Austenathon 2011: Northanger Abbey (Spoiler Thread)

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Austenathon 2011: Northanger Abbey (Spoiler Thread)

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sep 11, 2011, 4:08 pm

Here we can discuss Northanger Abbey in all of its gothic detail.

Non-Spoiler Thread:

Austenathon Main Thread

Links to all of the Austenathon pages can be found on the 75ers group wiki page.

sep 12, 2011, 1:34 pm

So how do others rank this one compared to other Austen novels? I have to say it's closer to the bottom of the list for me, but I think more because I loved some of her other books and just didn't love this one as much.

Also, I saw the Masterpiece theatre production around the same time, and thought it was rather fun.

sep 12, 2011, 2:41 pm

I have so many issues ranking Austen's books, mostly because I love them all in different ways (even Mansfield Park). I keep trying but I think maybe a tier system would work best where the different books could all be at an equivalent level.

sep 13, 2011, 5:22 am

#2 I think Northanger Abbey has always been towards the bottom of my JA list as well but I wonder if that's because I don't know the gothic novels she's satirizing. I am tentatively going to try and read The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole before starting NA which I chose because it was considerably shorter than Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.

sep 13, 2011, 8:03 am

I've only read it once and don't intend to read it again. I'm just not fond of gothic novels, even parodies of them. I have the same problem with Louisa May Alcott's gothics.

sep 13, 2011, 12:44 pm

For me Northanger Abbey stands alone as a parody, and is very different from her other books. I did not expect it to be so laugh out loud funny. It is the favorite of some readers for that reason. It seems to relate more to the early writing she did to entertain her family, which also had a lot of parody, as I understand it.

sep 13, 2011, 2:51 pm

From what I remember of a class I took in Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, despite being among the last published, was one of the first complete novels she wrote. While P&P and S&S have earlier start dates, they were heavily edited and re-written. If I recall correctly, Northanger was written relatively early on and then stuck on a shelf, which makes it more logical for it to match Austen's Juvenilia in tone and style.

sep 13, 2011, 2:58 pm

#7 That's right. From wikipedia:

"It was revised by Austen for the press in 1803, and sold in the same year for £10 to a London bookseller, Crosby & Co., who decided against publishing. In 1817, the bookseller was content to sell it back to the novelist's brother, Henry Austen, for the exact sum — £10 — that he had paid for it at the beginning, not knowing that the writer was by then the author of four popular novels. The novel was further revised before being brought out posthumously in late December 1817 (1818 given on the title-page), as the first two volumes of a four-volume set with Persuasion."

sep 13, 2011, 7:41 pm

I read Northanger Abbey back when I was in junior high or high school (probably about 35 years ago). I purchased it from a paperback rack at the grocery store thinking that it was a novel by someone who wrote in the tradition of Phyllis Whitney or Victoria Holt. Surprise! I didn't love the novel. I can't say that I've read it again since that time, but I'm actually looking forward to re-reading it to determine if I like it better than I did the first time. If I don't, it will be near the bottom for me as well.

sep 13, 2011, 7:55 pm

I don't know that I would say that Northanger Abbey is a favourite Austen, but I do think her wit shines supreme in this one. While grudgingly acknowledging that a woman's sole occupation is to marry well, Austen asserts that sublime ignorance, real or feigned, is just the thing to accomplish the task! I had to laugh out loud!!

These next quotes are from my review:

While heroine Catherine converses with her suitor, Henry Tilney, and feels ashamed of her ignorance, Austen hilariously applauds it: "Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of adminstering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can." (106)

Indeed, Austen continues, empty-headedness is a gift! "But Catherine did not know her own advantages - did not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward." (106)

sep 14, 2011, 2:13 pm

>10 lit_chick: I think those assertions are quite tongue-in-cheek though. She recognizes that the appeal of these traits to some individuals is a reality but at the same time, given the cleverness of her other heroines, I think she also believed that a bright woman could attract a man just as well.

sep 14, 2011, 6:21 pm

#11 Yes, I'm sure some, if not all, of the assertions are tongue-in-cheek. But her wit, and her satire - superb!

sep 15, 2011, 12:37 am

No argument from me. :D

sep 15, 2011, 9:00 am

#4 Heather, I also decided to read The Castle of Otranto before my re-read. I've not got very far yet as I keep being distracted by other books, but all good so far (in fact, it feels a bit like a parody itself, but maybe it's just because I can't read anything along these lines seriously). What are your thoughts?

#7/8 Aha, you got there before me. If anyone is toying with reading some of her juvenila, can I recommend Love and Friendship as another very funny parody? If you've ever seen the 1999 film of Mansfield Park, this is the story that Fanny is writing to her sister Susan... "beware of fainting fits" ;o)

#11 Yep, I'd agree with that!

I've not started my re-read yet, but I'll state for the record for anyone who's read it once and not enjoyed it, while I did quite enjoy Northanger Abbey the first time round, I think I missed a lot of the subtlety that I discovered second time round. In fact, it shot up my (very movable) leauge table on that second read, ahead of Emma as well as Sense and Sensibility and Mansfield Park (it has dropped down again during this year's re-reads - as I say, my league table is very movable!).

