Catherine Morland is a young lady, naive but well intentioned and good natured, and a lover of Gothic novels. When friends of her family take her to Bath, to introduce her into society and increase her social circle, she makes friends with two particular families. The first are the Thorpes, and a close friendship quickly develops between Catherine and the eldest Thorpe daughter, Isabella. Isabella’s pompous brother John takes a fancy to Catherine, but the feeling is not returned. The other family she befriends are the Tilneys – and she is immediately attracted to Henry Tilney, a witty and charismatic young man, although she is not sure that her feelings are reciprocated. When Henry and his sister Eleanor invite Catherine to stay at their home, Northanger Abbey, her over-active imagination, caused by her love of novels, starts to go into overdrive! But more adventures await Catherine at the Abbey, and her resolve will be tested…
After reading this book, I looked at some reviews of it, and it would appear that this is probably the most maligned book that Jane Austen wrote. However, I found it delightful and perhaps more accessible than some of her other works (all of which so far I have enjoyed). Austen’s famous wit shines throughout; my favourite sequence was the teasing conversation which passed between her and Henry on the way to Northanger Abbey, where he played on her imagination – in consequence, she imagines all sorts of things when she arrives at their destination, with hilarious results.
Catherine is a lovely heroine, although a less obvious one than some of Austen’s other heroines. In fact, Austen herself often addresses the reader directly, acknowledging that this is a book which she has written, and making reference to Catherine’s qualities as the heroine of such a story. The other characters are also very well drawn, in particular Henry Tilney and the vivacious but self-absorbed Isabella Thorpe.
Essentially, this is a charming coming-of-age story, where we see Catherine learn about herself and the world around her, and deals with disappointments and uncertainties in life and love.
The writing is fabulous – descriptive and witty, and capable of first making the reader laugh out loud, and then in the turn of a page, making them wonder what is going to happen. It was impossible not to warm towards the main characters, and I certainly found myself caring about what happened to them.
I won’t give away the conclusion of the story for anyone who has not read it – Austen fans may well be able to guess at the flavour of the ending of it in any event. However, as is so often the case with Jane Austen, the destination is less the object of reading than the journey. Highly enjoyable, very charming, and definitely recommended!