The Great Jane Re-Read: Northanger Abbey

Time for the great Jane Summer Re-Read! Join me! @emily_m_deardo

(If you’re new here, read the beginning of this post to get the ground rules/ideas.)

I wrote this about Northanger Abbey last year.

My favorite movie version is this one, from the BBC (click the photo for details):

OK, so let’s talk about the book:

I really like Catherine–do you? I mean yes, she has some silly moments, but generally, she’s not a bad kid, especially for one who has never been away from home before and is thrown into social situations she’s never been in before. She’s much more sensible than, say, Lydia Bennet! (Whom we’ll talk about in the next installment.)

The Great Jane Re-Read: Northanger Abbey @emily_m_deardo

Henry and Catherine.


I just wanted to throttle the Thorpes. I always feel that way, but this time it was with special vengeance. Isabella is just so silly and stupid! Not to mention money grubbing: “Oh, I love James! Oh, no I don’t, his income is too small. Oh, wait, I love him again! Because no one else will have me, la!”

And John? How in the world does he think Catherine wants to marry him? He rivals Mr. Collins in his stupidity of women, but at least Mr. Collins was never as outright rude and coarse as John is.

General Tilney is a really interesting character, isn’t he? He terrifies his daughter and obviously Henry has his own problems with him. He’s not a model father, that’s for sure, although I don’t think any of the readers ascribe such villainous deeds to him as Catherine initially does. 🙂

Speaking of that, I love the scene when Catherine finds out that the papers are just laundry lists. It’s sort of like Ralph in A Christmas Story: “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine? A crummy commercial?!”

The Great Jane Re-Read: Northanger Abbey @emily_m_deardo


Have you read The Mysteries of Udolpho? It’s still in print, amazingly–Oxford World Classics has an edition that I’m pretty sure is only still in print because of Northanger Abbey. It’s not a bad read, if you’re interested in digging deeper into Catherine’s favorite genre.

The next time Jane will set a book in Bath will be Persuasion, her last completed novel, and the novel isn’t entirely set there (much like NA isn’t entirely set in Bath–it’s funny that we have to wait so long to get to the titular abbey, right?). Anne Elliott is not quite as sanguine as Catherine is about being in Bath, that’s for sure.

The Great Jane Re-Read: Northanger Abbey @emily_m_deardo

Northerner Abbey, the Tilney home and the novel’s namesake.

Catherine’s family seem so jolly, doesn’t it? 10 children, but also her parents seem to be really down-to-earth, practical sort of people (Although I imagine you’d have to be, in order to have 10 children and not be completely nuts.). She might be–I’m just now considering this–the most practical mother in Jane’s writing. Mrs. Bennet is not. Mrs. Dashwood sort of gets there by the end of the novel, but she has her moments of crazy. There is no Mrs. Woodhouse in Emma, nor is there a Mrs. Elliot in Persuasion, although Mrs. Elliot seemed to be a very lovely person, based on Anne’s remembrances; but Sir Walter wasn’t exactly a peach to live with. What do you think?


Seven Quick Takes No. 45


You may have noticed it’s been Jane Austen week here at LA. If you missed them, here are links: Mansfield Park and Sense and Sensibility; Femininity in Sense and Sensibility; Northanger Abbey’s Unlikely Heroine; The Relationships in Pride and Prejudice. Today is the last day in the series, so I’ll have a post on that up later today (on Emma, I think).


And, also, here are my retreat recap notes.


This week I also turned 32 (on Wednesday). Yeehaw! I always get excited when I get a year older. I defy people who do not acknowledge how old they are. 🙂 I had a really nice birthday, got lots of books and got myself some Doctor Who Series 2 on sale, so even better. We had ice cream cake and there were hockey victories and overall it was glorious.


OK, so on Goodreads, I notice that everyone who reads Moby-Dick likes it but me. Am I the only one who really despises it, or are my friends on GR just crazy literate and/or nuts? Help?

Fun fact: I actually got into an argument with one of my boyfriends about this topic. That’s my life, folks.


Rehab continues apace. It seems to be going really well so we might actually extend it. I’m fighting a cold so I’m going to be on increased steroids, which means I’ll probably want to eat the table. Oh well. Whatever, right? Could be worse. I have to do the treadmill today–dratness–but it’s also Friday so that’s happy.

