[Austen in August] Northanger Abbey

‘What have you been judging from?…Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?’

During an eventful season at Bath, young, naive Catherine Morland experiences fashionable society for the first time. She is delighted with her new acquaintances: flirtatious Isabella, who introduces Catherine to the joys of Gothic romances, and sophisticated Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father’s house, Northanger Abbey. There, influenced by novels of horror and intrigue, Catherine comes to imagine terrible crimes committed by General Tilney, risking the loss of Henry’s affection, and has to learn the difference between fiction and reality, false friends and true. With its broad comedy and irrepressible heroine, Northanger Abbey is the most youthful and optimistic of Jane Austen’s works.

Northanger Abbey is one of my favourite novels by Jane Austen, although it was the last of her six completed novels that I read. Reading it for my Jane Austen uni course, and for Austen in August, was the third time I’ve read it, and with every re-read I come to love Northanger Abbey more and more.

Catherine is a delightful heroine. She is bright and sparkling and addicted to her Gothic novels. If she was living in the modern world Catherine Morland would be your typical fangirl. (In many ways she is me – she devours her novels and then finds multiple ways to bring them into conversations that may or may not have originally been about nvoels.) But what I really love about her is that she makes mistakes and then learns from them. She befriends and trusts the wrong people, and she allows her imagination to run away with her. But then she learns and grows from her mistakes. She still enjoys her Gothic stories after she has been chastised by Henry for her suspicions but she doesn’t let her imagination take over the way she sees the world and the people around her anymore.

And then there’s Henry Tilney. Older readers of this blog might remember from my letter to him that I love and adore Mr Tilney. Though I think on this read what I loved most about him was, despite how much he teaches Catherine, that he learns so much from her as well by the end. And I love the sibling relationship he has with Eleanor. The love and respect they have for each other is obvious.

But past the characters (all of whom I either love or love to hate) Northanger Abbey was Austen’s big defence of the novel. She may have been parodying the Gothic genre and ironizing it and the literature of sensibility, but she does defend the novel as a whole and everything that novels can bring to people:

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.

If you’re not sure about Austen definitely give Northanger Abbey a go. At only two volumes it is the shortest of her novels, plus with all the irony and narratorial commentary it is one of the funniest (in my opinion anyway). šŸ˜€

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Austen in August: Sign-Up

Adam over at Roof Beam Reader is hosting an event this month that I’m extremely excited about: Austen in August.

So anyone who knows me at all, knows how ardently I admire and love Jane Austen. I’ve been reading and re-reading her novels since I was twelve, and I am always inordinately excited whenever I’m given the chance to study her work, both in high school and uni (I’m not sure I would be able to explain how excited I am to be doing a course this semester titled Jane Austen in Context). So I’m sure you can all guess how excited I was to find out about Austen in August. (I think I’ve used the word excited too many times. Right, new word!)

Throughout the month of August I will be reading and reviewing as many books related to Jane Austen as possible. I’m hoping to get through at least three of Austen’s novels (Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park), a biography, and maybe one or two of the sequels/re-imaginings. Plus! I will also be writing a guest post which will be posted over at Roof Beam Reader, and I will be hosting a giveaway. Yes, my first giveaway! Huzzah!

So if you’re a fan of Austen, or even if you have previously dismissed her and want to give her another go, you should come along and join in with us. All you have to do is sign up over here, and then start reading!

[ISBC] May 2012: Mathilda, Mary Shelley

The ā€œInner Senshi Book Clubā€ is an online book club where five book lovers of different backgrounds and tastes across the world take turns at selecting and hosting a book each month. Individually, we are (in alphabetical order): Aimee, Angel, Meghan, Samantha L, and Samantha R. Together, we present you a whole range of books, complete with our responses to a rotating list of set questions.

A new book is selected on the 15th of each month, and our thoughts are posted roughly four to five weeks later. We hope you can join us in our reading shenanigans! (The book club derives its name from the five soldiers of love and justice from the Japanese manga and anime series, Sailormoon. We are just as kickass, and if all goes to plan, twice as well-read.)

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This tale of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter, his suicide, and the daughter’s reaction isn’t strictly autobiographical — but elements of it come from Mary Shelley’s life. The three main characters are clearly Mary Shelley herself, Godwin, and Percy Bysshe Shelley — and their relations can easily be reassorted to correspond with their lives.

So I struggled a bit with this book, and I’ve been trying to figure out why. It wasn’t because of the writing style or language (I’ve read far too much 19th century literature to have issues with those) and it wasn’t because of the characters themselves or the plot. And I think I’ve worked it out. It was the sadness that ran throughout the story. Underneath every word there was a sense of melancholy and there is little reprieve from it, which is why I believe it took me so long to get through despite it being only sixty pages long (in my copy). Yet despite the struggle that I had getting through it, I’m glad I’ve read it because I found Matilda to be such an interesting character. Well, perhaps not interesting, that’s probably the wrong word. But I did find her, and the decisions that she made, intriguing. Plus, I really loved the beauty and rhythm of the language that Shelley uses.

As much as I, overall, enjoyed Matilda though, it wouldn’t be a book that I reccommend as an introduction to nineteenth century fiction. Shelley deals with big and serious issues in this novella – incest, depression and suicide – all of these are still taboo subjects (to different extents) now, never mind when Shelley wrote it in the early 1800s. However, I think anyone well-versed in nineteenth century literature, and with an interest to read more of the controversial texts which were suppressed at the time, would be interested in reading Shelley’s least well-known work.

Onto the discussion questions! (There will probably be spoilers ahead, so be warned.)

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