Author: Jane Austen
Introduction and Annotations: David M. Shapard
Publisher: Anchor Books
Number of Pages: 541
I was very happy to be reading this annotated version of Northanger Abbey. Northanger Abbey was the last Austen novel I read, but has since become one that I hold dear. Why? Because of the hero: Henry Tilney. He is my idea of the ideal man. I believe Catherine was very lucky to have gained such a man as her husband and even luckier to have gained such a teacher of life.
Northanger Abbey was the third novel that Austen composed. It was completed in 1799 and its original title was Susan. It was submitted to and bought by a publisher, but never published. Years later Austen's brother, Henry, bought the novel back from the publisher. Austen then revised the name of the main character to Catherine, since she had written another novel with a main character whose name was Susan, and Catherine became the name of the novel as well. After Austen's death in 1817, Henry, the executor of her estate, arranged for the posthumous publication of Persuasion and Catherine by a publisher, who changed the name of the later novel to Northanger Abbey, for reasons unknown.
Everyone who reads Austen knows that Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothic fiction. In the Introduction David M. Shapard claims that the novels' parody falls into two "phases:"
In the first, spanning the first half of the novel, Austen tells the story of the heroine to the frequent accompaniment of brief witty asides contrasting her character, behavior, or experiences with the far more extravagant versions found in other novels, particularly sentimental ones.
In the second half, set at Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen turns to a different form of parody. Now the heroine's inner convictions and emotions become the prime target of mockery, as she comes to believe in the reality of the far-fetched events of Gothic horror fiction, especially those created by the genre's most popular practitioner, Ann Radcliffe.Since on every other reading of Northanger Abbey I concentrated on the developing relationship between Catherine and Mr. Tilney, I had never given sufficient attention to the elements of parody that Austen used. I caught them this time, and even enjoyed how much she poked fun at the outrageousness of Gothic fiction.
What I Liked:
As I stated before, I like this novel because of the hero: Henry Tilney. He is a flirt, yet not a flirt with bad intentions. He is not a Henry Crawford (from Mansfield Park). He is also smart, wise, and exacting at times. He constantly challenges Catherine to think. To think about the words she chooses to use, to help her examine her reasons for choosing those words, and helps her to choose a more appropriate word when the one she uses is found inadequate or used incorrectly. In the same way, he shows her how to examine her feelings, her thoughts, stating that these things should be thought about.
"You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature. -Such feelings ought to be investigated, that they may know themselves."In short, he is teaching her to be wise. Wise in her thoughts, wise in her actions, and wise in her communications with others. And he does it so tenderly, never making fun of her ignorance; just gently correcting and guiding her thoughts. That tenderness and wisdom is what I like about Henry Tilney.
What I Didn't Like:
Characters are the main things I don't like about this novel: Mrs. Allen; Isabella and John Thorpe; General and Captain Tilney. Mrs. Allen is empty-headed and occasionally leads the heroine wrong. Isabella and John Thorpe are greedy, vain, yet attempt to convince everyone around them that they are good, honest, and not concerned about money (their actions belie their words). General and Captain Tilney... well, they are just vile: selfish, vain, rude, manipulative, deceitful. At least General Tilney eventually consents to his son, Henry, marrying Catherine. He turned out not to be as bad as the reader once thought he was.
From Volume I, Chapter VIII:
To be disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity, her actions all innocence, and the conduct of another the true source of her debasement, is one of those circumstances which peculiarly belong to the heroine's life, and her fortitude under it what particularly dignifies her character.
From Volume I, Chapter XIV:
Mr. Tilney: "The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid."
From Volume I, Chapter XIV:
Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can.
From Volume II, Chapter IV:
Mr. Tilney: "No man is offended by another man's admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment."
Now that I am done reading the annotated versions of Jane Austen's novels by David M. Shapard, I would recommend them to anyone who is wanting to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Austen's work. They can be difficult at times, but the payoff is worth the work it takes to read them.