Today is also National Blue and Green Day for Organ Donation Awareness. Are you an organ donor? If not, please be one.Thank you. I’ll be at Lifeline of Ohio’s Candlelight Vigil for Donation tonight. Actually, all of April is Donate Life Month. It’s very a propos for me. So, if you’re not an organ donor–be one? Please? 🙂


And finally: went to yoga class this week for the first time in a long time. It was pretty epic and I had a blast.

An Unexpected Heroine: Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

Catherine Morland in the PBS production of Northanger Abbey

Catherine Morland in the PBS production of Northanger Abbey

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her to be born a heroine.” So beings Jane Austen’s first written–but last published–novel, Northanger Abbey. Written in 1788-1789, slightly revised in 1802, and finally published in 1818, Catherine Morland is an ordinary, tomboyish girl, in contrast to Austen’s other characters, who are usually “gentlemen’s daughters”, as Elizabeth says in Pride and Prejudice. 

Northanger Abbey is a mishmash of things: a Gothic burlesque–Gothic romances, like Anne Radcliffe’s The Mystery of Udolpho (which you can still read, by the way), were very popular at this time, and Austen “sent in up” in Northanger Abbey–but it also has other questions and themes. Catherine’s imagination clearly runs way with her–the expectations she has from the gothic romances she has read have colored her perception of reality to an insupportable degree. But it’s also a novel of the difficulty of growing up (which is something Marianne Dashwood also faces in Sense and Sensibility).

In today’s Dominicana post, “The Way of Shame: Moral Education in Northanger Abbey”:

Northanger Abbey is quite often the most difficult book for the Austen reader to enjoy, as it appears to lack the gravitas that underlies her other novels. Apart from a satirical reflection on the value of the Gothic genre, the novel seems to lack consideration of any serious issue. The language of the novel is replete with playful banter, pointing to the author’s youthful age when she penned the work, and the heroine is extremely naïve. Finally, there is the seeming mismatch of hero and heroine; Catherine Morland is a young and rather silly girl whose only purported source of attraction for the more mature Henry Tilney was “a persuasion of her partiality for him,” suggesting a certain shallowness in the hero. Given such a match, how could the narration of their history be gratifying for the demanding expectations of the avid Jane Austen reader?

Well of course it lacks the gravitas–it was written by Jane when she was a teenager! It has a rather complicated history of revising, but even with the revisions, it is, at its heart, a novel that parodies the gothic romance. Catherine is a silly girl, on purpose. She’s not quite seventeen when the novel opens. She is the oldest of ten children, born to a clergyman–a situation much like Austen’s own–and she is, in most respects, simply young. She has little experience of the world outside her family, which a trip to Bath quickly remedies. An avid Austen reader–who, let’s face it, are probably mostly women–can relate to Catherine, because a lot of us were probably that way when we were seventeen. We were a bit silly, a bit romantic, a bit tomboyish. The “playful banter” is a Jane Austen trademark, not a pointer to the author’s youth when she penned the work.

The article then states:

In light of the theme of virtue and the stark contrast that Northanger Abbey presents with regard to her other novels, I suspect that the key to getting over many of these concerns lies in a careful consideration of the importance Austen gives to moral education as a source for plot development.

I don’t know if I would say the moral education is the key. Obviously, Jane focuses on the morality of her characters. It’s expressed many times in all her novels. In all of her novels there is a general theme of maturity, of growing up, as a whole. The heroines tend to grow in virtue, yes, while those without it tend to be what they always were, even as they grow older (see Lydia Bennet for a good example of this).

I’m not really disagreeing with the author about Jane’s use of virtue and moral education. I am somewhat disagreeing with the idea that it’s quite as overtly a moral message as the author is implying. While she was the daughter of a clergyman (and the sister of several),one of the things that makes Austen different from other novelists of her time, and makes her still readable today, is that she doesn’t hit her reader over the head with the 2×4 labeled “virtuous women”. Yes, she writes heroines that grow in mortality and maturity; yes, the themes of virtue and vice are seen in her works. But they are imbedded in the novel with skill and art.