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29 June 2015

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey

A delightful but somewhat disappointing debut to Regency Romance
This is the first time I have read any of Jane Austen's romantic novels that have such a worldwide following. It is also Austen's first novel which wasn't published until after her death. Although I don't yet have a yardstick of reading her other books to measure this one, it is clear to me that while it contains many elements of her later work, the quality still needs to be polished. Nevertheless I found this to be a compelling introduction to her work and to the manners and customs of her time.

This is not my normal genre (heavy crime/police/espionage) and I chose to start with an audiobook - which was a great choice as the narrator, Juliet Stevenson, brought the period and the manners of that time to life.  I found her portrayal of the heroine, Catherine, to be somewhat shallow at times, but at the age of 18 she was still a very immature person.

This is a coming-of-age story about Catherine Moreland, a daughter of a moderately rich family, let loose at the age of 18 in Bath to the meet-and-mate society of Regency England. Until then Catherine had led a very sheltered life, with her greatest and most imaginative adventures being through reading Gothic novels. She stumbles into friendships without really understanding what they are all about. Her first friendship with the dominating and featherbrained Isabella was typical of modern teenage friendships. Isabella's insensitive and self-centred brother John doesn't make her stay in Bath any better.

In Bath she also meets Henry Tilney, a mature and gentlemanly 26 year old clergyman who is a younger son of wealthy General Tilney, and his sister Eleanor. General Tilney invites Catherine to stay with Eleanor at Northanger Abbey where Catherine is able to builds up strong and meaningful relationships with all of the Tilneys

Delightful things - the exquisite prose; the wonderful descriptions of Regency life and the manners and ways of genteel society at that time.

Disappointing things - Catherine's imaginative conversion of the Abbey into the scene of a gothic novel; the impossible relationship between Isabella and Catherine's brother and then with Henry's brother; General Tilney's reaction to his conflicting conversations with unreliable John Thorpe.

The most disappointing thing was the ending where everything was wrapped up in the last chapter as if Jane Austen wanted to finish things quickly to get on with other things.

All in all I really enjoyed my first encounter with Jane Austen's writing (of course I have been exposed to many film and TV presentations of her work). I really enjoyed the narration and plan to listen to some of her more popular works during my morning walks and in the car sometime soon.

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