Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is one of ten children of a country clergyman. Although a tomboy in her childhood, by the age of 17 she is "in training for a heroine" and is excessively fond of reading Gothic novels, among which Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho is a favourite.
Catherine is invited by the Allens, her wealthier neighbours in Fullerton, to accompany them to visit the town of Bath and partake in the winter season of balls, theatre and other social delights. Although initially the excitement of Bath is dampened by her lack of acquaintances, she is soon introduced to a clever young gentleman,
Henry Tilney, with whom she dances and converses. Much to Catherine's disappointment, Henry does not reappear in the subsequent week and, not knowing whether or not he has left Bath for good, she wonders if she will ever see him again. Through Mrs Allen's old school-friend Mrs Thorpe, she meets her daughter Isabella, a vivacious and flirtatious young woman, and the two quickly become friends. Mrs Thorpe's son John is also a friend of Catherine's older brother, James, at Oxford where they are both students.
It was revised by Austen for the press in 1803, and sold in the same year for £10 to a London bookseller, Crosby & Co., who decided against publishing. In the spring of 1816, the bookseller was content to sell it back to the novelist's brother, Henry Austen, for the exact sum-£10-that he had paid for it at the beginning, not knowing that the writer was by then the author of four popular novels.
The novel was further revised by Austen in 1816/17, with the intention of having it published. Among other changes, the lead character's name was changed from Susan to Catherine, and Austen retitled the book Catherine as a result.
Austen died in July 1817. Northanger Abbey (as the novel was now called) was brought out posthumously in late December 1817 (1818 given on the title page), as the first two volumes of a four-volume set that also featured another previously unpublished Austen novel, Persuasion. Neither novel was published under the title Jane Austen had given it; the title Northanger Abbey is presumed to have been the invention of Henry Austen, who had arranged for the book's publication.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:December 16, 1775
Date of Death:July 18, 1817
Place of Birth:Village of Steventon in Hampshire, England
Place of Death:Winchester, Hampshire, England
Education:Taught at home by her father
Read an Excerpt
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. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard—and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence, besides two good livings—and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as any body might expect, she still lived on—lived to have six children more—to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features;—so much for her person;—and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond of all boys’ plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. Indeed she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure ofmischief—at least so it was conjectured from her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take.—Such were her propensities—her abilities were quite as extraordinary. She never could learn or understand any thing before she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid. Her mother was three months in teaching her only to repeat the “Beggar’s Petition;” and after all, her next sister, Sally, could say it better than she did. Not that Catherine was always stupid,—by no means; she learnt the fable of “The Hare and many Friends,” as quickly as any girl in England. Her mother wished her to learn music; and Catherine was sure she should like it, for she was very fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlorn spinnet; so, at eight years old she began. She learnt a year, and could not bear it;—and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on her daughters being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste, allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine’s life. Her taste for drawing was not superior; though whenever she could obtain the outside of a letter from her mother, or seize upon any other odd piece of paper, she did what she could in that way, by drawing houses and trees, hens and chickens, all very much like one another.—Writing and accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother: her proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could. What a strange, unaccountable character!—for with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper; was seldom stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones, with few interruptions of tyranny; she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.
Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexion improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart; she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. “Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl,—she is almost pretty to day,” were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty, is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life, than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.
Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children every thing they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.
From Pope, she learnt to censure those who
“bear about the mockery of woe.”
From Gray, that
“Many a flower is born to blush unseen, “And waste its fragrance on the desert air.”
From Thompson, that
——“It is a delightful task “To teach the young idea how to shoot.”
And from Shakspeare she gained a great store of information—amongst the rest, that
———“Trifles light as air, “Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong, “As proofs of Holy Writ.”
That “The poor beetle, which we tread upon, “In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great “As when a giant dies.”
And that a young woman in love always looks ——“like Patience on a monument “Smiling at Grief.”
So far her improvement was sufficient—and in many other points she came on exceedingly well; for though she could not write sonnets, she brought herself to read them; and though there seemed no chance of her throwing a whole party into raptures by a prelude on the pianoforte, of her own composition, she could listen to other people’s performance with very little fatigue. Her greatest deficiency was in the pencil—she had no notion of drawing—not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover’s profile, that she might be detected in the design. There she fell miserably short of the true heroic height. At present she did not know her own poverty, for she had no lover to pourtray. She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility; without having excited one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. This was strange indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no—not even a baronet. There was not one family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door—not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had no ward, and the squire of the parish no children.
But 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.
Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property about Fuller- ton, the village in Wiltshire where the Morlands lived, was ordered to Bath for the benefit of a gouty constitution;—and his lady, a good- humoured woman, fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware that if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad, invited her to go with them. Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness.
From the Paperback edition.
Table of ContentsContents
CHAPTER 1 3
CHAPTER 2 5
CHAPTER 3 8
CHAPTER 4 10
CHAPTER 5 12
CHAPTER 6 13
CHAPTER 7 16
CHAPTER 8 20
CHAPTER 9 23
CHAPTER 10 27
CHAPTER 11 33
CHAPTER 12 37
CHAPTER 13 39
CHAPTER 14 43
CHAPTER 15 48
CHAPTER 16 52
CHAPTER 17 56
CHAPTER 18 57
CHAPTER 19 60
CHAPTER 20 62
CHAPTER 21 66
CHAPTER 22 70
CHAPTER 23 74
CHAPTER 24 77
CHAPTER 25 81
CHAPTER 26 85
CHAPTER 27 88
CHAPTER 28 90
CHAPTER 29 94
CHAPTER 30 98
CHAPTER 31 102
What People are Saying About This
"She is a prose Shakesphere."
She is a prose Shakespeare.
“Jane Austen is the Rosetta stone of literature.” —Anna Quindlen
Reading Group Guide
1. Robert Kilely, in his Introduction, says that although Northanger Abbey satirizes gothic novels, what's more significant about it is the manner in which Jane Austen bases her narrative on conversation. How is conversation used in the novel as a narrative device? How does conversation both aid and hinder the characters?
2. Jane Austen deftly shifts voices so as to allow us to see the world through Catherine's eyes and her own eyes (often through Henry Tilney). What effects does this have on the reader?
3. What gothic elements are incorporated into the novel? What are the anti-gothic elements and figures of the novel? How does Austen juxtapose Bath and the Abbey?
4. It can be argued that Henry Tilney is a foil to John Thorpe. What other characters serve as foils to each other? Does Catherine have a foil?
5. Consider the use of sarcasm in the novel. How does Henry Tilney's sarcasm force Catherine to think things through more thoroughly and expand her values and notions?
6. The novel depicts a disparity of class and wealth, most notably between the Thorpes and the Tilneys. What importance does social convention hold? Is there a certain relevance between class and behavior appertaining to the Thorpes and Tilneys? Is it ever justifiable to break with social convention and propriety?
7. One of the major elements in Northanger Abbey is reading, particularly reading novels. What are some of the differences between novels and reality that Austen is discerning? Is she convinced that novels are worthless? What is surprising about the way novels were perceived in the early nineteenth century?
8. 'No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland inher infancy, would have supposed her to be a heroine, ' Jane Austen writes in her opening paragraph. Do you agree that Catherine is a heroine? How does she develop through the novel and what does she learn about her self and the world around her?