Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) by Jane Austen, Paperback  | Barnes & Noble®

The most common setting in 17th century Gothic fiction is the conflict between female desire and family tradition: the object of a daughter’s love contradicts the orders of her in-laws, and the father is determined to bring about the marriage. Conflict between an overbearing father and his daughter over marriage is a prominent feature of Gothic novels. The father wants to be in the right family, the daughter wants to be in love. This prominent feature exists objectively in Northanger Abbey. It should be said that there is some kind of Gothic reality that Catherine encounters, that she gets caught up in, that her marriage is blocked. Now, of course, it could be argued that the marriage conventions of the time made the novel merely a reflection of social reality.

However, gothic novels also reflect the social reality in their own unique way. There is no essential difference between them. As far as marriage is concerned, they are both Gothic marriages. For example, it features smart, beautiful young women who have to go through some kind of hardship to get their way and end up marrying a rich young man. Gothic fiction often takes place in gothic castles or monasteries, emphasizing mysterious and terrifying rooms, staircases full of ghosts, dark and hidden passages, and so on. The setting of the novel is taken from the heroine Catherine’s first impression of Northanger Abbey. Catherine was an innocent and kind woman.

In her eyes, this place was full of mystery, the small windows, the melancholy architecture, the colorful glass, and the cobweb walls all inspired her infinite imagination. Because at the beginning of her visit to Northanger Abbey, the protagonist Catherine was deeply influenced by gothic novels. So even the normal environment of things in her eyes will produce a magical color. Northanger Abbey is partly constructed from the gothic style of language. It comes from the popular gothic novel and social trend at that time.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Jane Austen’s first novel follows Catherine Morland and her innocent and trustful nature. A satire on the Gothic novels popular at the time, Austen accurately and amusingly generalizes  heroines, plots, and books in her narration. She also defends fiction (since at that time, reading novels could lead to negative judgment on a character reading them) quite eloquently and sensibly.

One of ten children and living in the country, Catherine has not seen much of the world. However, when her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, head for Bath for Mr. Allen’s health, they invite her along. Upon reaching Bath, however, Catherine soon finds that she has no acquaintances there—which means, of course, that she’ll have to make some. Austen’s “heroine” lives through some scrapes during Bath and her visit to Northanger Abbey, some of which are the result of her newfound friends, others because Catherine, an avid fan of these Gothic novels, misinterprets some of her experiences at the Abbey.

Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite Austen books (along with Pride and Prejudice). Her friendship and conversations with the Tilneys provides very amusing reading, and her innocence in the face of almost (to me) obviously bad intentions on the part of some of the characters made her seem younger than seventeen (though her unearned trust of everyone can perhaps be explained away due to her never really been out in society before). In the end, though, Catherine does mature, as she is exposed to the truth about the behaviors of some people.

-Aliya A.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.