Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
“Provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she never had any objection to books at all.”
Not published in Austen’s lifetime. The Victorian’s loss is our gain. A pleasant enough story enhanced by insights given into Austen learning her craft as a writer.
“She was so far from seeking to attract their notice, that she looked back at them only three times.”
I enjoyed this more than my first reading almost a decade ago. I greatly appreciated Austen’s character and plot building. Most readers will have wearied of Catherine’s fair-weather friends long before she does herself, but that’s the point. We are taken deep into the hopes and fears (and what passes for thoughts) of our protagonist to see how she grows.
“To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”
Not only aware of literary conventions of her time, Austen pauses occasionally to analyze them. Several times she breaks the fourth wall by addressing her readers in the first person.
“You know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad little scatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you.” said her mother.
That Austen couldn’t sell this manuscript in her lifetime enhances rather than degrades our impression of publishers of her day. Frankly, this isn’t very good; it is fascinating for its revelations of Austen’s first efforts. Other fragment, we are told, were even worse. But that a seclude young woman of limited means could see, understand and communicate so well, speaks for her singular talent.
“The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, and hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.”