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Northanger Abbey


Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey
average rating is 3 out of 5

Classics, Gothic, Romance

R. Alex Jenkins

This is my sixth and final novel by Jane Austen. A completionist thing, maybe, just to say I've done it, but more importantly, this is the first time I've appreciated any of her humour. Emma is a nice book in comparison, but lacks the cynicism on display here.

Jane Austen is a joy to read and a master of interaction and dialogue, often intellectually complex enough to require slowdowns while you take stock, although Northanger Abbey is simplistic (almost dull) in comparison to Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion in which you constantly need to untangle who is who and how they’re all related and connected. This is a much more straightforward read.

Imagine a well bred, extremely educated young lady, released by her parents for the first time into society, chased by various men, including an absolute horse of a man with no sense of modesty or propriety, fending him off because she's secretly interested in someone else. That's the essential simplicity of the story, trying to maintain an upper-class code of decorum to get what she wants while remaining agreeable to everyone else.

Northanger Abbey is a nice surprise, not too overambitious like the failure Mansfield Park, which is too convoluted and unable to unravel itself properly by the end, but instead a straightforward, light and uncomplicated experience.

There is a strange turn of events at around 60% when the plot veers to the Abbey itself in a sarcastic attempt at pseudo-gothic horror, before it comes back to the basic premise of romance again while oscillating up and down the social ladder. The gothic element feels out of character for Jane Austen, adds nothing to the story and seems a bit pointless, but I had fun with it, especially references to prior gothic literature such as The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.

The more I read Jane Austen novels, the more I perceive the disparity from an era 200+ years ago: Muslin gowns, theatres, balls and a faux society of unattainable wealth and status. A time when men went to sea and brought home fame and fortune while women stayed at home looking pretty. It feels out of date, but the only real difference is the switch in classes and genders in modern society. We still crave greater wealth, higher esteem and status, and always will.

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