Why Northanger Abbey Is My Favorite Jane Austen Story
“It is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” - Northanger Abbey
You’ve heard of Pride & Prejudice, and Sense & Sensibility, but Northanger Abbey is perhaps Jane Austen’s most underrated novel. Why is that? Maybe because it’s a satirical play on gothic literature, which wasn’t typical for Austen. Or maybe because it’s one of her shorter stories.
Whatever the reason, I think it deserves more recognition and a closer look into the story. So let’s dive right in!
“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.” - Northanger Abbey
Catherine Morland is not your typical classic protagonist. She’s a 17-year-old girl with some strange notions of what life is really like, being incredibly naive after reading so many novels. Her head is always in a book, which I can relate to, and she thinks far too much into any given situation. She’s a dreamer, who meets ample disappointment when her gothic flights abroad come to a crumble.
She is transported to Bath, England in hopes of some better society and connections. She makes friends fairly quickly, but they aren’t from the right crowd so to speak.
Soon enough she meets Henry Tilney, a General’s son who attends one of the dances in the Assembly Rooms. She immediately takes a liking to him and his sister, and, to make matters more interesting, the General is led under false pretenses that Catherine comes with a great fortune.
This leads to an offer: Catherine is welcomed to stay in their grand estate, Northanger Abbey, for a time. Imagine her gothic heart leap for joy! She longs for some dark secret to be uncovered before her eyes, which causes immense trouble.
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. ” - Henry Tilney
Henry Tilney is our hero and a teasing one at that. He’s very close with his sister, Elinor, who keeps him up to date with the latest fashions and what is worth reading. Points to him for remembering and caring just because he wants to be of some use to his sister before anything! I think this was my first draw to him besides his sarcastic demeanor.
However, because he has an older brother who will inherit everything his father has to offer, this leaves Henry as a clergyman. He’s still devoted to his profession, but it also means he has to marry money.
It’s always about the money, isn’t it? Surely this is on his mind as he gets to know Catherine. As mentioned earlier, though, his father seems to think Catherine will be a good match for his son. (We think so too, but obviously for different reasons.)
To me, Henry is a more realistic, charming character than Mr. Darcy from the get-go. But there’s still growth happening! Once his father learns of Catherine’s true financial situation, she’s kicked out of Northanger Abbey. By the end of the novel, we’re almost convinced that Catherine and Henry will never see each other again. How can they when his father forbids it?
Henry ultimately makes the right decision and rebels against his father to go back to Catherine. He has such a strong sense of honor and affection for this girl who’s seemingly only caused his family issues.
Did I mention he’s a reader and talks about books frequently? Need I say more? We love an intellectual.
Adventure, Mystery, & Gothic Elements
This book has a little something for everyone - adventure, romance, mystery, and a gothic flare!
I happened to read this book around the time I visited Bath, which is where most of this novel is set. You hear about all the happenings there, whether it be at the Assembly Rooms, Pultney Bridge, or the Royal Crescent, all of which are still there to this day. It’s such a joy to read about Catherine parading around the town enjoying it as much as I did.
Austen played with the gothic elements to give us all a laugh in the end. She wanted to emphasize how ridiculous these novels can be. And Austen’s humor is superior in my mind. It has a level of sophistication and satire that never fails to amuse me.
Of course, there’s also the big mystery that circles around the abbey itself. I won’t spoil it for you, but there‘s a suspected murderer creeping its halls, a secret that mustn’t be touched. You’ll have to find out for yourself what the truth entails.
I‘d also highly recommend watching the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey starring JJ Feild (Austenland) and Felicity Jones (Rogue One). All of the actors are superb, and the movie is pretty spot on to what actually happens in the book. It’s definitely a team favorite at The Postmodern Journal, ask any of us!
There’s so much to admire about every work of Jane Austen’s and her timeless heroines, but we can't help ourselves from choosing favorites. Hopefully, I’ve captured a glimpse into what makes Northanger Abbey my personal favorite. It has such a unique flair from all of her other novels that can’t be ignored.
I think all of us bookworms can relate to Catherine’s thinking. Maybe we won’t jump to quite the same conclusions, but, as readers, we‘re dreamers and adventurers at heart. We see things that not everyone else sees, and we incorporate what we learn through novels into our everyday lives, for better or for worse!