Northanger Abbey wasn’t at all what I expected. And this time that’s not in a good way. I knew, going in, that it’s parody of the gothic novels that were popular at that time like The Monk, The Castle of Otranto, and The Mysteries of Udolpho, all of which I’ve read and enjoyed (that’s another example of me being surprised by what I read). Gothic novels hit their peak in the very late eighteenth century, and they generally involve creepy old castles with ghosts and such and lots and lots of evil. I almost stopped reading The Monk because it was giving me nightmares. Anyway, Northanger Abbey is nothing like that. I was bored to tears.
It’s about Catherine Morland, an eighteen-year-old, and her adventures in finding a man. Various things go wrong, and some of them go right, etc, etc. It’s basically a run-of-the-mill Jane Austen novel. (I should note, here, that I generally don’t like Jane Austen, but I did enjoy Pride and Prejudice, the only Austen novel I’ve read all the way through. I tried Sense and Sensibility but hated it and stopped. Maybe I would have had better luck with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but I digress.) Here’s the Wikipedia rundown, which follows most of the book blurbs I’ve seen: “The most famous parody of the Gothic is Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey (1818) in which the naive protagonist, after reading too much Gothic fiction, conceives herself a heroine of a Radcliffian romance and imagines murder and villainy on every side, though the truth turns out to be much more prosaic.”[1. Wikipedia entry on Gothic Fiction] That description is true, but only for about 20% of the novel: the remaining 80% is husband-finding and related girly issues. Seriously: There is no mention of the abbey until 63% into the book (I read it on my Kindle), and they’re only there for a little less than 20%. And there is nothing creepy, just a frightened kid who reads too much into everything around her and then makes stupid assumptions. She’s silly.
And that’s about it for the plot. There’s really nothing special. Your time will be much better spent if you read one of the actual gothic novels. I suggest starting with The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole, simply because it’s the shortest one I know of, and these novels can be a bit of an acquired taste – and most of them are looooooong.
I really disliked Northanger Abbey. It was boring. And the book blurbs seem like false advertising: the vast majority is classic Jane Austen, not even the parody part. Yes, there are some funny parts, like when Catherine and her friend Isabella are reading The Mysteries of Udolpho and are unreasonably intrigued. And that part is only funny if you’ve read at least one gothic novel. I was expecting more of Northanger Abbey, or at least something creepy, but most of the novel is about a silly kids ridiculous emotionally-charged, false conclusions. Not an interesting read.
That said, if you’re a huge fan of Jane Austen, you’ll probably like this one as much as any of the others.
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