Friday, March 27, 2015

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I'm surprised at my past review of Northanger Abbey. I can't believe I didn't really flag any quotes! What a loss, because this book was full of them, my favorite being, "If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad." 

The image I've picked to run with the old review is the latest copy of the book I purchased from the British Library after seeing the exhibit: Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination. It was a delightful look at the fascinating, influential genre.

I generally like reading Jane Austen. Okay, love reading a JA book. I just finished Northanger Abbey and I'm not sure how I feel about it. It was certainly an easy read, and one that kept me motivated enough to finish it in just a couple days. But it didn't seem like there was much to the story. At all. This is where I miss being in English courses: some professor would bust out a bunch of awesome facts or theories or what have you, and I'd be totally into it. Reading for enjoyment, however, it's not the best book I've ever read.

Naturally, though, I have to give Austen some props. Her satirical writing style and development of characters is as amazing as always. She wrote characters that made me squirm with uncomfortableness. John Thorpe is a complete self-centered ass and Catherine Morland is terribly imaginative and curious to an annoying fault. When it comes to relationships and friendships, Austen rather accurately portrays what still happens today. Friendships take a back seat to relationships, and lots of conniving, flattery, and peacocking happen while it all gets worked out.

This novel also presents the question: Is the narrator the author? Truthfully, I do not know if Austen intended the story's narrator to be herself. She may have, and it may be a well-known fact. However, I don't know the answer, and so I must, at default, consider the author and the narrator two different beings. But, in this book, it's very hard not to conflate the two. Rather than simply a narrator, the narrator claims to be the author of the story as well. This person (which by default also, I assume to be female) interjects often, even when she does not directly reference herself with an "I." For example, "A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thin, should conceal it as well as she can" (104). This is not a statement of any character, but merely the narrator's commentary on the subject. Again, very hard not to see Austen in that statement. Other times, the narrator/author is more direct with referencing herself. "And now I may dismiss my heroine to the sleepless couch, which is the true heroine's portion; to a pillow strewed with thorns and with wet tears" (83). Oh how dramatic of this narrator/author! Perfectly fitting the novel's structure as a gothic parody.

In terms of gothic parody, Radcliffe and the Mysteries of Udolpho are mentioned multiple times. My main wish is that I had read that story, and others like it, in order to properly appreciate the references and parodies that Austen set. I wonder how Radcliffe reacted to this novel. I just wish I could time travel and get a good feel for the climate at the time.

One final note: Let's huzzah for the fact that this is a book by a shamefully famous female author, which parodies the work of a female author who piloted the gothic novel movement. Ladies making their way in the 1700s and 1800s. Huzzah!

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