I think it definitely helps if you've read a little gothic fiction first, but I still found it funny before I read Evelina etc. - as everyone has said, wonderfully toungue-in-cheek.

sep 17, 2011, 7:45 pm

I just finished my re-read this afternoon, and what really struck me this time around was the motif of characters saying one thing while meaning another. Whether it be John Thorpe constantly exaggerating in accordance with his mood, Henry Tilney's teasing about the various characteristics of women, or Isabella Thorpe's tendency to say one thing and then do the opposite of what she's just verbalized. Very few characters escape from this tendency, Catherine and Eleanor being the most notable. In both cases, I think it reflects their general goodness and sincerity (not to disparage Henry, who generally uses it as a means of humour or verbalizing something he doesn't want Catherine to understand). However, I think in a novel that's primary goal is satire, Austen makes a rather acute observation on how we communicate with one another that remains apt even now.

sep 18, 2011, 9:30 am

Just taking a peek; I've not yet started my re-read. I have vague memories of having done this for Eng Lit (which was a compulsory subject for us), so le'ts see if it all comes back to me.

sep 26, 2011, 3:52 pm

It's been quiet here for a bit. I have to say, one of my favourite things in Northanger Abbey is Henry Tilney. He is just wonderfully kind and funny (not a trait that crops up as much in other Austen heroes). As dreamy as Mr. Darcy is, I think Henry Tilney is the Austen hero I'd pick for myself. Out of curiousity, which Austen hero or heroine would you pick to go out with and why?

sep 26, 2011, 4:04 pm

I have to admit, Mr Darcy. However, only if he's embodied by Colin Firth. Otherwise, . . . hmm, yes, Henry Tilney was fine. I also thought Col. Brandon was rather wonderful (though Maryanne was too young for him--he could have done better). Maybe Knightly?

Redigerat: sep 26, 2011, 5:41 pm

I haven't read Persuasion in a long while - looking forward to that one - but Captain Wentworth sticks in my memory. Still reading "Northanger", but I'm liking Henry Tillney a lot. You have a point about Mr Knightly ... oh, they're all wonderful.
But of course.

sep 27, 2011, 6:14 pm

I liked Henry too. He's definitely one of my favorite Austen characters.

sep 27, 2011, 7:26 pm

I got through the first volume last night which, curiously enough, is halfway. As usual, the Jane Austen novel closest to me is the one I prefer, so this one is my favorite of the moment.

Northanger Abbey is much more clearly biting than her later novels. She seems continuously to be making witty points; perhaps these are the things she thought as a teenager would most entertain her family. I think she learned later on to smooth things out.

But she's already got a handle on character. With a few deft gestures she has made John Thorpe despicably untrustworthy. Even knowing that Austen is kind to her heroines at the end, I fear for Catherine subject to his machinations. The second volume will work all that out.


Redigerat: sep 28, 2011, 9:43 am

I agree that Northanger Abbey likely reflects the wit and style she used to entertain her family when a teenager. It has a different feel than any of her other novels.

sep 28, 2011, 4:45 pm

I'm reading the Norton Critical Edition. I finished volume two last night and read a couple of the entries at the back.

I noticed a couple of things that eventually showed up in Jane Eyre. I wondered whether Charlotte Bronte had borrowed them or whether, instead, they might have been common notions of the time. One was the idea of the wife confined at home against her will. The other was the idea of forgetting something, possibly important, in the pockets of the post coach.

The tidying up at the end seemed very abbreviated even in the context of Jane Austen novels. I am afraid that despite hints of good characterization (see my comment on John Thorpe above) the characters are a little thin.

I like sarcasm, however, and so probably until Persuasion this is my favorite Austen novel.


sep 30, 2011, 8:12 am

I've got behind on my Austenathon reading - not sure if I'm going to get to NA or not. But I've enjoyed reading this thread, and would love to read it again one day.

Redigerat: okt 1, 2011, 11:16 am

I've just got to the part where Catherine has woken up the morning after she was plunged into darkness on discovering a parchment hidden inside the mysterious cupboard; deliciously funny! I'm loving this book!

Ps - if anyone is reading this for an October TIOLI challenge, please let me know where you're planning to put it.

okt 2, 2011, 9:07 pm

I've just finished Northanger Abbey, and I might be in love with Henry Tillney; he's a sweetie. Actually, he's a lot like Darcy, but with a keen sense of humour and without the pride.

Redigerat: okt 2, 2011, 10:17 pm

A post-marital Darcy, then? :)

okt 2, 2011, 11:49 pm

He's almost as controlling as the Thorpe boy. I think that could wear thin after awhile, and the two could end up in separate drawing rooms.


okt 3, 2011, 2:09 pm

>26 humouress: I've got first dibs. ;)

okt 4, 2011, 9:47 am

#23 Re Charlotte Bronte borrowing from Jane Austen, I think probably not as she was very rude about Austen.

