Northanger Abbey is one amongst Jane Austen‘s earliest written works but was not published until after her death. And though it is believed that Jane Austen wanted to revise the work before publishing it, the story is complete in itself and quite a good one at that. One of the main interesting aspects of the book is the views Jane Austen expresses for the popularity of highly eventful novels of her time and their effects on the fancies of a young and inexperienced mind.
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“Northanger Abbey” is story of Catherine, a plain, normal child with no extraordinary talents or tests, who grows up to be a good looking and at her best “almost pretty” girl of seventeen in a loving family of a clergyman with two elder and six younger siblings. The first significant event in her life then happens, in her receiving an invitation by their family friends Allens, wealthy and childless, to accompany them to Bath. To Bath, therefore she goes and starts enjoying the greatest variety of people and amusement that she has seen so far.
Her first acquaintance in Bath is an agreeable young man called Henry Tilney, succeeded by a family of Thorpes, Mrs. Thorpe being an old-school felloe of Mrs. Allen. And soon, Catherine finds herself becoming an intimate friend of Isabella Thorpe. It happens so that Catherine’s eldest brother James is a friend of Isabella’s brother John and the young men come down to Bath together to add to the merriment of the company.
John Thorpe is a conceited fool who starts irritating Catherine by his soliloquies and then his crafted stories and lies to keep Catherine away from Tilneys. However, Catherine earns Ms. Eleanor Tilney’s friendship and her brother’s admiration slowly after explaining herself.
James and Isabella get engaged with consent from their parents, and Catherine, though lately discovering the selfishness and artfulness in her friend at times, is very happy for them. She, however, is completely unaware of John Thorpe’s designs about her. Meanwhile, she meets Henry’s father General Tilney and his elder brother Captain Frederick Tilney.
The General appears to be very fond of Catherine and invites her to join them at their home, “Northanger Abbey” for a few weeks. Catherine is delighted to go and leaves Bath with them; her only concern during her last days in Bath being Isabella’s open flirting with Captain Tilney.
Catherine is extremely fond of reading novels and young and naïve as she is, castles and abbeys have very romantic images in her head as in their supporting horror stories of the past and hiding many secrets in their walls. So, she is a little disappointed in finding the Northanger Abbey a well maintained and completely habitable place with all modern comforts.
A few adventures inspired by her romantic imagination only results in disappointment, embarrassment and at last understanding that reality is not as full of horror as it appears in the fiction. With time, her affection for Henry increases and she is almost sure of the same feelings on his side, too. Eleanor, Henry and Catherine are thus very happy together.
But Happiness has to end and the first bad news Catherine receives is that Isabella has broken her engagement to her brother for Captain TIlney. And just as she gets over it, she is very badly and uncivilly forced to leave Northanger Abbey by General Tilney and go to her home totally unattended and alone. What could be the cause of such sudden change in behaviour of General Tilney? What will Henry do now? Does he love Catherine enough to oppose his strong and dominating father? What happened to Isabella next? Will Catherine find love and happiness?
“Northanger Abbey” is one of the sharpest of Jane Austen works. There are hardly a few passages from start to end where every sentence is not satiric. Though, there is no chief comic character, Isabella and John are impudent and loquacious enough to provide ample humour by their conduct and speeches. And a fine shade of wit always lingers in the conversations of Catherine and Henry. The character of Henry actually resembles Jane Austen herself a lot; he has the quick observation and ready wit, the love of playing with words, the sunny outlook on life, the real culture and the alert response to anything sincere and he is loving and attractive; a jester with a warm and understanding heart in short.
While Catherine does appear to have an uninformed mind at first, its her sheer luck that she meets a man who has as much pleasure in discovering her unaffected conduct and her loving, generous heart as much as guiding her mind in the right direction. Jane Austen so serenely handles the feelings and affections of a young girl just setting out in her life as to let the reader also love and care about Catherine and protect her innocence.
A very witty and humorous love story…