I’ve always meant to read all the Jane Austen books, because she does satire and social commentary so well whilst still giving her characters nice, happy or at the very least, satisfying endings. I am also interested in her life, and reinterpretations of her works, so this year I have taken on the challenge to read as many of these as I can, starting, ideally, with the original novels.
To start, I chose Northanger Abbey, and will hopefully be reading Emma next – I plan to read them according to whichever I feel like reading at the time, and might read other Jane related books in between – some of which will be part of other challenges as well and have their own posts for reviews in their challenges. For the most part, the Jane Austen books will be reviewed in these posts.
Northanger Abbey is the first of Jane Austen’s novels to be completed for publication in 1803, but the last published in 1817. It is a satirical look at the Gothic novels of the time, and the coming of age story of Catherine Morland, wishing for happiness and morality over money and wealth like other young women of her age. She loves to read and seeks others like her as friends. On a sojourn to Bath with family friends, she meets Henry Tilney, and Isabella Allen, and becomes friends with Isabelle, visits with the Tilneys and is eventually forced home after a series of misunderstandings. At the core is Catherine’s growth and understanding of real life, which is vastly different to her novels. At the same time, she has fallen in love with Tilney and they eventually marry on the final page.
The romance in this novel is subtle, and develops slowly and cautiously alongside friendship, novel reading and ideas of class and acceptability of marriage. The subtlety of the romance allowed the characters to grow for themselves and not be pushed into a certain way of thinking by other characters. Of course, there are misunderstandings that led to the desire to correct things and set things straight, but at the same time, because it is subtle, it worked well and that’s why I enjoyed it. I wonder if in the 1800s, people caught the subtlety and social commentary in the same way we do today, or if they simply appreciated it for the romantic aspects and reflection of the upper classes. Either way, these stories have stood the test of time, and I look forward to reading Emma next.