Sunday, September 18, 2011

Northanger Abbey: The Book

The Story
     “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.

My sentiments
     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.
Publication details
     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?


Maria Elisabeth said...

I have finally found out: Laurentina's skeleton was NOT behind the veil, it was just a wax skeleton. Here's a link to more details.

Miss Laurie said...

Melody, I'm sorry it's taken me so long to comment on this delightful post!
You did such a wonderful job telling about The Story here! I'm glad you enjoyed this novel. It's a short-ish read compared to her other novels and not as "finished" as the authoress probably would have liked but it's still a lovely book and my favorite of her's. I love Jane Austen's satirical wit and her amazing characters. I own copies of 'The Mysteries of Udolpho' and 'The Italian' and even though I don't think I even made it past the first chapter in 'Udolpho' even in the first few pages there was a lot of Catherine and her family that was drawn (or rather made completely reversed) from the heroine Emily from that book. In Northanger Abbey Jane Austen not only pokes fun at the Gothic romances popular in her day but she also created characters that are so real, witty and can be sympathized with easily. I adore Henry and Eleanor Tilney, Catherine is similar to me in a lot of ways, and even John & Isabella in all their foppery are so much fun to read about and laugh at. I always have fun looking deeper into the character's lives and personalities - General Tilney, Frederick Tilney and the Allens are all very interesting characters when you examine them more deeply.
Thank you for this lovely post and I look forward to reading you other Northanger Abbey posts!

Miss Dashwood said...

First of all, I have to say that I liked your clear and concise summary of this book---not an easy thing to do!
I thoroughly enjoyed the first two-thirds of Northanger Abbey, but the last bits disappointed me. I was hoping for a little more romance/character development between Henry and Catherine--and the proposal scene left MUCH to be desired. Of course, Jane Austen isn't really very good at writing proposal scenes (Mansfield Park is the worst!). I hate to say that, but I fear it's true.
However, I did love the characters, even if I do wish some of them (Henry, for example!) appeared a little more often. Wasn't their first dance at the ball in Bath hilarious? I loved that!
I haven't seen the movie(s) yet--I'm leaning toward watching the 2007 one, but not really sure. I liked your review of it, though.

Melody said...

Maria Elisabeth,
Oh! I forgot to return your comment! Thank you for letting me know! Pemberley is SUCH a useful web site! It has everything! haha

Miss Laurie,
As always, I enjoyed reading your comment! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Miss Dashwood,
Thank you! =) Writing is one of my delights, and I'm glad the summary met your approval. ;-) I actually wasn't very confident in it.
Although every time I hear a thing against Jane Austen in any way I start to feel defensive, I definitely see where you're coming from and experienced similar emotions myself. I wished there were some proposal quotes in there, and yes, more at the end. Although JA is my favorite author, she does seem to hurry things up a little too much at the end in a few of the books, Northanger and Mansfield in particular; as you said, especially the latter.
However, I can't agree with you that she's "not very good at writing proposal scenes"; she just avoids it a little too much. I can sort of understand this, because it is a little awkward to write romantic things. I think she became more experienced with this as she went along though - look at her last, Persuasion. "You pierce my soul...I am half agony, half hope..." That letter from Captain Wentworth was quite good. =)
What the proposal scene needed was dialogue...I like the proposal scenes in Pride and Prejudice and Emma (I find myself returning every once in a while to slowly read my favorite parts of chapter 49 in Emma...haha...) but Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park excluded proposal scenes altogether, which is indeed saddening. M.P. is sort of known as being the least-romantic of her novels...I should have been happy for the last chapter to be 5 chapters! And after Edmund went for Mary, we really needed a redeeming speech from him at the end.
I've actually been thinking quite a bit about Mansfield Park yesterday and today, which is probably what's making me babble on and on. Last night I even wrote part of what might turn out to be a proposal scene written by myself... There needs to be another MP movie with a good script writer who can imagine the ending well. One day I might attempt it myself (one a few parts of a script, probably) just for fun.
Back to the other thing; one thing that's different about Northanger is that it was written when Jane Austen was younger than all the other ones. The other two she wrote first in her early 20s (S&S and P&P) were revised in the early 1810s, but Northanger Abbey was revised/completed in 1803, when she was 27. If she had revised it, I think it would have been much longer, and probably include a ...less hurried proposal scene & ending. =)
I love that dance scene...Mr. Tilney is a pretty funny gentleman...=)

Wow! That's long! Hope you don't mind...I get in these moods...haha

Yes, if you read my review, you know what I think of that one. It has some really good points to it, but if you do decide to watch it I would suggest fast-forwarding some scenes. There's not as many objectionable things one she goes to Northanger fact, the last time I watched it, I fast-forwarded nearly all the beginning (except a few scenes with Henry, ha) and went to that point. ;-)

Miss Dashwood said...

Hmmm, nope, THIS was my first comment on your blog. And look how delightfully long your response was... predicting the future, bahahahahaha.

I love us. :D

Miss Dashwood said...

Oh, and my opinions have changed a bit regarding NA... I now think it's quite lovely, ending included (spoof of the romantic/Gothic genre and all that) and agree with all you said in your reply. Haha.

Melody said...

Yezzz... I was about to tell you that, but you found out for yourself. ;) "Delightfully" long, indeed... ha, I'm only glad I didn't scare you off!
I love us too. :)

Heehee... I figured your opinions were a little different now. Now you agree with me, bwahahahaha. That amuses me. Whether or not it was a result my influence.

If only I knew that we'd be commenting these things two years and some later... with the two of us together in our profile pictures... wow.

Would you rather hear the story...

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