Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Northanger Abbey tells the tale of Catherine Morland, an unassuming anti-heroine, chronicling her friendships, her unfounded (and often fantastical) fears, her most unexpected expulsion, and her final felicity. We first encounter Catherine in Bath, where she has travelled with her family friends, the Allens, in order to trample in the path of Other Rich Men. She first succeeds in making a BFF (who turns out to be rather a Naughty Girl, but makes a fine introductory sort of best friend), then, Austen-style, finds a handsome gentleman upon whom to aggressively crush. The Naughty BFF, Isabella, becomes affianced to Catherine's brother, James, but manages to make quite a mess of things by flirting ostentatiously with Catherine's crushy-poo's brother, Mr. Frederick Tilney (not be confused with Henry Tilney, Catherine's lovely and innocent bae-to-be). In the meantime, Catherine gets to hang with the Tilneys (Henry + not-so-naughty new BFF candidate sister Eleanor + Mr. Tilney Sr., aka "The General") at their
Spoiler Over: Continue Here
I greatly enjoyed reading this book. I esteemed it greatly. I liked it. ;) Seriously, though, it was a pleasure. I think it may be the only Austen that I hadn't read, and it was such fun to meet new characters that reminded me in some ways of other Austen creations, but were in other ways quite starkly different. If you haven't read it, regardless of whether you're an Austen convert (and let's be honest, if you aren't (and you know what's best for you) you probably should just go ahead and start LOVING all her books rn), I highly recommend it. It's not terribly long, and it's Quite Diverting!
Here are my thoughts, as usual, in no particular (or petechial) chronology:
Note from her authoress herself, Miss Austen
The book starts off with a note from Jane herself, and I thought it was delightfully sassy. See below:
"This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertised, and why the business proceeded no farther, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worth-while to purchase what he did not think it worth-while to publish seems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the public have any other concern than as some observation is necessary upon those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete. The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes." I love that she's like, Hello! You paid good money for this product, and you said you'd publish it, so, what gives, dude? And wow, thirteen years old! Those trends are SO off. Don't be thinking I still think flared jeans are cool, K?
Catherine might be my favorite Austen heroine
I've always been a fan of Lizzie Bennet (I mean, who Isn't? #amirite) and Elinor Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse (and yes, I specifically picked those two, don't judge) have their own unique charms, but Catherine was a delightfully accessible heroine. I've tried several times to imagine which Bennet sister I am (sometimes I end up between Mary and Kitty and THEN I JUST WANT TO DIE) but to no avail, and much as I like to think I'm a Lizzie or an Elinor, or an Emma, I think in all reality I am more of a Catherine. And not only is that OK, that is wonderful. Here are some reasons why Catherine gets an A in my book of heroines (NB: not a real thing, just in case you were curious):
Reasons why I like Catherine:
-- Her name - OK, so Catherine is not really high on my list of majestic names, and it makes me think of silly Catherine from Wuthering Heights, BUT, it just so happens to also be the name of one my all-time favorite people, the beautiful creature that brought me into this world and nurtures me and loves me and *may* astutely and anonymously comment on this very blob from time to time.
- Her modest beginnings - as mentioned in the spoiler, Catherine is set up as a sort of anti-heroine. She's not particularly special, or pretty, and starts off pretty rough.
- "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine."
- "She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid." hagh.
- "She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features—so much for her person; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind." OK so not just yet! I had to include this because it made me think of Sarah, Plain and Tall. ;) and to prove that she Neville Longbottoms!
- "Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart (ahaghaghagh ROTFL - one of my favorite lines in the book); she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. "Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl—she is almost pretty today," were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive." I don't know whether to be delighted or disgusted by this comment. But we'll take it! Things are looking up for Catherine, people!
- "But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives." so serviceable. so soothing.
- "She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient."
Henry was an intriguing love interest for Catherine, as he reminded me initially of a Wickham or a Willoughby, and I wasn't entirely sure whether he would turn out to be wicked or wonderful. SPOILER ALERT #2: ANSWER IS WONDERFUL.
Here is their first exchange: "I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent—but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly."
"You need not give yourself that trouble, sir."
"No trouble, I assure you, madam." Then forming his features into a set smile, and affectedly softening his voice, he added, with a simpering air, "Have you been long in Bath, madam?"
