Northanger Abbey


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

From the very beginning Northanger Abbey sparkles with wit and fun. The daughter of a clergyman, never handsome and called Richard and a mother full of ‘useful plain sense’, Catherine has led a sheltered life amongst her ten siblings in an English village. So when their rich neighbours, Mr and Mrs Allen invite her to Bath for six weeks, everyone is delighted. Six weeks of discussing muslins, parading in front of the Pump Room and hopefully making new friends and falling in love!

Catherine is 17, naive and impressionable and thoroughly loveable.  Her kind-hearted character is the perfect foil with which to satirise the absurdity of ‘society’, young girls’ intense friendships and the problems of mixing up reality and make-believe!  Written for family entertainment, contemporary readers must have revelled in reading about the actual buildings they went to, the streets they walked along and the novels they read. If Dublin could be re-built from Ulysses, what an easier time the city planners of Bath would have!


Written in 1798, four years after the publication of Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho  Jane Austen is having a lot of fun with the popular gothic novels of the time, as Catherine and her friends delight in those Horrid Tales! The heightened language parodies the nuanced prose of Udolpho hilariously, she describes the landscape around them:‘that noble hill whose beautiful verdure and hanging coppice render it so striking’ or the ‘dread’ of ‘attacks’ from unwanted callers.  Until finally Catherine’s every wish comes true and she is invited to a real Abbey. Here reality is overwhelmed by her romantic imagination as Northanger Abbey appears to be full of locked chests and mystery and the language reaches a crescendo along with Catherine’s excitement:

‘She paused a moment in breathless wonder. The wind roared down the chimney, the rain beat in torrents against the windows,. . . Catherine’s heart beat quick, but her courage did not fail her. . .Her heart fluttered,her knees trembled,and her cheeks grew pale.’

ann radcliffe

But I didn’t sense any malicious criticism, it all just skips along.  I thought Jane Austen really liked her young heroine and was enjoying the youth and ridiculous over romanticising of everything. At a time when essays and poetry were the acceptable reading material, the authors voice intervenes to stand up for the novel

‘Oh! It is only a novel!. . . or,in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough understanding knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world. . . ‘

I think she’s making a bold claim for novelists of all genres.

A more caustic wit is used for the absurdity and greed of adult society.  General Tilney is a truly horrible character, everybit as menacing as Radcliffe’s Montoni, with his leering and secrecy and is best summed up with this wonderfully measured line

‘never had the general loved his daughter so well in all her hours of companionship,utility and patient endurance as when he first hailed her Your Ladyship’.


Northanger Abbey isn’t a great passion like Pride and Prejudice but it was so much fun, tripping around Bath with Catherine and Isabella and Eleanor and the inevitable happy ending. The line that summed it up for me described Catherine as she came home from the ball after meeting Henry for the first time – who cannot delight in her fortune when

‘her spirits danced within her, as she danced in her chair all the way home.’


14 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey

  1. So glad you loved this one! I think it’s her most under-rated, rather written off because it’s just delightful fun. But what’s wrong with fun, I say?? I love Catherine’s terrors in the Abbey and her romance, even if Henry is a little patronising at times. If you do audiobooks, the Audible version with Emma Thomson and a full cast is wonderful… 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved this too, but wondered what Henry Tilney saw in Catherine. We know she is going to grow up to be a delightful woman, but she was so much younger than him, so naive and less educated that his affection for her didn’t ring true to me.

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  3. I agree, I didn’t think the love aspect really held up at all. Never mind, as you say we know she’s going to grow up to be delightful and hopefully he won’t be too much of a stuffed shirt!


  4. ‘Northanger Abbey’ was the novel that turned me into a devoted Janeite. I love the sense of fun and youthful energy that runs throughout the book and makes an interesting contrast to ‘Persuasion.’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such a fun Austen! It’s so light, that it’s a delight to read. Although, each time I read it I feel like I really need to read more of the Gothic novels Austen is satirizing, to really get the “in” jokes.

    Liked by 1 person

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