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Thursday, April 24, 2008

cover of Northanger Abbey

Not my favorite of Jane Austen's books, but I was inspired to re-read it after seeing the delightful Masterpiece Theater version of the story. They did a wonderful job of bringing to life this plain, ordinary heroine who reads to many Gothic mysteries and is ready to imagine romance or intrigue anywhere. The narrator makes a great deal of the fact Catherine Moreland does not resemble the usual heroine of a novel-- not extraordinarily pretty, neither extremely rich nor poor; she is just about as ordinary as she can be. And yet in spite of that, she gets to have her own little adventure and finds her own romantic hero.

Catherine is kind and generous; somewhat naive and innocent, and sometimes outright ignorant. There were times when she reminded me of Jane Bennet in Pride and Prejudice-- always trying to think the best of people, even when things don't quite add up. Except that Catherine isn't as wise or intelligent as Jane (and, of course, she doesn't have a sister like Eliza to tell her how things really are). Austen does a great job of making things clear to the reader that Catherine completely misses-- Catherine's faithful "friend" Isabella, people's concerns with wealth and mis-perceptions about how wealthy Catherine might be.

Catherine's romantic interest, Henry Tilney, is a completely delightful character. He's amused by the foibles of other people, like Catherine's obsession with Gothic novels, or Mrs. Allen's obsession with clothing; he's witty and humorous, and very aware of language-- he teases Catherine over the silly things that she says, which probably she has heard other people say, and in the process he begins to educate Catherine and form her mind. When she says a book is "nice" he responds according to the original meaning of the word (neatness), which of course confuses Catherine, and Henry digresses on how the word is used for anything and hence comes to mean nothing. Another time Catherine says she has "learned to love" a particular kind of flower, and Henry teasingly asks how she learned such a thing. According to the narrator, these two end up together because Henry was the cause of Catherine's "first serious thought," which was incredibly flattering to him.

Title:Northanger Abbey
Author:Jane Austen
Date published:1818
Number of pages:221
Notes:repeat reading


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