"About a week, sir," replied Catherine, trying not to laugh.
"Really!" with affected astonishment.
"Why should you be surprised, sir?"
"Why, indeed!" said he, in his natural tone.
Henry, after Catherine calls a book 'nice': "I am sure," cried Catherine, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should not I call it so?"
"Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement—people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word." Mrs. Hibshman, my 7th grade English teacher, was vehemently opposed to the word 'nice', and felt that it had been dramatically overused. She and Henry can host the anti-'nice' convening. I can tell you what it won't be - it won't be a NICE affair!
Catherine + Isabella = BFFs (at least in the beGinning, before Isabella gets all Naughty)
"They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other's train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. (Doesn't that sound LOVELY? READING NOVELS together? Mar and I are going to read LOADS of novels together one day.) Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding—joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it." It's so interesting to me that novels used to be vilified; they are quite revered in our present culture, and it's hard to imagine them ever being considered 'trashy'. But I love that not only is Austen putting herself out there aggressively as a female author, male pseudonym-free, but she is also taking an aggressive stance to defend her lady writer counterparts. Boo-yah, Jane!
A defense of novels
"Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers..."I am no novel-reader—I seldom look into novels—Do not imagine that I often read novels." Such is the common cant. "And what are you reading, Miss—?" "Oh! It is only a novel!" replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. "It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda"; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language." Fear not, Jane. It may have taken a century or so, but when I read, I never tell someone it's 'only a novel'. On the contrary - I PROUDLY Admit it! ;)
Henry Tilney, on novels:
Catherine, to Henry: "But you never read novels, I dare say?"
"Because they are not clever enough for you—gentlemen read better books."
"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. SWOON!! This is when I fell in love with Henry - step aside, Catherine, there's a line!
The black veil (no, not the one Sirius fell behind! sad face!)
We've already established that Isabella is quite naughty, but she is pleasant in the bosom-buddy-novel-reading-phase of the friendship. Here's an exchange between Isabella and Catherine:
"Have you gone on with Udolpho?"
"Yes, I have been reading it ever since I woke; and I am got to the black veil."
"Are you, indeed? How delightful! Oh! I would not tell you what is behind the black veil for the world! Are not you wild to know?"
"Oh! Yes, quite; what can it be? But do not tell me—I would not be told upon any account. I know it must be a skeleton, I am sure it is Laurentina's skeleton." I loved this. Not only do I love that the BFFs are reading novels and sharing their reading experience (which is OBVIOUSLY something I am very much Pro) but it made me think of several of my friends (Ahem, Susan A., Margalit M.) who may have a penchant for asking an aggressively large amount of leading questions while watching television and movies. I would not for the WORLD tell you what is behind the veil, friends! Ask away!
I'm terribly sorry. How rude of me! I haven't offered you a break! Why don't you eat a peppermint, or a chocolate frog, and then Come Right Back.
All done? Yum yum? OK, and we're off (to the races) again!
Weather as prognosticator, both metaphoric and literal
Weather is a common motif in the novels I've read for these lists, and some of my favorite scenes spring from something as simple as rain. Here's the scene from Northanger, followed by a few others it brought to mind:
On a day when Catherine was to walk out with Henry and Eleanor: "The morrow brought a very sober-looking morning, the sun making only a few efforts to appear, and Catherine augured from it everything most favourable to her wishes. A bright morning so early in the year, she allowed, would generally turn to rain, but a cloudy one foretold improvement as the day advanced. She applied to Mr. Allen for confirmation of her hopes, but Mr. Allen, not having his own skies and barometer about him, declined giving any absolute promise of sunshine. [Promising, no? And then later, after the rain...]"It was such a nice-looking morning! I felt so convinced it would be dry!"
Sense and Sensibility
Marianne: 'It will not rain.'
Margaret:' You Always say that, and it Always does!'
A Farewell to Arms
Catherine: "Listen to it rain."
Henry: "It's raining hard."
"And you'll always love me, won't you?"
"And the rain won't make any difference?"
"That's good. Because I'm afraid of the rain."
I don't know, darling. I've always been afraid of the rain." I just noticed that they're Catherine and Henry, too! But a much happier ending here for this Catherine and Henry than that pair.
