An Analysis of Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


There are so many notable aspects of this book, that I know I am going to struggle to limit this review to my usual word count margin and so instead of calling it a review, I thought it would be better described as an analysis. It was first published the year after Jane Austen died in 1818 (almost 200 years ago!), yet still it is an absolutely fascinating book. It relates the tale of young Catherine Morland:

“She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features…she was fond of all boy’s plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy…”

We don’t hear much about Catherine’s family, except that there are twelve of them in all (Catherine’s brother: James, features prominently later in the book), because Catherine is immediately (within the first page of my Penguin edition) invited away to Bath in the company of Mr and Mrs Allen, the former who is ill and needs a break away to recover.

Anyway, perhaps what I love most about this book, and what I find most interesting is that the text is sprinkled with references to literature. Within the first couple of pages, the reader is supplied with an excellent list of quotes from books including ones from Shakespeare:

‘The poor beetle which we tread upon, in corporal sufference feels as pang as great as when a giant dies.’

And ‘Gray’ who I assume is Thomas Gray:

‘Many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its fragrance on the desert air.’

And a couple of other authors of the time are mentioned and quoted too, but I particularly admired these two small extracts. Anyway, the scene is swiftly switched from Catherine’s childhood to the hour of her depature for Bath. The story, despite it’s delicious simplicity, is packed with knowledge about Bath in the 1700 and 1800s, but I must say, I was glad of the notes page at the back of my Penguin edition, which described to the reader, the meaning of some unfamiliar phrases and terms. On arrival, Jane Austen is quick to introduce Bath in all it’s glory:

Every morning now brought its regular duties; – shops were to be visited; some new part of town to be looked at; and the Pump-room to be attended, where they paraded up and down for an hour, looking at everybody and speaking to no one.

In the notes at the back of my edition, I discovered the meaning of three locations which are mentioned avidly throughout the text – the Pump-room, the Upper Rooms and the Lower Rooms. Anne Ehrenpreis, who I believe wrote the notes at the back of my penguin edition, writes that: The Upper rooms were so called because they were on high ground in the upper part of Bath; the Lower rooms were a separate building. During the season four balls a week were held in the Rooms. All Jane Austen’s details of Bath social life are precisely accurate…

I comprehend the Pump-room, to basicly be  a hall or room for social purposes for the wealthier occupants of Bath, but I could be wrong. I would be interested to know how other readers think.

Anyway, the Allens and Catherine are quick to become acquainted with company, after many sad reflections on the fact that they hardly know anyone. First, the Tilneys. Mr Tilney appeals to Catherine greatly, upon introduction.

He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it.

Catherine meets Mr Tilney in the Lower rooms, and in hope of seeing him again, is described to hasten to the Pump-room, the next day. But instead of seeing him again, she and Mrs Allen becomes acquainted with the Thorpes. Immediately, my impression was that the Thorpes were very boastful, boisterous and unpleasant characters. Catherine becomes friends with Mrs Thorpe’s eldest daughter, Isabelle, and does not see the family in the light that the reader sees them in, until she becomes good friends with Mr Tilney’s sister, later in the book. But, until then, they become very close and both familys can hardly believe the coincidence when it is revealed that Isabelle’s brother is best friends with Catherine’s brother.

Isabelle and Catherine begin to exchange their opinions of literature, and Isabelle recommends that she reads Mysteries of Udolpho. Jane Austen describes a dark and twisted tale, featuring a black veil and a formidable skeleton! I promptly downloaded a free version of the book onto my Kindle! It sounds like an intriguing read and Catherine seemed to enjoy it immensely.

The story goes on to describe how Catherine becomes deeply upset by the Thorpes pushy personalities involving her arrangements with the Tilneys. In one scene when Catherine is impatient to apologise to Miss Tilney, regarding the Thorpes, I was highly amused by this sentence: he (General Tilney) was quite angry with the servant whose neglect had reduced her to open the door of the apartment herself. How shocking!

Catherine and Isabelle are forced together later in the book when Catherine realizes that her brother and Isabelle are in love and are soon to become sisters in law.

It isn’t until half way through the book Northanger Abbey that the location in the title is actually mentioned. It is the home of the Tilneys, and Catherine is asked back their for a few weeks to keep Miss Tilney company. Of course, Catherine is thrilled. Not only does she therefore  have chance to become more close to Mr Tilney, but she also has chance to fulfill her desire to explore an ancient building, inspired by Udolpho…

But will her dreams of being with Mr Tilney become a reality, or will they remain as much of a fantasy as her gothic expectations of the abbey? Pick up this fantastic book to find out.


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