Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey
By Jane Austen
Longman Cultural Edition 2004
Originally published in 1818

Catherine Morland is invited to spend the season in Bath with her neighbors the Allens. While she is in Bath, she meets the Tilneys, a brother and sister. Henry is charming and handsome and Eleanor is a kindred spirit. She is delighted when she is invited to the Tilney estate at Northanger Abbey, especially because she can leave behind the fickle Isabella and her amorous brother. Catherine loves reading novels, particularly those of Mrs. Radcliffe such as Udolpho and The Monk. She is thrilled and somewhat apprehensive about residing in the spooky Northanger Abbey and discovering its hidden secrets.

Having previously read the abovementioned novels, I thought the Classics Circuit Gothic Lit Tour would be a perfect chance for me to catch up on my Austen. I have only read a few of her novels. I was excited to see how Austen would turn her wit on the often overblown and sometimes ridiculous Gothic genre. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. Northanger Abbey is a satirical look at gothic novels, but that is such as tiny portion of this book. Most of the novel is classic Austen – social differences, courting, confusion between lovers and friends.

Much of the gothic element in Northanger Abbey revolves around two plot points. The first is Catherine’s room at the abbey. Henry teases her about all of the things that she could happen upon in her room – hidden passageways, dark tunnels, and mysterious locked doors. 

“But 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.”

Catherine does find a mysterious locked cabinet in her room. But her discovery of its contents is not exactly what she was expecting. As she becomes closer to the Tilney family, she manages to convince herself that General Tilney played a part in his wife’s death...or maybe she is still alive and held captive by her evil husband.  Catherine is desperate to explore the rooms that belonged to Mrs. Tilney, looking for evidence of foul play. When she has a conversation with Henry, she finds that her beliefs about the General and his wife are very different from reality.

Northanger Abbey is typical Austen. If you enjoyed Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice, you will like this book. But the gothic literature aspect of this story is minimal. If you are looking to laugh at the absurdity that is gothic literature, pick up the genuine article. 

This review is part of the Classics Circuit Gothic Lit Tour! If you are looking for some more gothic goodies, head over to The Reading Life and Becky's Book Reviews for other reviews. 


  1. I love Jane Austen but as Gothic literature? I think it was a half-ass attempted. Although, I believe it was meant as a parody of the genre, which makes more sense. Great review!

  2. Whitney,
    I agree completely. I was reading and said to my husband, "I'm on page 100 and I haven't even heard Northanger Abbey mentioned, much less visited!" Austen does spoof the genre, but it's such a tiny part of this story.

  3. I think it's weird that I haven't read any Jane Austin!! Would like to pick this one up though :)

    Lah @ LazyGirl Reads