Anne (of Green Gables) Shirley, on the day Mrs. Allan (the minister's wife) invites her to tea
"The rustle of the poplar leaves about the house worried her, it sounded so like pattering rain drops, and the dull, faraway roar of the gulf, to which she listened delightedly at other times, loving its strange, sonorous, haunting rhythm, now seemed like a prophecy of storm and disaster to a small maiden who particularly wanted a fine day."
To the Lighthouse -- Mr. Ramsay claims that the clouds ominously portend rain for the coming day, and Mrs. Ramsay says to her son James, who desperately wants to visit the lighthouse tomorrow, "Perhaps you will wake up and find the sun shining and the birds singing." I think of this line every time I want a fine day instead of a rainy one.
The Great Gatsby -- When it stops raining, Fitzgerald uses the weather as a metaphor for Gatsby and Daisy's love being rekindled. "When [Gatsby] realized what [Nick] was talking about, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. "What do you think of that? It's stopped raining."
Meant, sent, heard
One of my favorite scenes in the book (it's a little mean, I know, but it's so Funny! you'll fall off your chair!) is when John, Isabella's brother, thinks he's succesfully 'pre-proposed' to Catherine, and she is Not on the same wavelength At. All.
John, to Catherine, after Isabella and James have gotten engaged: "And then you know"—twisting himself about and forcing a foolish laugh—"I say, then you know, we may try the truth of this same old song."
"May we? But I never sing. Well, I wish you a good journey. I dine with Miss Tilney today, and must now be going home."
John:"But you have more good nature and all that, than anybody living, I believe. A monstrous deal of good nature, and it is not only good nature, but you have so much, so much of everything; and then you have such—upon my soul, I do not know anybody like you."
"Oh! dear, there are a great many people like me, I dare say, only a great deal better. Good morning to you."
John: "But I say, Miss Morland, I shall come and pay my respects at Fullerton before it is long, if not disagreeable."
"Pray do. My father and mother will be very glad to see you."
"And I hope—I hope, Miss Morland, you will not be sorry to see me."
"Oh! dear, not at all. There are very few people I am sorry to see. Company is always cheerful." HAGHAGHAGHagahghaghagagh. "I never sing. Company is always cheerful." LOVE IT. Needless to say, she is Hella confused when Isabella tries to congratulate her later.
Northanger - spoOOky, or maybe just sedentary?
Part of the fun of this novel, and what sets it apart from the other Austens, is that it plays around with Gothic themes. Austen ends up brilliantly evoking them, while simultaneously pointing out that there's plenty of drama in very Real life.
Here's when Henry tries to scare/scintillate Catherine as they are nearing Northanger:
"You must be aware that when a young lady is (by whatever means) introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the house, she is formally conducted by Dorothy, the ancient housekeeper, up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. Can you stand such a ceremony as this? Will not your mind misgive you when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber— too lofty and extensive for you, with only the feeble rays of a single lamp to take in its size—its walls hung with tapestry exhibiting figures as large as life, and the bed, of darkgreen stuff or purple velvet, presenting even a funereal appearance? Will not your heart sink within you?" This made me think of one of my favorite lines from Jane Eyre - 'Daylight began to forsake the red room."
"How fearfully will you examine the furniture of your apartment! And what will you discern? Not tables, toilettes, wardrobes, or drawers, but on one side perhaps the remains of a broken lute (Gasp! a broken lute! what can it signify??), on the other a ponderous chest which no efforts can open, and over the fireplace the portrait of some handsome warrior, whose features will so incomprehensibly strike you, that you will not be able to withdraw your eyes from it (oh my! a handome warrior!). Dorothy, meanwhile, no less struck by your appearance, gazes on you in great agitation, and drops a few unintelligible hints. To raise your spirits, moreover, she gives you reason to suppose that the part of the abbey you inhabit is undoubtedly haunted, and informs you that you will not have a single domestic within call. With this parting cordial she curtsies off—you listen to the sound of her receding footsteps as long as the last echo can reach you—and when, with fainting spirits, you attempt to fasten your door, you discover, with increased alarm, that it has no lock." heh. heh. heh. ;)
Sorry to disappoint, BUT, this is NOT that kind of novel
Jane teases us a bit, bandying around what *could* have happened, but what didn't actually happen:
- When Mrs. Allen and Catherine depart for Bath: "Under these unpromising auspices, the parting took place, and the journey began. It was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. Neither robbers nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero. Nothing more alarming occurred than a fear, on Mrs. Allen's side, of having once left her clogs behind her at an inn, and that fortunately proved to be groundless." hagh! Thank Goodness! no one likes to leave their Clogs behind!
