Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, March 11, 2013

Beloved Northanger Abbey

Last week I read Northanger Abbey for the third time. It was Jane Austen’s first book to sell to a publisher, though it wasn’t actually published until after her death. It’s my favorite Austen novel, and this time I read it for my Gothic lit class. The entire book is eminently quotable. I have quoted it many times in this blog, here and here and here, and at the top of this website. Each time I read it I like it better. The jokes and witticisms have become a beloved and joyful refrain. Mr Tilney discussing the price of muslin with Mrs Allen doesn’t become boring on the third read, rather I am quite tickled and want to cackle, “What a sly, clever thing you are, Mr Tilney!”

I can’t remember if when I first read Northanger Abbey I knew it was a satire of Gothic novels, but the second time I did and had already read The Mysteries of Udolpho and possibly The Monk, and so I was keyed in to the jabs and allusions at the horrid novels. But now, reading it right alongside Radcliff and Lewis and Minerva Press, I pick up on those things even more.


I have become exceedingly fond of our heroine Catherine, her passion for rolling down hills, her unaffected sincerity and enthusiasm. On my first read of the novel I loved Mr Tilney, on my second I found him a bit misogynistic and not properly interested in dear Catherine, "dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity," but on this third I fell in love with him all over again. I like Darcy though I wouldn't call myself a Darcy fangirl, but I adore Mr Tilney. Just sensing that the paragraph on hyacinths and learning to love is approaching makes me feel tender and moved.

I am loving my Penguin Classis edition of the novel, which I arduously searched bookstore and internet to find (finally discovering it in our little local Moscow bookstore). Not only does it have a lovely cover, it also has the original biographical note made by Austen’s brother, as well as a map of Bath and two engravings of abbeys. I am highly enjoying perusing the map of Bath, following Catherine’s footsteps as she walks from her house in Pulteney Street to the Pump Room to the Lower Rooms to Beechen Cliff. Well do I relate to and vicariously live through Catherine debating whether to wear sprigged or spotted muslin to the ball, the warmth and delight that carries her home from the ball and into bed after receiving a single compliment. Nostalgia for a younger Esme, for dances and first dates, sat with me as I read the first volume of Northanger Abbey. "When a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way,” I tell my teenage self.

Reading Northanger Abbey, tracing the map, also makes me look forward to—and reinforces my plans to have—a vacation in the undetermined future where I will spend leisurely days in present-day Bath reading Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, taking in the ambiance, hopefully accompanied by my best friend (no fickle Isabelle!).

*The first three photos are from the Masterpiece Classic version of Northanger Abbey, which is quite enjoyable.

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