A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.
The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.
Catherine Morland didn’t always look like she was going to be a heroine - her being rather tomboyish, one in a family with 10 children - but such was her path and, at the age of 17 she gets her chance for adventure when her neighbors, the Allens, invite her to go with them to Bath.
At first, things at Bath aren’t as fun as she expected, because she doesn’t really know anyone there, but she soon meets Henry Tilney, a kind young man with whom she becomes friendly.
I found Northanger Abbey to be a funny, silly, lighthearted story, it has the tone of a parody and it does poke a bit of fun at the Gothic stories that Catherine enjoys reading, but it’s not rude about it.
There are a few misunderstandings and all, but it’s all in good fun for the most part.
I did notice two things about this book: First, the voice of the narrator is felt heavily, almost as if this omnipresent narrator were a character also. Usually, when I’m reading a book in third person, I can get lost in the story but in Northanger Abbey I never stopped feeling like someone was telling me a story rather than me discovering it on my own.
And second, this feels like a younger book than any of the others I’ve read by Jane Austen. Both Catherine and Henry read very young; their mistakes are those of very young people. They are charming and nice but naïve in a way I don’t think many heroes and heroines in the Austen universe are.