The earliest (by date of writing) of Jane Austen
s, a comic parody
of the then-fashionable Gothick
style. It was published posthumously together with Persuasion
in 1818. The heroine
is Catherine Morland
...That was how I wrote it on Everything 1. Now here's some more (written 15th April 2001) for Everything 2...
Northanger Abbey is a mockery not only of the Gothic novel but of the ordinary silliness of people, especially young women as exemplified by her heroine Catherine, who mistakes innocent daylight things for the horrid adventures to be found in the most excessive novels.
She began writing it around 1798, when the Gothic was in full fashion, and completed it and sold it to a publisher in 1803 (as Susan), but it was not published. Years later she bought it back and began revising it, but it was probably too outdated to be easily modernised, and she put it aside in 1817 to work on her newer books. So it's not clear how much of the text is late Jane: it reads remarkably well, a lot less stiffly than Sense and Sensibility. The copyright cost only £10, and after Jane's brother had negotiated the repurchase, he had the satisfaction of telling the bookseller this unregarded, unpublished manuscript was by the now hugely famous author of Pride and Prejudice
The very opening sets the tone. Catherine is plain, not beautiful. She is boyish and likes rolling down grassy bank and playing cricket and baseball. (Incidentally this is the first recorded mention of baseball!) And her upbringing lacks what a heroine's life should have. Her father did not imprison her, her mother did not die in childbirth, and there were no lords or mysterious foundlings in the neighbourhood to seek her hand. When a family friend, Mrs Allen, takes her to Bath to see the world, her mother, far from cautioning her about wicked barons who will kidnap her in a chaise drawn by fast horses, merely adjures her to wrap up warmly.
In Bath she meets an amiable young man, Henry Tilney, with a penchant for gentle mockery, so much so as to confuse her, though she likes him, and is keen to see more of him. Much of the true romance of the novel is in these first flutters of uncertainty about a new acquaintance one suddenly takes a liking to, and who might possibly return the regard.
Catherine also meets Isabella Thorpe, who is acquainted with her brother James Morland, and they become fast friends immediately, and naturally discuss all the latest sensational novels and how terrified they were all through them. Here Jane Austen allows herself a playful two-page philippic against reviewers and in defence of novels, including the famous passage: "some work, in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language."
Isabella's brother John Thorpe is a very foolish boor who can think of nothing but horses and carriages, and how good is own are, and how much better at driving and judging he is than anyone else. Naturally, with someone so blind, he fancies Catherine is happy in his company, and he enquires how rich and childless her present guardian Mr Allen is.
A vastly better discovery is Henry's sister Eleanor Tilney (who deserves a novel of her own, I always thought). Eleanor and Henry have also read the latest novels, among many other and better works, but they are sensible people, subtle and kindly. He mocks the ladies' use of "nice" to mean "pleasant". (Another early instance by Jane Austen! People still do this.) Under Eleanor's influence she finds pleasure in country walks and nature.
The blind fatuity of Mr Thorpe and the shallowness of his sister now cause mischief between Catherine and the gentle, right-hearted Tilneys (and Mr Thorpe sort of kidnaps her, briefly), but it's made up when she is introduced to their father General Tilney and invited to spend some time at their home, Northanger Abbey. The General is not a nice man, he is stern at least; and in his home Catherine's foolish propensity for high romance leads her to suspect the most ridiculous things: that there are secret passages and midnight visitants, and that he had murdered his wife in the children's absence!
Her growing suspicions on this contrast with the natural pleasantness of the place, and the goodness of Henry and Eleanor towards her, and what should be her developing love for Henry. It does, of course, work out in the end, though there is true emotional peril in the General's treatment of her. Catherine grows up and sheds some of the silly girl that she was. Perhaps with Henry's love to give her bloom, she even becomes pretty.