If tales of terror set in old, dark houses scare you or inflame your imagination, you’re not unlike Catherine Morland, heroine of this marvelously impish satire by Jane Austen.
Northanger Abbey is the medieval manor of Henry Tilney, with whom, while at a summer resort, Catherine falls in love and wants to marry. But she becomes darkly suspicious of the abbey once invited there – for she has read many of the Gothic horror novels popular in the author’s day. Surely a wicked crime lies buried in it. Surely, Henry’s eccentric father is gruesomely involved…
The true situation at the manor exposes Catherine’s folly. It also subjects her to a deeper humiliation. For NORTHANGER ABBEY (1818) is a literary satire, a mystery, and something more. It is a bright, barbed study of social snobbery, of the search for love frustrated by ambition and greed. As such, critics have rated it not far behind Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE – and, in its own right, one of the greater glories of English literature.
Catherine Morland is 17 and loves reading gothics. Her current fave, The Mysteries of Udolpho, is ‘the nicest book’. Her passion for ancient edifices and all things horrid is second only to the love she feels for Henry Tilney, the young man who has caught her eye while visiting Bath. So when Catherine is invited to stay with his family in the medieval manor of Northanger Abbey, she is ecstatic.
Henry is no stranger to the gothic novel himself and he has a fine old time adding fuel to the fire of young Catherine’s over-inflamed imagination, regaling her with tall tales of the sinister servants and haunted passageways that await her at the Abbey. When they do arrive at Northanger, Catherine is almost disappointed to find how well kept and modern it is, bereft of ‘the heaviest stone, of painted glass, dirt, and cobwebs’. Surely there could be nothing to fear in such safe, comfortable surroundings? Could there?
If you like chick-lit and Regency romance, chances are you already love the works of Jane Austen. Northanger Abbey is a satire on the popular gothic novels of her day and as such is worth a read. The story begins and ends with the usual mélange of men, marriage and money I’d expect from an Austen novel but the middling bits get suitably suspenseful and show off her obvious fondness for this genre. Four out of five stars.
This edition of Northanger Abbey is one of my Minster Classics. From what I can make out by the inside cover, Minster was a company based in London, England who published forty eight classic titles, including such gems as The Adventures of Pinocchio, Black Beauty, Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights and Robinson Crusoe.
There is something reassuringly familiar about them – something comforting about their cheap & chunky feel in my hands, their easy on the eye typeface and non-glare paper – not to mention the wonderful cover art and Americanized spelling on the back cover blurb.
Sure enough, though Minster books were sold in the UK, the contents and covers were printed in the U.S.A and copyrighted to Lancer. They are identical to the Magnum Easy Eye Classics range published in 1968, so perhaps Minster was a UK subsidiary or something.
Anyway, here are a couple more of my favourites:
Of Mischief and Mirth…
Two early Dutch – American roques leap merrily to mind whenever their famous creator in mentioned. One is the gangling Yankee schoolmaster Ichabod Crane – that awkward butt of many past pranks – who, riding a plow horse home from a party onne night, is terrifyingly pursued by a headless horseman. The other is a genial lazy Catskillian wo awakens from a twenty-year nap to find the Revolutionary War come and gone, himself an old man in a new young world.
Washington Irving wrote copiously more than ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle,’ however, and this volume includes many of his neglected romances told in the slyly humorous vein of his two masterpieces. Not all are set in New York State; indeed, Ichabod and Rip themselves are European folk heroes who Irving Americanized. He was equally at home with German, Spanish and Indian legends, and his eye for local colour makes at least one tale of a plains buffalo hunt unforgettable. This collection, chosen from seven of Irving’s forty volumes, represents at his finest a graceful writer often called ‘the father of American literature.’
No they weren’t just calling each other names, for this was the formal first meeting of Mr. Water Rat and Mr. Mole, and they were being polite about it.
The wonderful picnic on the river that came of this meeting is the beginning of the story THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS has to tell. Soon Mr. Toad of Toad Hall – a curious creature indeed – comes on the scene, and then the real fun begins.
Though there is a good deal of genuine animal lore in the book, it is not meant to tell us how animals live. Rather it simply tells a story that is charming fun to read, and leaves the reader with a warm glow of appreciation for both human and animal friends.
Kenneth Grahame, who liked to tell stories to his own little son and later expanded them into this book, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1859. He died in 1932.
The cover scan of the Magnum Easy Eye edition of Northanger Abbey, as well as some more gorgeous illustrations from other editions of this novel, can be found HERE.