Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Northanger Abbey - Alfred Mac Adam, Jane Austen

I liked this book much, much more than Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I cannot quite pin down the reason, but the difference in the balance of satire and romance might be the cause. Romance in the modern sense of the word, that is. Austen had different views:

 

"But I could no more write a romance than an epic poem. I could not sit seriously down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life; and if it were indispensable for me to keep it up and never relax into laughing at myself or at other people, I am sure I should be hung before I had finished the first chapter."

 

Now let me remind you of the fact that every other romcom is based on P&P and let's enjoy the irony. Even allowing the fact that romance did, indeed, mean something different in Austen's time, one cannot help wonder how she would feel if she knew what has been done with her legacy - and that's not even accounting for the unholy abominations that are prequels/sequels/Mr Darcy POV.

 

 

There have been a few (derisive) references in the notes about Austen's early writings, which seem to have been mostly satirical. I will most definitely try to look into them. I wonder if Charlotte Bronte and Mark Twain would have passed the judgements they did if they were familiar with this part of Austen's opus. Oh, there is satire in Austen's "mainstream" works; however, it's perhaps too subtle and buried under that Austenian language. The technical flaws of this early work, on the other hand, allow the wit to shine through, not unlike light spilling through the cracks in a wall.

 

But there is much more going on besides critique of Gothic literature; Northanger Abbey also touches, very poignantly, upon the very definition of "novel". Yes, the literary form we now hold above all the others used to be derided. Austen also tackles the subject of female intelligence and female readers, and I would even go as far to say it packs much more of a punch here than when mentioned as a sidenote attached to bookworm heroines of her more popular works.

 

The only major complaint I have has to do with the edition; endnotes are full of major unnecessary spoilers, and they start appearing very early on. If you want to comment on how one event reflects another, why not do it after they both come to pass, rather that after the first happens?. I can allow for spoilers referencing various gothic novels Austen is making fun of because modern reader would not understand them (people who intend to try Ann Radcliffe, though, might want to give this book a pass until they are finished), but those "clever" observations about the plot of Northanger Abbey proper could have been saved for a few chapters later. This was ebook version, but I suspect that printed edition it was adapted from had the same problem. Reader beware.