Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey

byJane AustenIntroduction byMargaret DrabbleAfterword byStephanie Laurens

Mass Market Paperback | February 5, 2008

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Jane Austen's brilliant satire of the gothic novel.

The most sprightly and satirical of Austen's novels, Northanger Abbey was written when the author was herself in her early twenties, and takes for its heroine seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland, a spirited young woman preoccupied with the pleasures of dressing, dancing, and reading sensational novels. But when she visits Northanger Abbey, the ancestral home of handsome Henry Tilney, Catherine's taste in books comes back to haunt her. The rambling house full of locked doors and the family's mysterious history give rise to delightfully dreadful suspicions, and finally only Catherine's sweet nature and good humor triumph over her susceptibility. A sly commentary on the power of literature as well as a cautionary tale about the perils of naïveté, Northanger Abbey is a fresh and funny tale of one young woman receiving, as Margaret Drabble reveals in her illuminating introduction, "intensive instruction in the ways of the world."

With an Introduction by Margaret Drabble
and an Afterword by Stephanie Laurens

About The Author

Jane Austen (1775-1817) was born in Hampshire, England, to George Austen, a rector, and his wife, Cassandra. Like many girls of her day, she was educated at home, where she began her literary career by writing parodies and skits for the amusement of her large family. Although Austen did not marry, she did have several suitors and once ...
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Details & Specs

Title:Northanger AbbeyFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 6.88 × 4.19 × 0.65 inPublished:February 5, 2008Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0451530845

ISBN - 13:9780451530844

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Chapter 1No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy wouldhave supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, thecharacter of her father and mother; her own person and disposition,were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, withoutbeing neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, thoughhis name was Richard—and he had never been handsome. He had aconsiderable independence besides two good livings—and he wasnot in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her motherwas a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, whatis more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sonsbefore Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing thelatter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still livedon—lived to have six children more—to see them growing uparound her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family often children will be always called a fine family, where there areheads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlandshad little other right to the word, for they were in general veryplain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any.She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, darklank hair, and strong features;—so much for her person; —and notless unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond ofall boy's plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls,but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse,feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. Indeed she had notaste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chieflyfor the pleasure of mischief—at least so it was conjectured fromher always preferring those which she was forbidden to take. —Suchwere her propensities—her abilities were quite as extraordinary.She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught;and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, andoccasionally stupid. Her mother was three months in teaching heronly to repeat the "Beggar's Petition"; and after all, her nextsister, Sally, could say it better than she did. Not that Catherinewas always stupid, —by no means; she learnt the fable of "The Hareand Many Friends" as quickly as any girl in England. Her motherwished her to learn music; and Catherine was sure she should likeit, for she was very fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlornspinner; so, at eight years old she began. She learnt a year,and could not bear it; —and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on herdaughters being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste,allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the music-masterwas one of the happiest of Catherine's life. Her taste for drawingwas not superior; though whenever she could obtain the outside ofa letter from her mother or seize upon any other odd piece of paper,she did what she could in that way, by drawing houses and trees,hens and chickens, all very much like one another. —Writing andaccounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother: herproficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked herlessons in both whenever she could. What a strange, unaccountablecharacter!—for with all these symptoms of profligacy at tenyears old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldomstubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the littleones, with few interruptions of tyranny; she was moreover noisyand wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing sowell in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back ofthe house.Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances weremending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexionimproved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, hereyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Herlove of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grewclean as she grew smart; she had now the pleasure of sometimeshearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement."Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl—she is almost prettytoday," were words which caught her ears now and then; and howwelcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisitionof higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the firstfifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can everreceive.Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her childreneverything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied inlying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughterswere inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not verywonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic abouther, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, andrunning about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—orat least books of information—for, provided that nothing likeuseful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they wereall story and no reflection, she had never any objection to booksat all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for aheroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supplytheir memories with those quotations which are so serviceable andso soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.From Pope, she learnt to censure those who "bear about the mockery of woe."From Gray, that "Many a flower is born to blush unseen, "And waste its fragrance on the desert air."From Thompson, that — "It is a delightful task "To teach the young idea how to shoot."And from Shakespeare she gained a great store of information —amongst the rest, that — "Trifles light as air, "Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong, "As proofs of Holy Writ."That "The poor beetle, which we tread upon, "In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great "As when a giant dies."And that a young woman in love always looks — "like Patience on a monument "Smiling at Grief."So far her improvement was sufficient—and in many other points shecame on exceedingly well; for though she could not write sonnets,she brought herself to read them; and though there seemed nochance of her throwing a whole party into raptures by a prelude onthe pianoforte, of her own composition, she could listen to otherpeople's performance with very little fatigue. Her greatestdeficiency was in the pencil—she had no notion of drawing—not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover's profile, thatshe might be detected in the design. There she fell miserablyshort of the true heroic height. At present she did not know herown poverty, for she had no lover to portray. She had reached theage of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who couldcall forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion,and without having excited even any admiration but what was verymoderate and very transient. This was strange indeed! But strangethings may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairlysearched out. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no—not even a baronet. There was not one family among their acquaintancewho had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door—not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had noward, and the squire of the parish no children.But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of fortysurrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and willhappen to throw a hero in her way.Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property about Fullerton,the village in Wiltshire where the Morlands lived, was ordered toBath for the benefit of a gouty constitution—and his lady, agood-humoured woman, fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware thatif adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, shemust seek them abroad, invited her to go with them. Mr. and Mrs.Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness.

