As some of you may recall, I reviewed the 21st adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Yet – confession time – I hadn’t actually read the classic. Oops. Before you get your pitchforks out though, please know that after a reasonable period of time, I went out and bought the original, and have learnt the valuable lesson that anything you or I can do, or any author of the 21st century for that matter, Jane Austen can do better *sung in that annoying sing-song voice*.

Set in the fashionable town of Bath, Catherine Morland meets the formidable and rather dashing Henry Tilney, as well as his equally graceful sister, Eleanor. Although Catherine tries to form a bond between the siblings, she is constantly thwarted by Isabella Thorpe, a girl with good looks but a terrible personality, and her older brother John, a man with bad looks and a terrible personality. Catherine, despite having a wonderful imagination and easy-going nature (as easy-going as you can be in the 19th century), fails to stand up to either Isabella or John, partially because her good manners won’t allow her to, and partially because her brother becomes engaged to Isabella.

Luckily, despite a series of miscommunications, Eleanor invites Catherine to join her at her family home, Northanger Abbey. Intrigued by the gothic home, as well as the mysterious actions and past of General Tilney, Catherine begins to investigate – only to make a fool of herself and an eventual enemy of the General.

Though Austen’s Northanger Abbey will not appease any desires for sexual gratification since the greatest extent of romance between the protagonist and the leading man is pretty much them holding hands and then proceeding to getting married, she more than makes up for it in classy wit. Unlike certain writers of today, Austen doesn’t need to make over-the-top remarks, or crude jokes to get a chuckle out of the reader – she just states the facts, which, despite everything that has happened in the past 200 odd years, still strike a cord.

Her descriptions of the beautiful yet manipulating Isabella is perhaps one of the greatest examples of dry wit: her observation of the vacuous comments on men, clothing and the appearance of other women hits a tad too close to home when you consider females of today. Plus, I couldn’t help but laugh at her description of John Thorpe’s boorish and dreary bragging of his horse and cart – one could almost be forgiven for thinking that she was poking the fun at men in the 21st century. Apparently, regardless of the social context or the period in time, arrogant men love to show off their vehicles. Or horses, as the case may be.

While I will admit that I can never fully absorb myself into Austen’s writings, I think that’s largely due to the cultural differences rather than any storytelling or writing deficiencies on Austen’s behalf. As much as I try to emphasise with the character, I’m constantly pulled out of the plot when a character is excited to use a friend’s first name, or as the young women do another walk around the Pump Room. But then again, it does jarringly shows how dissatisfied Jane Austen must have felt due to the constraints of her society. It’s obvious from her novels that she was a phenomenally bright woman, yet because she was a woman she wasn’t allowed to take full advantage of her intellect. She didn’t receive any recognition for her work until after she died, as she had to write under a male’s name, and despite numerous marriage proposals, she never married because if she did, she’d have to stop writing. Definitely provides a lot of context when you read one of her novels, like Northanger Abbey.

Needless to say, Jane Austen is pretty much the queen of literature – she even made it onto the five pound note – a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by any other woman, not even J K Rowling. Northanger Abbey is no exception to this perception, and although I haven’t read all of her novels, it is definitely one of Austen’s better ones. For a good dose of the classics, social commentary and perhaps some of the finest dry English wit on offer, Northanger Abbey is the book to go for.

 

Have you read anything by Jane Austen? Which is your favourite novel? Do the film and television adaptations do them justice? Let me know!

northanger abbey by jane austen

Northanger Abbey – (image taken from http://www.typepad.com)

Advertisements