Catherine Morland is a silly, not very well educated, 17-year old. She gets to take a trip to Bath with some neighbors, the Allens. There, she meets Isabella Thorpe, who introduces Catherine to Gothic novels, in particular the works of Mrs. Radcliffe, most notably The Mysteries of Udolpho
. Catherine is entranced, and suddenly she is seeing her life becoming very much like the goings on in Udolpho, with all its creepiness and evil.
Catherine's brother, James, shows up and he becomes enamored by Isabella. Isabella's brother, John, who is a college friend of James, becomes enraptured with Catherine. But, even though Catherine is immensely silly, she can tell that something about John Thorpe isn't quite right.
Catherine also meets Henry Tilney and his sister, Eleanor. Eventually, Eleanor invites Catherine to visit with them at their home, Northanger Abbey. Catherine is immediately intrigued. It's an old Abbey and bound to be just like Udolpho, right? It's bound to have strange messages hidden inside weird cabinets, wailings in the night, Eleanor's father a sadist, and so forth. Well, perhaps, or perhaps not. You'll have to read it to find out.
I was thinking this is likely the weakest of Austen's novels that I've read. But, on reflection, I realize that it is well done. The part with which I was having trouble had to do with the silliness of the heroine. Then I realized that I have a niece who is almost 17, and she's every bit as ignorant and silly as a young woman could ever be. Catherine Morland isn't so much different from real life as I'd initially thought.
Then we have John Thorpe. It doesn't take long to realize that he's a classic narcissist, a self delusional liar with no conscience. He's almost a perfect pre-incarnation of Donald Trump! Austen is prescient, or perhaps, as Ecclesiastes
reminds us, "there is nothing new under the sun".
I read this book back in the dark ages when I lived in London and was spending an hour each way in my commute back and forth to Queen Mary College. So, I had much leisure for reading, but didn't have the discretionary income to afford a daily newspaper. Thank God for libraries. Anyway, after I'd read this book, I actually did go on to read The Mysteries of Udolpho
. I think I'll likely skip that "pleasure" this time around. But Austen, any Austen, is always worth one's time.