Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.”
Northanger Abbey – Chapter 1

Catherine Morland was a reader and a dreamer.  From modest means and one of ten children born to a country parson, she was normally “pleasing” in appearance but pronounced “pretty” when she was absolutely at her best.

However - below Catherine’s unremarkable exterior beat a heart that dreamed wildly of dark brooding mysteries, untamed heroes and dungeons filled with… well, she wasn’t quite sure, having been soundly brought up as a clergyman’s daughter.

But we all know that immense, vivid and unknown worlds open up when you lift the cover of a book.  And if you happen to admire the novels of Ann Radcliffe as Catherine did, you could easily believe that the Abbey that you are visiting might just hold the “horrors” that haunt your daydreams.

The Jane Austen works Sense & Sensibility and Price & Prejudice were in process and amidst revisions when Jane Austen completed a book that she initially entitled Susan. Written in 1798 – 1799 and revised for the press in 1803, Miss Austen sold this work for £10 to a bookseller in Bath. He allowed Susan to languish on his shelves until 1816 when Jane’s brother Henry purchased it back into their control, with the bookseller woefully unaware that the writer of this novel now had four popular novels released and much admired.

Jane Austen crafted revisions and renamed Susan as Catherine after the heroine was renamed.  But after her death in July of 1817, Jane’s brother posthumously published the work later in the year with the title Northanger Abbey as the first two of a four-volume set, which also included Persuasion.

There is a comic lightness to Northanger Abbey but also a serious undercurrent of what may happen when life is lived like a Gothic novel.  There can be a danger in believing that life is the same as fiction or even in the simple act of believing everything that you hear without first exercising a balanced discernment regarding the speaker or subject.

“A well-informed mind is the best security against the contagion of folly and vice. The vacant mind is ever on the watch for relief, and ready to plunge into error, to escape from the languor of idleness. Store it with ideas, teach it the pleasure of thinking; and the temptations of the world without, will be counteracted by the gratifications derived from the world within.”
Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Jane Austen Tea Society has happily returned to a study of our beloved Regency author’s works in the order in which they were published. Our fifth selection will be Northanger Abbey with a Winter Breakfast & Book Discussion to take place on Saturday the 25th of January at 10am.

There is plenty of time – start reading!

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