Northanger Abbey Review

It was a request from my pen pal that got me reading this novel. We’re both quite big on books- she’s doing a literature degree over in France and I’m just an avid enthusiast with no real understanding of literary prose, as this review may now proove.

Northanger Abbey follows Catherine, a poorer character than most of Austen’s heroins and far more ignorant. Unlike Lizzie Bennett, who knows exactly what she wants in a man, or Emma, who knows what she doesn’t want, Catherine doesn’t know anyone outside her family, has few strong family ties and knows very little of the world. Catherine’s wealthy neighbours invite her to Bath with them providing her the rare opportunity to socialise outside her small village and accidentally over state her wealth through her travelling companions. Her first steps towards friendship and love are highlighted in this novel as we see the struggles she undergoes from her stature and youth.

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine

Jane Austen’s novels are always character led in the way that YA Fantasy is always plot led. Very little happens, no worlds are discovered or battles fought and it’s really bizarre that I enjoy her writing so much: it’s nothing like what I normally read. Yet you fall quickly into Catherine’s story and she’s an easy and believable character to follow. Through a collection of unique individuals, fancy balls and trips to the Bath ‘Pump Room’ Catherine, and the reader, is subtly introduced to high society. And it is from Catherine’s ignorant eyes that the reader is able to follow the plot and understand the downfalls of this wealthy world.

I liked Catherine’s plain and simple narration. She doesn’t have too many expectations and provides an honest description of the situation as she sees it. However Catherine’s ignorance makes her unreliable and it often falls to the reader, or even the author herself, to be their own judges of the other characters. Catherine’s youth is clearly evident as she endures many experiences young people do today: peer pressure, bullying and small crushes. She often proves to be a poor judge of character, leading to most of the anguish she endures throughout the novel.

A key theme in this novel, and indeed in Austen’s other works, is books themselves. Austen even takes a few paragraphs, speaking directly to the reader, defending her character speaking about other popular authors from Austen’s time. Much like a Twitter rant today, Austen explains that she is not in competition with these authors and understands that her readers can love more than one novel. I was then confused that the novel goes on to undermine these works making references to popular gothic novels at the time, think ‘Scary Movie’ but in book form.

Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it.

Austen also comments on her character’s reading throughout the novel. Her friend’s brother is at Oxford university in this novel and explains to our protagonist that the books she’s reading aren’t proper books, much like the classic snobs we YA readers meet today. Austen goes on to embarrass this character more throughout the novel as it becomes clear he doesn’t read as much as he’d like others to believe and is judging the novels Catherine enjoys without actually knowing much about them. I’m sure most bookworms can relate.

Like all book worms, Catherine quickly finds a friend to fangirl with- in this case Isabella. It’s a shame how this friendship ends up, because it’s very heartwarming reading their interactions and I really enjoyed the aside conversations they have about novels (and yes, Austen fangirling is every bit like modern day but with a few more spiffings thrown in there). Sadly, Isabella turns out to be a less good friend than she is built up to be- a point where the reader quickly realises how ignorant Catherine is, but she is not without female friendship for long as she meets Eleanor.

There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.

Being an Austen, of course the novel contains romance. Catherine is quick to meet Henry, a man with a similar taste in books, loyal to his sister and instantly steals Catherine’s affections. It’s this budding romance that I enjoyed the most. Although it’s possible that Henry’s dry humour hadn’t quite survived the passage of time and I couldn’t work out how offended the reader should have been on Catherine’s behalf during their conversations about politics, I did enjoy his joking and honest character.

The setting of this novel is Bath at first, before Catherine visits Northanger Abbey where the story becomes a gothic retelling. These two halves weren’t too similar and the plot felt a bit disjointed because of the differences between the two settings, the horror story esque middle seeming quite random to me, although possibly a literature slight that I didn’t understand. Despite the random aside the pacing of the novel felt smooth and, although not all the events advanced the plot, something was always happening, which meant it didn’t drag.

