book review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen




NORTHANGER ABBEY by Jane Austen
★★★☆☆
originally published in 1817



I thought I had the full measure of Northanger Abbey when I first read it in 2017, so I nearly opted to skip it when my Jane Austen book club picked it up, but I decided to give it a re-read and I’m very glad I did. Having now read a couple of other Jane Austen novels, I found this book both richer and thornier the second time around, and also a hell of a lot more fun. 

While I did know it was satire the first time around, I didn’t think that made for a more pleasurable reading experience–though in retrospect I think it’s because I still insisted on treating this book with a level of seriousness that it doesn’t ask of the reader. This book is absurd and unapologetically so, and once that clicked for me it ended up working incredibly well–arguably even better than Pride and Prejudice, which is a practically faultless book, unlike Northanger Abbey which is something of a structural mess, but which still left me a bit colder than this one did.

What I continue to dislike about Northanger Abbey is its central romance. There’s no sense that Cathy has met her match with Henry Tilney, or he with her; instead their dynamic where her youthful naivety meets his playful condescension makes my skin crawl. (As someone who’s accustomed to liking books about unlikable characters, this ended up being much more of a sticking point for me than I thought it would, and probably points to my lack of familiarity with the romance genre.)

Anyway, I think I partially like this book for how unpolished and imperfect it is, and of the three Austen novels I’ve read so far, I think this is the one I’m most likely to return to. I keep thinking about it while Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice have almost left my mind entirely.

3 thoughts on “book review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

  1. Yeah, this is the “meh” Austen, not Mansfield Park!
    I got the same icky vibes from Henry. I think we’ve finally come to realize that men behaving badly isn’t cute?? Just took a couple hundred years…

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  2. Though this is one of my lowest-rated Austen books it’s probably the first one I’d reread too, only partially because it’s the one I read longest ago (2014?). At the time I read it for a class alongside Mysteries of Udolpho and had a great time with the silliness and dramatics of both, though it’s been long enough I’m fuzzy on specifics now and don’t remember much of the romance here at all. In any case, I’m glad you found one you might like to revisit someday! And I’m very eagerly awaiting your thoughts on Mansfield Park, which is the one I haven’t read yet and have been wary about based on the general response to it!

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