Northanger Abbey

I just finished reading a collection of Jane Austen's works consisting of Emma, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. I'd seen the film version of Emma but Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were both new to me. I'd heard quite a lot about Northanger Abbey, all of it bad. I’d heard that it was so awful that the publisher who originally purchased it never published it and sold the rights back again. I'd heard that it was a parody of a gothic novel, with all the scorn that some literary types can heap on a genre novel, and then an extra dose of scorn for the fact it's a parody. With all that in mind I saved what I thought was going to be the worst for last and read the other two novels first. To my surprise I enjoyed Northanger Abbey very much and was oddly reminded of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events in places.

Ms. Austen's voice is heard quite strongly throughout this novel as the narrator comments on many subjects, making witty and insightful observations. As the book progresses she compares the heroine to the heroine of a proper Gothic novel, which were called horrid novels at the time of writing. "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine" is the opening sentence of the story, then Ms. Austen goes on to describe exactly why Miss Morland doesn't fit the heroine mold. Her mother didn't die in childbirth, leaving her forlorn and orphaned, she's not accomplished in the arts of drawing or playing the spinet. Instead of being frail and wan, she's a tomboy and spends her time tramping around outside, playing cricket and baseball, riding horses (which never run away with her, allowing her to be rescued by a handsome yet dangerous fellow) and rolling down the hill behind her house.

Miss Morland is more grownup, more attractive, less of a tomboy, and much more interested in reading by the time the story really gets rolling. She's particularly interested in horrid novels, which are Gothic novels about heroines who end up in enormous, crumbling homes that are hiding a dangerous secret. She's extremely excited when she gets to head to Bath, a sort of combination resort and spa where people go to be seen and to take the waters as they try to improve their health. She travels with Mr. and Mrs. Allen, a local couple who aren't quite suited to watch over a young lady. Mr. Allen is going to Bath for his health and Mrs. Allen is primarily concerned with her gowns and her appearance. She's quite disappointed when she doesn't meet anyone she knows in Bath and mopes until she runs into an old friend from school called Mrs. Thorpe.

Catherine soon befriends one of the Misses Thorpes, Isabella by name, a young lady who is also interested in reading gothic novels and daydreaming about various gentlemen of their acquaintance. Meanwhile Catherine has met a charming gentleman by the name of Mr. Tilney, who "if not quite handsome, was very near it." Catherine shares her excitement over Mr. Tilney with Isabella, who is herself interested in Catherine's brother. Isabella's brother is attracted to Catherine, who is a bit too naive to really notice.

When Catherine sees Mr. Tilney with another woman she loses yet another opportunity to behave like a proper heroine. The narrator says, "He looked as handsome and as lively as ever, and was talking with interest to a fashionable and pleasing-looking young woman, who leant on his arm, and whom Catherine immediately guessed to be his sister; thus unthinkingly throwing away a fair opportunity of considering him lost to her for ever, by being married already. But guided only by what was simple and probable, it had never entered her head that Mr. Tilney could be married; he had not behaved, he had not talked, like the married men to whom she had been used; he had never mentioned a wife, and he had acknowledged a sister. From these circumstances sprang the instant conclusion of his sister's now being by his side; and therefore, instead of turning of a deathlike paleness, and falling in a fit on Mrs. Allen's bosom, Catherine sat erect, in the perfect use of her senses, and with cheeks only a little redder than usual." Catherine and Miss Tilney, whose given name is Eleanor, are soon fast friends, despite some shenanigans on the part of the Thorpes. Catherine is ecstatic when Eleanor invites her to stay with the family at their home, called Northanger Abbey, a thrilling name that promises horrors and adventures. Catherine will at last get her fill of thrills and mystery, while seeing Mr. Tilney every day. It's almost enough to make her act like a proper heroine and swoon away.

Ms. Austen's humor and biting intellect infuse the entire novel and makes this book a joy to read. By making Catherine inexperienced and inclined to see the best in everyone, we see an even stronger contrast with the real monsters in the book; characters who are deceitful, spiteful and greedy. As Catherine fails to notice the cruelty certain characters are inflicting, Ms. Austen is busy pointing them out with a wry wit that makes the novel a delight. If you're looking for a traditional ghost story you may be in for a disappointment but if you're looking for a book that entertains while pointing out the foibles of frailties and the cost of societal conventions like marriage for money you've found the right book.

You can read it online at a number of places, including Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/121

One-Paragraph Review
This week's one-paragraph review is from S. Stratos, who instant messaged me about a film currently in selected theaters. "Slumdog Millionaire can only be described as one of the most inspirational films of all time. Almost every aspect of this movie was spectacular, from the acting to the music. The plot of the movie is centered around Jamal, a boy from the slums of India, who goes on “Who wants to be a Millionaire” with hopes of winning something besides the money. Those of you asking, “How could that possibly be interesting?” are in for a great surprise. The movie portrays how Jamal's experiences help him to answer each of the difficult questions on the show. Throughout the movie Jamal is constantly questioned about his success in a show at which even doctors, lawyers and other members of the upper class were unsuccessful. Along the way Jamal inspires the nation with his incredible winning streak. Aside from the plot, Danny Boyle, the director of this masterpiece, did a fantastic job of letting the viewer see through the eyes of Jamal. The acting was simply spectacular; you could see the emotions “popping” out of the characters at every step. If that wasn't enough, the music perfectly supports every visual aspect of the movie. All of these features, combined with the fact that the movie offers something for everyone, makes for one hell of a ride that's sure to find a special place in each of our movie collections (once it's released on DVD of course)." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.