Bookclub Guide

INTRODUCTION(An exclusive guide to Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, written by Karen Joy Fowler and excerpted from The Jane Austen Book Club)Northanger Abbey was written in the late 1790s, but published only posthumously. It is the story of a deliberately ordinary heroine named Catherine Morland. The book is divided into two parts. In the first, Catherine travels with family friends, the Allens, to Bath. There she meets two brother-sister pairs—John and Isabella Thorpe, and Henry and Eleanor Tilney. Her own brother, James, joins them and becomes engaged to Isabella. Catherine is attracted to Henry, a clergyman with witty and unorthodox manners.General Tilney, father to Henry and Eleanor, invites Catherine to visit them at home; this visit makes up the second half of the book. The General is at once solicitous and overbearing. Under the spell of the gothic novel she has been reading, Catherine imagines he has murdered his wife. Henry discovers this and sets her humiliatingly straight.Catherine receives a letter from James telling her that Isabella has ended their engagement. General Tilney, upon returning from London, has Catherine thrown out, to make her own way home. It is eventually understood that Catherine and James had been mistaken for people of great wealth, but the situation has been clarified.Henry is so outraged by his father's behavior that he follows immediately after Catherine and proposes marriage. They cannot proceed without his father's permission, but this is finally given in the happy madness of Eleanor's marriage to a viscount. ABOUT JANE AUSTENJane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 at Steventon near Basingstoke, the seventh child of the rector of the parish. She lived with her family at Steventon until they moved to Bath when her father retired in 1801. After his death in 1805, she moved around with her mother; in 1809, they settled in Chawton, near Alton, Hampshire. Here she remained, except for a few visits to London, until in May 1817 she moved to Winchester to be near her doctor. There she died on July 18, 1817. As a girl Jane Austen wrote stories, including burlesques of popular romances. Her works were only published after much revision, four novels being published in her lifetime. These are Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813),Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1816). Two other novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, were published posthumously in 1818 with a biographical notice by her brother, Henry Austen, the first formal announcement of her authorship. Persuasion was written in a race against failing health in 1815-16. She also left two earlier compositions, a short epistolary novel, Lady Susan, and an unfinished novel, The Watsons. At the time of her death, she was working on a new novel, Sanditon, a fragmentary draft of which survives. DISCUSSION QUESTIONSAlthough Northanger Abby was the first book Austen sold, it was one of the last published. Some readers feel that it's obviously an early work without the narrative control Austen was soon to develop. Do you agree? Why or why not? Catherine Morland is clearly a suggestible reader, but her gullibility extends beyond books into the real world. Is the tendency to think the best of people a trait you admire? Is it a trait you have? The one character about whom Catherine is inclined to think the worst is General Tilney. Why is this? She is humiliated when Henry realizes how her imagination has run away with her, but how mistaken is she really regarding his general character? Are her powers of imagination more reliable than her powers of observation? Henry Tilney tells Catherine that his father was attached to his mother and greatly afflicted by her death. Do you believe him? Henry, himself, is a controversial hero. Sylvia Warner Townsend has suggested she thinks he's one of Austen's most delightful. Some find him witty and appealingly interested in feminine matters. Others find him condescending and even misogynistic. Ask another reader of Northanger Abbey what s/he thinks of Henry and then argue with whatever position s/he takes. Of his father, Henry says that, given his temperament, "he loved . . .as well as it was possible for him to." How well do you imagine it will be possible for Henry to love? Affectionately? Passionately? Steadfastly? Why does he choose Catherine and how much in love with her is he? Hidden within Austen's satire on gothic novels is Eleanor Tilney's story. Eleanor has a dead mother, an overbearing father, and ends up married to a viscount. Imagine the book if Austen had chosen Eleanor as the heroine. Would it have been a gothic novel? Northanger Abbey is a book about reading. Much of the plot has to do with the folly of confusing one's own life with the stuff of fictional adventure. But the book also contains a famous Austen defense of novels and novelists, particularly those read and written by women. We are told immediately that Catherine does not object to books so long as "nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them" and they are "all story and no reflection." Escapist fiction continues, in our day, to have a bad reputation. Is that reputation deserved? Austen flatters the reader of Northanger Abbey by allowing him/her to see and understand things the heroine does not. It's fun for readers to find that they are smarter than the people in books. Have you read books in which you felt you were smarter than the author? Is that also fun? Is it possible to like a book if it makes you feel you're not quite smart enough to read it? What kind of difficulty level do you like in a book? Think of some books that are just difficult enough for you to enjoy. Think of some books that are too difficult. The romance genre is arguably our own most popular form of fiction. Is the romance genre empowering or damaging to women readers? Do these fictions have real life implications for women? Are its antecedents the same novels Austen is poking fun at in Northanger Abbey? Or would you trace its lineage back to Austen herself? What is the role of fiction in your own life? Why do you read it and what do you want from it?

Editorial Reviews

"Miss Austen understood the smallness of life to perfection. She was a great artist."—Alfred, Lord Tennyson