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Northanger Abbey


Though Northanger Abbey is one of Jane Austen's earliest novels, it was not published until after her death--well after she'd established her reputation with works such as Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. Of all her novels, this one is the most explicitly literary in that it is primarily concerned with books and with readers. In it, Austen skewers the novelistic excesses of her day made popular in such 18th-century Gothic potboilers as Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers all figure into Northanger Abbey, but with a decidedly satirical twist. Consider Austen's introduction of her heroine: we are told on the very first page that "no one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine." The author goes on to explain that Miss Morland's father is a clergyman with "a considerable independence, besides two good livings--and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters." Furthermore, her mother does not die giving birth to her, and Catherine herself, far from engaging in "the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush" vastly prefers playing cricket with her brothers to any girlish pastimes.
Catherine grows up to be a passably pretty girl and is invited to spend a few weeks in Bath with a family friend. While there she meets Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor, who invite her to visit their family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Austen amuses herself and us as Catherine, a great reader of Gothic romances, allows her imagination to run wild, finding dreadful portents in the most wonderfully prosaic events. But Austen is after something more than mere parody; she uses her rapier wit to mock not only the essential silliness of "horrid" novels, but to expose the even more horrid workings of polite society, for nothing Catherine imagines could possibly rival the hypocrisy she experiences at the hands of her supposed friends. In many respects Northanger Abbey is the most lighthearted of Jane Austen's novels, yet at its core is a serious, unsentimental commentary on love and marriage, 19th-century British style.


Northanger Abbey was the first book Austen sent off to the publishers, yet it was to be part of a posthumous edition together with Persuasion. What a contrast that must have been. From a soft, calm, old fire kindling again to the first sparks of life. Catherine Morland, a rather plain girl of eighteen from a big family, a kind of ‘tomboy’ we would call her who rather likes to play cricket than gather flowers and do needlework, is taken to Bath by kind Mr and Mrs Allen, a woman whose opinion always is rather similar to the rests opinions, even if those contradict one another grievously. Through Mrs Allen, Catherine gets acquainted with the Thorpes, her brother James’s friends, of whom Isabella will become allegedly her ‘best friend in the world’ and John who will naturally be her very vain future partner. She will also gain the acquaintance of Eleanor and Henry Tilney whom everyone seems to be in awe of. Their father, General Tilney, takes an instant liking to Catherine and at the end of a few weeks she is even invited to their estate Northanger Abbey in Gloucestershire. Catherine who is an avid Radcliff-reader, helped along by Henry himself, instantly fancies it a dark gothic place with corpses, secret passages and no less a wife who has been locked up or even murdered! But can General Tilney, the proprietor, be really so evil? It seems he can be cruel as he throws Catherine out, apparently without any reason, or has he, after a two weeks’ happy stay? Austen and her readers of course ‘hasten together to perfect felicity’, though not really for Catherine’s brother who no doubt has learned a great lesson of life. If one has read the famous Mysteries of Udolpho, the novel must even be of greater amusement. As it is, it is a great, young, sparkly satire of people with some important sincerity and a lesson in friendship.--Submitted by kiki1982


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Recent Forum Posts on Northanger Abbey

Captain Tilney

So, I finished the book today and was gratified with a typical Austen-ending: everyone married and happy (don't we like it all aaaah) :). But what was the thing with Captain Tilney, the older brother of Henry and Eleanor and heir to Northanger Abbey? James Morland is engaged to Isabella Thorpe and Henry, Eleanor and father General Tilney take an instant liking to Catherine, James's sister. Led on by Henry, of course. Captain Frederick Tilney then turns up, wants to be introduced to Isabella because he seems to like her, although she has no mind to dance, because clearly she is engaged to James, which no-one knows. Then, when it is out as consent of all parties has been obtained, and Catherine is gone, suddenly Frederick Tilney moves on her and seduces her so she breaks off the engagement with James (which she didn't like because of lack of money after all) in favour of Tilney, who is perfectly sure of his father refusing him consent as she is even worse off than Catherine... Surely, luring away a girl is not honorable to do, like the others said in the book, but, moreover, it cannot be very assuring that a woman is so fickle? You will be the next is surely what one must think, as the Tilneys said. So what would he have wanted with such one, then? But what is behind the action then, as there is always something behind it with Austen? Did Frederick like his brother so much, as other family relationships would suggest, that he knew that his father would object to a pennyless connection for Henry (James and Isabella on an income of 400 a year) and therefore seduced the girl whom he saw instantly as only after money, knowing very well that his father would never consent as the girl in question has no penny to her name? So, pennyless woman gone, father Tilney happy, Henry happy, and James Morland a narrow escape from a loveless marriage. That is win-win-win. Or was he just being a jerk for a little while and just liked a little game? Though that seems unlikely, as none of the family are, and as the other family members do not seem to believe their eyes when they read about it. Or was there just no engagement with Frederick at all and did Isabella make it up in order to drive James away, which she came back on in her last letter and tried to secure him anyway, by way of second choice? It did not work out with Frederick, so she must take James or otherwise have her name sullied (because why would a man back off? We have seen that in Sense and Sensibility, that does not happen with an honourable man) I'm a little puzzled here... Any thoughts?

Extracts from Northanger abbey



Hi all! I sure hope someone replies to this. I joined these forums solely in order to ask my question: How do you pronounce "Northanger" as in Austen's novel? Thanks so much! Katie

Jane Austen : Northanger Abbey

I am currently in my final year in school. As required, we are required to produce at least five book reviews by various types of authors. I've always been intrigued by authors that were featured in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and the multitude of books by Jane Austen provided no exception. I find her view on the world as well as the satire which is interwoven within the characters especially wicked and appealing. An outstanding innovation!

essay on Northanger Abbey, help!

If you can help I have been doing a lot of research on a small essay regarding gothic conventions Austen uses in Northanger Abbey. The question is, Discuss Austsens use of gothic convention and her creation of suspense.How can one write four or five pages on this basic material?


i am very pleased to have finally found a website on so many authors especially jane austen thank you alot

No Subject

Northanger Abbey is a great read. It really makes you sit back and think about your own life. Catherine sees herself and her life in terms of the books she's read and more specifically the gothic and romantic genres. I think we all do this. Many of us, me included, expect to be involved in a real-life 'romantic comedy' along the lines of 'about a boy' 'sleepless in seatle' or 'you've got mail' at some point in our lives. Is this a realistic expectation? probably not. But we are so used to watching these genres, we know the stories so well that we cant help but expect the same from our own lives. But does Catherine end up experiencing more or less as a result of this. I believe that she misses out on valuable experience because she can not percieve her world in an independant way. Fabulous book.

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