I think that the cloistering of a mentally ill family member away from society rather than putting them into the really aweful mental institutions of the time (thinking Bedlam here) was perceived as the humane option, although I'm not sure how common it was. I'm not really sure of my history on this though - maybe someone else has better knowledge?

okt 4, 2011, 12:42 pm

>23 Mr.Durick:/30 I think "the crazy woman in the attic" was just a really popular trope in Gothic fiction. Ann Radcliffe, one of the premiere Gothic writers of Austen's time, uses the plot element of a woman trapped against her will in The Italian for sure, and likely in several of her other novels. As for leaving things in the pocket of the coach, I think it's akin to forgetting something on the bus or in a cab. People lose things every now and then and its only the mode of transportation that's changed.

okt 6, 2011, 2:21 am

I just finished Northanger Abbey today, and I thought it was another great read by Jane Austen. I used to love reading gothic novels long years ago, and this one was just too funny! I enjoyed this book so much. How fun has this been to have a yearlong read of Jane Austen?

okt 7, 2011, 11:58 pm

I am just starting Northanger Abbey - better late than never! And for those of you who do TIOLI, I listed it under challenge #22 (subject is inanimate object).

okt 8, 2011, 12:09 am

You've got plenty of time, Katie. Hope you enjoy your read. :)

okt 11, 2011, 11:05 pm

I've been taking it slowly, as I have with my other re-reads of Austen this year, and am now in the middle of Chapter 24, where Catherine is beset by Gothic fantasies. Other than twitting the tropes, the first part of the book has been the opposite of Gothic, as Austen often wryly comments. In this book, we see more authorial comments than in the others. One of my favorites is in Chapter 5:

"Yes, novels;--for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding--joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally takes up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?"

And in Chapter 14--to what book is she referring? "The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have been already set forth by the capital pen of a sister author;--and to her treatment of the subject I will only add in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance.."

okt 11, 2011, 11:24 pm

Roni - The note on that in my edition says, "Frances Burney, of Indiana in Camilla, Book I, chapter 6."

Redigerat: okt 12, 2011, 1:33 pm

Thank you. I was sure someone would have an edition with a reference!

I've finished it now. This earliest of Jane's books shows her wit without some of the maturity of her later books. There are many more authorial comments, many quite amusing. There is a deus ex machina at the end in Miss Tilney's disposition and how it affects Catherine's fate that in later books would be integrated into the overall story-line. And I think Catherine is the most ordinary of Jane's heroines--not particularly clever or witty but an ordinary 17-year-old with honest emotions. Still, her Gothic imaginings are quite amusing and the rest of the book serves as a backdrop for Austen's skewering of Gothic tropes.

okt 24, 2011, 2:29 pm

"And I think Catherine is the most ordinary of Jane's heroines--not particularly clever or witty but an ordinary 17-year-old with honest emotions" - for me, this is one of the things that makes the novel. I read a rather good review someone had written last year at some point, pointing out how true many aspects of Catherine's character still are today - I think anyone who's been a teenage girl can think of at least one occasion where her imagination got the better of her (if not to quite the same extent!) ;o) Her ordinaryness does mean that, I have less affection for Catherine Morland than for Anne Eliot (for example), but I think it makes her all the better as the heroine of her own imagination - if she were more remarkable, then maybe it wouldn't work so well?

Re the deus ex machina - I wonder if this was all part of the satire on gothic fiction (which is by no means short of the same)?

#33 I've still not got round to my reread yet Katie, so I'll be joining you...

nov 3, 2011, 12:15 pm

The NON-SPOILER THREAD for the Persuasion group read is now up!

nov 19, 2011, 12:21 pm

I just finished Northanger Abbey, which I was planning to reread after reading Mysteries of Udolpho last year. I was glad to understand some more of the references, but I think I'd also need to read Romance of the Forest and a couple of others to really get all the references. As I already thought Mysteries was quite an ordeal, I don't think I will though...

One thing that struck me in the book this time was that a lot of the time the main male character was called by his Christian name. A lot of the time when Catherine thought about him, it said 'Henry this' 'Henry that', whereas I think we only find out Mr Darcy's first name at the end of the book. Any ideas on why this is?

And I was also wondering why Henry Tilney takes some time to propose to her? She is at Northanger for about five weeks and it is by then quite clear to him and his sister that she would love to marry hem - and she is also quite convinced he would too. So why didn't he seize the moment while his father, unaccountably so, approved of the match? Or did he need to cruel turnout to realise his true feelings for her?

Funnily enough I rather felt like Catherine a bit of the time, because I read the 'terror-scene' at Northanger just before sleep - and it haunted me during the night...

nov 21, 2011, 2:56 pm

>40 celiacardun: The main reason Henry is referred to by his Christian name is because he is a second son. Also, Catherine has far greater intimacy with the Tilneys than Elizabeth ever really has with Mr. Darcy. Plus, if my first name were Fitzwilliam, I'd go by Darcy too. :)

As for why Henry takes so long to propose, I think it's more of a plot thing rather than anything else.

nov 21, 2011, 4:21 pm

I think he realised there was something weird going on with his father, and wasn't prepared to move forward until he understood what it was.