henry and Eleanor, and excited at the prospect of staying in an abbey. She anticipates an ancient place with secret panels and trap doors – the sort of thing she loves to read about.
Interesting events do await her…although not quite the kind she imagines.
All Jane Austen’s novels are very different, and I found Northanger Abbey very unlike the rest. The style of narration seems very different; she addresses the reader throughout the novel, and it sparkles with more irony than ever. The book is usually considered a satire of the sort of story Catherine loves. She compares occurrences and characters in Northanger Abbey to those of popular fiction; and they are usually very different.
In short, I drew great pleasure from the wit and light-heartedness of this novel, the last of her main six I had left to read. I found Catherine a delightful heroine, and Henry Tilney now ranks in my top three Jane Austen heroes.
The book was begun around the same time as the first versions of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. It was called Susan, which was likewise the heroine’s original name. In 1803 it was sold for 10 pounds to a publisher, who strangely never published it. Several years later Jane Austen wrote and inquired about it. They said they’d never promised to publish it, and she could have it back for the same amount of money they paid her. The Austen ladies, then on their own, had needed the money and so of course they didn’t have enough. In 1816, after she had made money as an author, her brother Henry got it back for her – informing the publishers afterwards that it was written by the author of Pride and Prejudice, etc…the books were quite popular. What fun it must have been to see the man’s reaction to that news!
Jane Austen then changed the heroine’s name to Catherine and retitled the book, also adding a note to put at the beginning, explaining briefly that it should have been published in 1803 and now some things were out of date. It was published after her death along with Persuasion in 1818.
P.S. Was Laurentina’s skeleton behind the veil in The Mysteries of Udolpho?