Review: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey PC cover 1Context

I’m a huge fan of Jane Austen. I have read all her novels and even part of her early works. However, I purposely delayed reading Northanger Abbey until I’d read The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. I’m glad I did, but I don’t necessarily recommend it.

Review

Northanger Abbey is Austen’s funniest novel. In addition to her typical satire is a critic on the writing trends of the time, some of which are still pretty relevant today. Behold:

This brief account of the family is intended to supersede the necessity of a long and minute detail from Mrs. Thorpe herself, of her past adventures and sufferings, which might otherwise be expected to occupy the three or four following chapters; in which the worthlessness of lords and attornies might be set forth, and conversations, which had passed twenty years before, be minutely repeated.

Or how less backstory is more story; a sound advice even today. Or even how to skip the boring parts. I found this especially funny since in The Mysteries of Udolpho, right before Emily makes a new friend, the reader is introduced to the new friend’s complete background story.

As a language professional who believes in plain language, I also especially enjoyed this gem:

“I do not understand you.” [said Catherine]
“Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well.” [said Mr Tilney]
“Me?—yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”
“Bravo!—an excellent satire on modern language.”

Mr Henry Tilney is one of Austen’s wittiest character and is now my favourite among the male leads. Catherine Morland is not my favourite female lead, but she plays her part well and is likeable enough.

I ADORED the dialogues in this book; I admire how Jane Austen can make a character say something, and the reader understand something completely different. I need to practice that skill…

While Northanger Abbey lacks the refinement of Austen’s later work (I’m thinking about Persuasion and Mansfield Park), this book has all the energy and wit of her early works.

My current ranking of Austen’s novels would be the following:

  1. Pride and Prejudice (10/10)
  2. Emma (10/10)
  3. Persuasion (10/10)
  4. Northanger Abbey (9/10)
  5. Mansfield Park (9/10)
  6. Sense and Sensibility (8/10)
  7. Lady Susan (6.5/10)

I’ll have to reread Sense and Sensibility though; I was a teenager when I read it and I didn’t yet fully appreciate Jane Austen’s skills. Also, Northanger Abbey is above Mansfield Park purely because the former is funny while the latter is pretty dark.

By the way, the 2007 Masterpiece adaptation starring Felicity Jones and J.J. Feild (♥) is good enough, but it doesn’t do justice to the novel. Read the book.

Northanger Abbey movie
Henry Tilney (J.J. Feild) and Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones)

Rating: 9/10

Who would I recommend this to? Austen’s fans, obviously; lovers of satires and parodies; fans of Brooding YA Hero on Twitter with a penchant for historical romance; and everyone who loves a sweet romance between a Miss Naive and a Mr Niceguy.

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