Ah, classics. Primary source documents that tell us a great deal about the era in which they were written. Jane Austen’s works are no exception, giving us a detailed (albeit biased) account of the position, status, and options of women in the early 19th century.
I chose to read Northanger Abbeyhttp://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=Bibliograph07-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=1453767533&fc1=F3EDED&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=040404&f=ifr over Sense and Sensibility at this time because I was told it was more appropriate to my tastes. Unfortunately, I was misled, although it was probably due to my own ultra-high expectations and misconceptions. It was, by no means, a bad or painful novel to read. It started off boring and got progressively more entertaining as the characters developed distinct personalities and the plot grew more tangled. My expectations led me to believe that this novel was slightly darker than most of Jane Austen’s works–being set in a supposedly haunted abbey. However, what the novel is really about is one Catherine Morland, who goes to Bath with some friends of her parents, and meets two friends there. One of them, Eleanor Tilney, invites her to stay at her home, which is Northanger Abbey. Catherine, having read so many “horrid” novels which were the fashion of the day, imagines all sorts of ghosts and ghouls stalking the halls of the abbey. Fortunately for her nerves, the abbey is haunted by none of these things, and is, in fact, quite a normal building. When these fancies are disproved, she imagines the horrible demise of Miss Tilney’s mother at the hands of the father. Rather than dark, terrible things happening in reality, the novel is simply about Miss Morland’s fanciful imagination. And, of course, about the pursuit of marriage and the ability of love to miraculously overcome any obstacle (in this case it’s an elitist father who is offended to find out that the girl he wanted to marry his son is not from as wealthy a family as he was led to believe).
Through it all of course is the satire and wit that Jane is famous for. Some characters are rather true to life and have traits and features that are realistic. Others seem to be extreme caricatures. An example would be John Thorpe–the gentleman who first pursues Catherine upon her arrival in Bath–who is an extreme example of arrogance and self-entitlement. He goes so far as to tell lies to his competition for Catherine’s hand in order to put himself first in her attention and affections. The ironic part, which exacerbates his personality, is that he truly believes himself to be humble, and one of the most eligible of bachelors. Which is to the reader, of course, absolutely ridiculous and comical. Yet the reader feels real fear for Catherine that she might end up with this nightmare of a man, rather than the true gentleman Mr. Tilney. That is until the reader remembers that they’re reading Jane Austen, and there cannot possible be so tragical an ending as a woman marrying a man against her heart’s desire.
It wasn’t my favorite by Jane, but it’s still quintessentially her, and therefore wonderful. The second half is most definitely better than the first, and I recommend persevering through the first ten chapters (quite short) to reach the more interesting bits that comprise the middle and end of the novel.