Catherine Morland is the second of four children of a small town vicar, and after befriending the wealthy and childless Mr. and Mrs. Allen, is invited to go to Bath with them for a few months. While there she makes the acquaintance of the Tilneys and the Thorpes, wherein her adventures in polite society begin.
A few of my classmates and I have decided to create a Jane Austen Book Club, and we’re reading them in the order they were written, so we’ve begun with Northanger Abbey. This novel is often touted as being a gothic novel making fun of gothic novels, and while Catherine is certainly obsessed with the genre, but having never read any true gothic novels, I can’t say that I see the humor in any of it.
To be perfectly honest, I hated almost every. single. character.
Nearly everyone is completely self-absorbed and focused solely on the possibility of their own personal happiness. The never ending prattle of these characters would be exhausting if let loose upon society. Austen herself breaks the fourth wall to talk to the reader constantly, explaining why she did some such thing or left something else out, and I really think getting rid of all the fourth wall breaks would make the story at least 15% more interesting.
It feels as though John Thorpe’s entire reason for existence is to be a bigger wierdo than Henry Tilney, thus making Henry look good by comparison. Tilney even admits at the end that he only ever gave Catherine the time of day because she seemed to be into him, and he didn’t have anything else going at the time. And Catherine was only into him because she only had two options and John is John.
I’m pretty sure everyone I know has met at least one Isabella Thorpe in the course of their life. She gaslights everyone, is petty, jealous, and a compulsive liar. She thinks she’s a big fish in a small pond, even though she’s not an interesting human at all, and keeps jumping from relationship to relationship because the grass is always greener on the other side. She’s exhausting, and not a person you’d ever want as a friend, but when you have no friends, she’s an easy one to keep. The worst part is that her younger sisters are perfectly nice humans and are going to get treated like trashy, tiny versions of her for the majority of their lives just because she and John are awful people.
Captain Tilney was interested in Catherine in a creepy way. Not letting them tour the house or garden without him? I’m just going to come on out and say loudly that this makes him sound like he’s eyeing up Catherine for himself. Every time he talks about Henry’s home, he makes sure to mention something he built with his own two hands. He’s very obvious about the house needing a lady’s touch, embarrassing everyone. An not letting anyone into Lady Tilney’s rooms is just strange.
The things I did enjoy about the book were the parts where Catherine was off in her own imagination. Her walk with Henry and Eleanor, the tour of the house, the story Henry tells her on the way to Northanger, and her first night there. I loved how those papers played out at the very end, and I think the novel would have actually been better and more well rounded if the story were told from Eleanor’s POV. Could you imagine having a friend come to visit who believes that your house is haunted and that your mother was murdered most foul? Having a gullible friend like Catherine would be fairly entertaining. All these bits and pieces of delight were not enough to outweigh the mostly awful characters and the fourth wall breaking, however, and I was very happy to be done with it.
HHC Rating: 2 Stars.
Other reviews in the Jane Austen Book Club:
Sense & Sensibility (August Book)
Pride & Prejudice (September Book)
Mansfield Park (October Book)
Emma (November Book)
Persuasion (December Book)