Synopsis: During an eventful season at Bath, young, naïve Catherine Morland experiences the joys of fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who shares Catherine’s love of Gothic romance and horror, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father’s mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, her imagination influenced by novels of sensation and intrigue, Catherine imagines terrible crimes committed by General Tilney. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, this is the most youthful and and optimistic of Jane Austen’s works.
I don’t even know what to say. This book was such a flippin’ blast.
Okay, that’s a little bit of a lie. I know the most important thing I have to say. First and foremost: I’M IN LOVE WITH HENRY TILNEY.
SO FUNNY, smart, handsome, owns a cute house, and dare I say…woke?! He’s the best. But let me backtrack a bit.
Northanger Abbey is Austen’s satire, and she pokes fun at gothic horror books by having her heroine, Catherine, believe she’s essentially in one. AND SO MUCH GOOD COMES OUT OF THIS. The satire is hilarious – there’s one moment, for example, when what Catherine believes is a ~spooky, ghastly scroll~ is really a list of the contents of a linen closet.
But right when it’s about to stop being funny, and you’re getting just the teensiest bit annoyed at Catherine’s naïveté, it ends! She confesses to Henry, whose father she believes is a murderer, and he gently shoots her down while still being all, “I love you, girl.” It’s really great. AUSTEN IS A TALENT.
That’s the wonderful bit about this satire, IMO. I don’t alwayssss love literary satire, because it gives me secondhand-embarrassment cringes. But this is satire within another narrative – a more typical Austen storyline. So it’s funny and biting, while also being cute and happy and having adorable characters and a lovely ending! Talk about a TOTAL win-win, amiright?
There are also even MORE plus sides to this. Austen makes a lot of sweeping generalizations about “heroines” and plots and books, and they are all hysterically funny and insanely accurate. She also writes a few amazing defenses of fiction – isn’t that wild, y’all? While we’re out here with people trying to make others feel bad for liking YA, our sistas in Austen’s lifetime couldn’t even read novels without judgment. So crazy! Call me crazy, but I’d rather someone insult my intellect for having read Sarah J. Maas than have to read 19th century TEXTBOOKS in order to be considered ~marriage material~. Bleh. Total nightmare, no? Let’s count our blessings and chill the hell out for one freaking second.
But I digress. Let’s talk more about those characterssss. They are, in turn, perfectly hate-able and lovable. Hang on. I’ll explain.
When people are all, “She’s a villain I love to hate!” I seriously never understand. I don’t ever love hating characters. It makes reading unpleasant, usually, even villains. Like Levana from The Lunar Chronicles, or whatever. I just hated her. I didn’t enjoy hating her. She got on my nerves and I was displeased whenever she showed up.
But…Isabella and her brother in this book? Pretty hilarious. They’re super annoying – Isabella uses people, is self-obsessed, and lies all the time; her brother is a total self-serving asshole. But when sweet lil Catherine is utterly ignorant to their flaws? It’s really funny. The way Isabella’s dialogue is written in particular made me laugh a lot, genuinely. Do people actually laugh out loud while reading on the reg?
But also there are characters who are so intensely lovable! (Especially my husband.) Catherine, for one thing. She could be a little irritating, because she’s SO immature sometimes, but she’s just, like, a good person to her core who is so kind to those around her. You can’t hate her. At least I couldn’t, and I hate most characters.
But let’s talk more about bae. You can’t see me, but I actually just turned into a literal heart eyes emoji from the neck up. Henry Tilney is a charmer from the SECOND he shows up. The banter he has with Catherine…unreal. Austen outdoes herself. Now I wanna reread their meeting scene. Ugh! Literally a heart eyes emoji.
And ultimately, this is just a bananas well-written book. A real masterpiece. Some of Austen’s most famous quotes are from this book, and it totally makes sense why. Here are a couple fresh examples:
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
“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.”
See what I mean? I just read this book and I already wanna pick it up again.
Bottom line: Charming characters, hilarity, biting satire, gorgeous quotes…It’s Austen at her best. But when isn’t she at her best?