Monday 22 January 2018

Have you a stout heart?

Northanger Abbey "Have you a stout heart? Nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?" If so, then you'll enjoy Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen's gothic parody.

The story is about Catherine Morland, a naive, seventeen-year-old girl who longs to be the sort of heroine she has read about in the 1794 gothic novel by Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho. Catherine joins family friends Mr and Mrs Allen when they spend a few weeks in Bath. There she meets Isabella and John Thorpe, and the mysterious Henry Tilney, with whom she falls head-over-heels in love. After being introduced to Henry's father and sister, Catherine is invited to spend some time at their home, Northanger Abbey. It is here that Catherine's overactive imagination leads her to invent farfetched mysteries and villainous situations.

It took a couple of chapters to really enter into the spirit of the book, which is written with a great deal of irony and humour. The style seemed more exaggerated and the people more caricatured than in other Jane Austen books. It was one of her earliest pieces of writing, having been finished in 1803 but only published after her death.

Austen crafted a very accurate teenage dreamer, desperate for adventure. One of the funniest scenes was when a trembling Catherine searches for secret notes in the chest and cabinet of her room at Northanger. But what was particularly pleasing was the revelation that social interaction has changed very little in over two centuries, especially where one-upmanship and teenage crushes are concerned.

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