Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Free Project Gutenberg covers from various publishers
Challenges: Back to the Classics 2015 (Classic by a Woman Author)
Synopsis: Young Catherine Moreland is visiting Bath with family friends. There she makes new friends with Isabella Thorpe and Henry Tilney and his sister Elenore.
Thoughts: Northanger Abbey is my favourite Austen. I find it deliciously snarky and satirical. In addition it also feels very current.
The modern feel of the book comes from the fact that Catherine, like many teens, lives in a fantasy world. In her case the fantasy world comes from reading books, in particular Gothic novels. She lets her fantasy get away from her more than once and this is something I rather recognize myself in.
One might think that this book criticizes the brain candy aspect of the Gothic Novel that was present during Austen's time, but to my mind it actually criticizes those who hold the view that it is brain candy, and instead critizises the society that gives young girls little to do and the disconnect between many adults and the young people around them.
She does also poke a whole lot of fun at the genre, but it is done in a good natured kind of way. I particularly like the very beginning of the book where we are introduced to our heroine Catherine Moreland:
No one who had ever seen Catherine Moreland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard — and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence, besides two good livings — and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as any body might expect, she lived on — lived to have six children more — to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself.
Here Austen is clearly poking fun at the fact that many of the contemporary heroines (her own included it might be added) came from poor backgrounds and became rich. Had terrible fathers who were mean and mothers who were sickly and weak, often dying leaving the young child all on their own*. By putting HER heroine in no such position she makes the point that one CAN still be a heroine (it might be added that Austen does include some of these aspects in one of the books minor characters so she isn't completely immune to the literary trope).
Catherine can at times seem very teenagery (I can invent words) in that she is impulsive and naive. However she is also very likeable because she does learn, she does stand up for herself, and she is incredibly sweet.
One thing that I find quite interesting with this book is the fact that Henry Tilney, our hero, seems quite remote. I don't feel like I ever get a good grip of him. He is certainly better than James Thorpe, the other man who is vying for Catherine's hand, but really at times only marginally so. He does stand up for Catherine, however he also (as Austen is want to have her heroes do) makes her ashamed of something she does or says (my sarcasm is dripping here, it is one of the aspects of Austen I detest). He is rather secondary to the story.
I often use this book when I teach English 6 (advanced ESL to juniors here in Sweden). I find that the teens can easily relate to it and it means I can cover several genres. I often pair it with Frankenstein. In the past we have read Frankenstein and then watched the movie versions of both Northanger Abbey and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. I like these two versions because they are fairly close to the original book. I am considering, depending on the class, having them read both books next time, or perhaps have half the class read one book and the other half the other. I am not teaching English 6 this year so right now it is only swirling around in my head.
Overall this is, as I've said, a book I really enjoy.
* When writing my thesis I read a very good article on why children in literature so often have missing parents. Here are some of them:
Gross, M., "The Giver and Shade's Children: Future Views of Child Abandonment and Murder," Children's Literature in Education Vol. 30, No.2, 1999 103-117
Hintz, C., "Monica Hughes, Lois Lowry, and Young Adult Dystopias," The Lion and the Unicorn 26 (2002) 254-264
Latham, D., "Childhood Under Siege: Lois Lowry's Number the Stars and The Giver," The Lion and The Unicorn 26 (2002) 1-15
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