- What is this manuscript in the ponderous chest? Could it be? It's....a..... Linens bill! Catherine gets a litte-too-titillated by Henry's stories, and she imagines some things to be a bit more mysterious than they are at Northanger. My favorite is when she assumes that because Henry's mom "died" a while back, and the General seems cagey about it, PROBABLY the mom is secretly still alive and being kept HOSTAGE in her Very Own House! (Spoiler #3: she isn't. she's dead.) Here's Henry, putting her to rights:
-- In keeping with her anti-heroine beginnings, Catherine has a rather humble return home: "A heroine returning, at the close of her career, to her native village, in all the triumph of recovered reputation, and all the dignity of a countess, with a long train of noble relations in their several phaetons, and three waiting-maids in a travelling chaise and four, behind her, is an event on which the pen of the contriver may well delight to dwell; it gives credit to every conclusion, and the author must share in the glory she so liberally bestows. But my affair is widely different; I bring back my heroine to her home in solitude and disgrace; and no sweet elation of spirits can lead me into minuteness. A heroine in a hack post-chaise is such a blow upon sentiment, as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand."
One of my other favorite lines in the book, said to Eleanor, upon being Rudely Expelled from their house: "Have I offended the general?" said Catherine in a faltering voice."
"From what it could arise, and where it would end, were considerations of equal perplexity and alarm. The manner in which it was done so grossly uncivil, hurrying her away without any reference to her own convenience, or allowing her even the appearance of choice as to the time or mode of her travelling; of two days, the earliest fixed on, and of that almost the earliest hour, as if resolved to have her gone before he was stirring in the morning, that he might not be obliged even to see her." And this is all the reply which I am to have the honour of expecting! I might, perhaps, wish to be informed why, with so little endeavour at civility, I am thus rejected. heh heh. It made me think of poor spurned Darcy ;)
His and Hers - parallel play
Austen does a pretty great job of making her heroine believable but also forceful, but she is still a product of her times. Here's a hilarious his and hers moment, when Henry and Catherine find out they must wait for the General's consent to marry:
"Henry returned to what was now his only home, to watch over his young plantations, and extend his improvements for her sake, to whose share in them he looked anxiously forward; and Catherine
remained at Fullerton to cry." Oh YES. Henry should work, and Catherine should CRY. obviously.
VERACIOUSLY VERBATIM VOCABULARY
panegyric - a public speech or published text in praise of someone or something
curricle - a light, open, two-wheeled carriage pulled by two horses side by side
chaise and four - a fast carriage for traveling post in the 18th and early 19th centuries; it usually had a closed body on four wheels, sat two to four persons, and was drawn by two or four horses
rhodomontade - boastful or inflated talk or behavior [yes, I know that's a rhodoDendron. I was just testing you to see if you were paying attention.]
A few of my favorite moments
- Mr. Allen, to Catherine - "Well, Miss Morland," said he, directly, "I hope you have had an agreeable ball."
- "Very agreeable indeed," she replied, vainly endeavouring to hide a great yawn.
- "She was soon invited to accept an arm of the eldest Miss Thorpe, and take a turn with her about the room." DO take a turn about the room with me, Miss Eliza, it is SO refreshing.
- We just got here (we been here an 'arr') - They met by appointment; and as Isabella had arrived nearly five minutes before her friend, her first address naturally was, "My dearest creature, what can have made you so late? I have been waiting for you at least this age!"
- "Have you, indeed! I am very sorry for it; but really I thought I was in very good time. It is but just one. I hope you have not been here long?"
- "Oh! These ten ages at least. I am sure I have been here this half hour.
I have a two-hour delay for snowrain (it's NH, don't ask) so I'm not off to bed just yet. Goodnight, dear readers, and join me for The Salsa Princes Play Ditties of Devotion if you're so inclined!