Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Northanger Abbey

Author: Jane Austen

I recall reading this book repeatedly from the age of about 12 and have very fond remembrances of it. Given the current Jane Austen ‘festival’ screening at the moment on the ABC I decided to re-read the novel.

It is a quick read – written in a lighthearted and easy style and with the Austen stamp of the heroine undergoing some trials before gaining the happiness she so richly deserves.

Catherine Morland – age 15, from a loving family of 10 children, not poor but not rich, is taken to Bath by wealthy neighbours the Allen’s where she meets with predominately two families – the Thorpe’s and the Tilney’s.

Catherine meets Henry Tilney at a dance in Bath and he is humorous and attentive - she is quite taken with him. Unfortunately he disappears after the dance although she keeps her eye out for him.

Mrs Allen recognizes Mrs Thorpe as an old school friend and introduces her daughter Isabella. Isabella is pretty and vain and is constantly seeking attention from the opposite sex. Isabella and Catherine become fast friends given that Isabella sees Catherine’s brother James (who has been at Oxford with her brother, John, and visited the family the past Christmas) as a prospective husband. She pursues James and gains a proposal of marriage.

Meanwhile John Thorpe decides Catherine is pretty enough to make her his bride - but Catherine is completely unaware of his intentions.

Henry Tilney makes a reappearance, this time with his sister Eleanor. Eleanor is sedate and friendly and Catherine feels instantly comfortable in her presence as well as being glad to extend her acquaintance with Henry.

After some misadventures with John Thorpe, Catherine sees him in a more true light which makes her affection for Henry even stronger. Henry’s father, General Tilney encourages the relationship between Catherine and his children and invites Catherine to Northanger Abbey.

Isabella in the meantime meets Captain Tilney – Henry’s older brother (and heir to the family fortune and estate) and flirts unashamedly, to the detriment of her engagement which is soon called off in distress by the heartbroken James.

Full of a love of mystery novels, Catherine soon imagines all sorts of terrible things about the Abbey and gives herself a scare or two quite quickly. The General turns out to be quite a tyrant and she starts to imagine that he may have had something to do with the untimely death of Mrs Tilney some years before.

Shortly after this, the General removes to town whereupon the young people have an enjoyable time without the strictness that the General imposed upon their lives. This eden is interrupted however with Catherine’s speedy ejection and return to her family. Eleanor is deeply troubled and embarrassed by the leaving and Catherine despairs that it has happened whilst Henry is absent so she cannot see him before her departure.

She returns home to her home in Fullerton, none the worse for the experience, but melancholy at the loss of her friend Eleanor and of Henry, whom she supposes she will never see again.

Unexpectedly Henry returns, explains and apologises for her departure, advises he has split from his father and of course proproses. Catherine’s parents agree to the marriage but gently demand that the General’s consent should be sought. Of course he declines, but given an excellent marriage by his daughter Eleanor and the good humour that ensued, as well as a clarification of Catherine’s position - permission is given within six months of the proposal.

A highly recommended read for everyone after a light Austen novel.

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