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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Lefty's Lowdown: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Published: 1817
Source: I rented this from the bookstore for class.
Summary from Goodreads: 
"Northanger Abbey" tells the story of a young girl, Catherine Morland who leaves her sheltered, rural home to enter the busy, sophisticated world of Bath in the late 1790s. Austen observes with insight and humour the interaction between Catherine and the various characters whom she meets there, and tracks her growing understanding of the world about her.

In this, her first full-length novel, Austen also fixes her sharp, ironic gaze on other kinds of contemporary novel, especially the Gothic school made famous by Ann Radcliffe. Catherine's reading becomes intertwined with her social and romantic adventures, adding to the uncertainties and embarrassments she must undergo before finding happiness.

Coming from an English major, this might be a blasphemous statement, but the truth is that I don't actually like a whole lot of classic literature. Jane Austen is one of the few authors before my century that I enjoy reading. That being said, I don't exactly have experience reviewing classic books, so this isn't going to be my typical review.

Readability: This book is not really hard to understand, though I did have to read slowly and occasionally re-read passages. It required a bit of work, but I still enjoyed it! 

Style: Austen is a satirist, so this novel was full of wit, humor, and frequent digs at society. This was the first novel she ever wrote, but it is still surprisingly modern. Austen is so freaking clever and funny.

Characters: I don't know about anyone else, but characters are always my favorite part of any Jane Austen novel, and this one is no exception. Catherine is a really interesting protagonist. She starts off as a very naive, inexperienced, passive character. She has a hard time distinguishing reality from a Gothic romance, and she assumes the best intentions in everyone. But, considering Northanger Abbey is essentially a coming-of-age story, Catherine experiences a significant amount of growth. 

And then there is Mr. Tilney. *swoons* I personally think Henry Tilney is entirely too underrated. He is everything we love in a modern love interest. He's extremely intelligent and he likes to mock the strict expectations of society, yet he is still a gentleman. He can tease Catherine and his sister, but he is never mean. He cares about art and other people's feelings. He's perfect. Everyone else can have Mr. Darcy...I'll take Mr. Tilney. 

The other characters in the novel are very interesting to read about. I don't want to say too much about them, because one of the joys of this novel is uncovering the characters' true intentions. In my lit class, we discussed how, in that time period, there were not exactly a whole lot of opportunities two people to be alone and get to know each other (especially a male and a female), so Austen has to rely on subtle details to reveal the true nature of her characters, which helps us to be more observant, sharper readers. I just think this is so fun! 

My biggest complaint about this book is that the ending is very rushed. The whole resolution to the novel is very glossed over and it took me a few tries to realize exactly what was happening because so little light is shed on the events.

Classics are weird, because even though I loved this book, it's not the type of thing I can just shove into everyone's hands. If you're a classics fan or an Austen fan, though this is one of her lesser-known works, it is still one of her greats. If you're not too big on classic works of literature, I still recommend giving this one a shot, because I'm not either, but it was still immensely fun and interesting.

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