The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid

Overall, I enjoyed this novel but struggled a little with the references to 1700 gothic literature and Catherine’s ignorance, both of which were pivotal to the novel. It was easy and fun to read but I think I didn’t have enough context of the time to truly understand all of Austen’s commentaries.


Review: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

But vanity, not love, has been my folly. Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by neglect of the other, on the very beginning of our acquaintance, I have courted prepossession and ignorance, and driven reason away, where either were concerned. Till this moment, I never knew myself. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ Very likable main character. Romance is slow and genuine, not instant attraction and good portrayal of two women building each other up.

After not really enjoying Jane Austen’s Emma I was very hesitant to pick up this novel. But I didn’t want to give up on Austen’s work totally so I put it in the last chance saloon and picked up her most famous work: Pride and Prejudice.

Elizabeth and her five sisters step out of their sheltered world by the push of their mother, desperate to find them husbands. They soon learn that not everyone is as honourable as they seem and never to judge a character too quickly as they discover all the flaws in 1800s match making.

Boy am I glad that I gave Austen a second chance. Pride and Prejudice is nothing like Emma. First of all, Elizabeth is so much better a character than Emma. Raised in a family with an overbearing, embarrassingly needy mother who is desperate for her daughters to be married and two incredibly immature younger siblings, it’s shocking how down-to-earth she is. But Elizabeth Bennet is nothing but mature.

Despite society pressure, and her awful mother, she refuses marriage to gentlemen from ‘good’ families with lots of money. She is confident in herself, clever and incredibly devoted to her older, more beautiful sister Jane.

Jane and Elizabeth’s genuine friendship throughout the novel, which shows no sign of jealousy despite Elizabeth continually been told she’s less pretty than Jane, was one of my favourites in all literature. When Jane’s caught ill while visiting a friend Elizabeth walks miles just to look after her. Elizabeth and Jane constantly confide and share personal revelations and feelings with each other with total trust of the others confidentiality and advice. If you’ve ever read The Fandom by Anna Day, think Violet and Alice but then twist it on it’s head: take out all the bitterness and back-stabbing that really has no place between real friends.

This book is about romance, but my favourite sort of romance: Darcy and Elizabeth (I don’t feel I’m spoiling much by giving that pairing away, they’re one of literature’s most iconic) don’t fall instantly in love. Actually, Darcy calls Elizabeth ugly when he first meets her (she’s a better person than me seeing past that insult). Theirs no trace of insta-love between the two and their attraction seems more genuine than just look based.

But they both get to know each other as people, slowly removing their misconceptions (which some may call prejudices hehe) about each other and swallowing their, you guessed it, pride. The quote at the top of this review actually refers to the moment Elizabeth realizes that she is wrong to judge people so quickly. She explains that by deciding she liked one man at first sight and not the other corrupted her from seeing what was actually going on. Before she had always felt she was reasonable so this revelation leads to the final line: “Till this moment, I never knew myself“.

Elizabeth spends most of the book hating Darcy and not at all interested in him, despite his wealth, and it’s only when she realizes who he is as a person that she begins to like him. Basically they get together for all the right reasons and are one of my favourite literature couples.

Similar to Emma there is a bit of learning to be done in this novel. It is a sort of coming of age for Elizabeth as she realises people are not always what they appear, that whole prejudice thing again. And Darcy starts to treat people much better and regrets being so rude to Elizabeth during their first encounter. Them learning from each other and truly caring for one another is probably the sweetest aspects of this novel. Their growing in character together just makes their love story more immense.

For me, this book is the perfect love story. Which is why I’ve rated this book so highly. I really enjoyed it, it’s very clever and felt ahead of it’s time.

Have you read Pride and Prejudice? Do you share similar opinions to me on love stories? What are you reading at the moment and do you think you’ll ever pick this novel up? Be great if you left a comment!