Northanger Abbey is a fun read, with well-defined characters and a strong sense of place. It’s also a defence of novel-reading (that dangerous and frivolous past-time).
The novel is fairly short, being in two volumes, instead of the usual three. It was published posthumously along with Persuasion in 1818 but it was written many years earlier, when ‘gothic novels’ were in vogue. The works of writers such as Ann Radcliffe are often referred to.
17-year-old Catherine Morland goes to Bath and learns she has to choose her friends wisely. She’s the centre of a tug-of-war between two sets of siblings: the Thorpes (Isabella and John) and the Tilneys (Eleanor and Henry). While trying to dodge the attentions of the dull and deceitful John and conversely to gain the good opinion of the attractive Henry, Catherine also allows her imagination to run wild, influenced by the conventions of gothic novels. The most unlikeable character is not John Thorne, but General Tilney, the patriarch of Northanger Abbey, home of Eleanor and Henry. He’s an unpleasant old stick, a widower who treats Catherine badly and isn’t redeemed at the end. There’s some kind of commentary about oppressive fathers going on.
It’s an amusing read which I enjoyed, although it doesn’t have the depth and maturity evidenced in Austen’s later works.
This edition is by Oxford World’s Classics (2003), edited by James Kinsley and John Davie with an introduction and notes by Claudia L Johnson. It also includes the short works Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sanditon, which I find unreadable because the paragraphs are too enormous.