Saturday, 3 January 2015

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey

I have a copy of the new book Northanger Abbey by Val McDurmuid.  Now, I am quite a fan of McDurmuid, especially her Wire in the Blood series. However I am a Jane Austin devotee so I'm not sure if I fancy someone else messing around with them.  Of all the 'new'v ersions, therefore, this was the only one I was willing to give a go. (Whoever has done a 'new' version of Emma there is no way I will read it!).

Anyway, before I start that book I decided it was time for a re-read of Northanger Abbey as it's been a long, long time since I read it, unlike Emma which gets a regular re-read. 

Northanger Abbey is quite a short novel and has a fairly simplistic storyline.  One striking thing about it is that it is remarkably post-modern.  The novel, as a literary form, was really only just developing when Austen was writing, and it had something of a reputation for being shallow entertainment for foolish young women.  This particularly applied to the fashon for the Gothic Novel popular with teenage girls (no change there then).  In Northanger Abbey, Austen's heroine is one such young lady who adores the works of Anne Radcliffe, particularly The Mysteries of Udolpho and who is completely preoccupied with it.  

Like all Austen novels her heroine's chief purpose is to find herself a suitable husband.  What is interesting about Catherine Morland, however, is just how unpreoccupied with this essential task she is.  She is far more interested in finding a female friend, and of course, with her beloved novels.  

Catherine first becomes friendly with Isabella Thorpe, whose brother John is her first suitor, and who in her turn becomes engaged to Catherine's brother James..  Far from encouraging John though, Catherine is completely oblivious to his overtures and considers him something of a boor.  

Then Catherine meets Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor and she is much taken with them, as much for the romantic notion that they live in an old abbey as for themselves.  Catherine is invited to stay with the Tilneys and almost gets herself into trouble when she lets her imagination get carried away with her, applying the plot of one of her beloved Gothic novels to the household situation.  

As usual in an Austen novel there is plenty of misunderstanding over friendships and fortunes before the rightful lovers are united.  

Northanger Abbey is really not Austen's best work but it is clever, self-reverential and once again, in a time when women were seen as chattels, Austen has created a heroine who is principled, independent of thought and thoroughly herself. 

I really enjoyed my re-read and I wonder now, what Val McDurmuid will do with it.

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