Friday, January 05, 2007

Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

It's been a long time since I've read any Jane Austen. I read this for our January book group selection.

Catherine Morland is a plain, average young lady who takes it upon herself to read lots and lots of Ann Radcliffe which, in itself, is pretty unfortunate. Like Don Quixote before her and Emma Bovary later, Catherine is so consumed with the images and circumstances of the fiction she reads (in particular, Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho) that when she has an opportunity to stay with friends at Northanger Abbey, she imagines all sorts of gothic-inspired mysteries and labyrinthian secrets that cloud her sense of reality. While the first half of the novel centers around her travails with the Allens, Thorpes, and Tilneys in Bath (offering the reader the typically Janite meditations on dances, manners, and fabrics in all their ironic glories), the latter section of the novel deals with her visit to the eponymous abbey and, eventually, her return home (and subsequent marriage).

I had forgotten just how much fun a Jane Austen novel can be, with her exquisitely fashioned sentences and subtle observations of just how ludicrous we human beings are. I had also forgotten how wonderfully she is able to extract the universal truths of human nature from such pedestrian activities as choosing a dancing partner, setting a table, or riding in a carriage.

Holden Caulfield speculates on the worth of an author, suggesting that the "good" ones are those which you want to meet after you've finished their book. Methinks Miss Austen would be a delightful author to meet!

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