2017年6月30日 星期五

Review: 'Northanger Abbey' by Jane Austen

It is the first Jane Austen's novel I have ever read. It is such a delight! It has sarcastic and witty prose written from the perspective of the writer. The dialogues artfully bring the characters to life. The plot contains interesting and unexpected twists. The writing is clear, simple and elegant. When I was reading, I was comparing to Austen's style to that of the Bronte sisters I have read recently. Anne Bronte's prose is like prayers which are filled with determination, faith, and sincerity, and very often has a moral message, and sometimes a bit winding. Emily Bronte's novel is way too dramatic and fills with Gothic elements that haunt the reader. Austen's story seems to be told by an 'actual' storyteller, who can see people's whims and emotions.

The heroine is a seventeen-year-old girl named Catherine Morland, who is one of the ten children of a vicar. At the beginning, 'no one would have supposed her born to be a heroine'. Neither her family's social status nor her character is extraordinary. She is just an innocent and ignorant girl. The first part of the narratives follows her six weeks visit to Bath, where she goes from parties to parties to meet people and make friends.  After the first week, she met the hero of the story, Henry Tilney, and falls in love. She overcomes some obstacles to become closer with Tilney's sister, Eleanor and is invited by the old Tilney to visit Northanger Abbey, the family's house. The latter half of the novel is about her stay there, where she fantasizes a Gothic story in that ancient abbey.

The novel satirizes marriage being the means to enhance social status and secure wealth. Isabella, a good friend of Catherine since she comes to Bath, is engaged to Catherine's brother, James. Yet, after learning that James' family will not give much allowance to them after their marriage, Isabella flirts with Frederick Tilney, who is from a much richer family, despite her disgusts with him. Another character, the old Tilney is especially amiable to Catherine only because he thinks she is an heiress. Their snobbishness forms a stack contrast with the heroine, who is artless and sincere. I think Austen does not only tries to satirize particular persons but the whole society that yields a kind of pretentiousness. The society requires people to form social circles and networks to be able to enjoy themselves and not to feel awkward. Yet, somehow, self-love exceeds our ability to understand and empathize other people. For example, it is quite ironic that Mrs. Allen, who longs to meet an acquaintance in Bath, only likes to talk vainly about her gown, when she finally met an old friend from school.

A thing I love very much about this book is its vivid portrayal of the characters. Although there is not much description of the appearance of Henry Tilney, we know how charming and intelligent he is through his dialogues with Catherine. A reader would not only regard him as the heroine's lover but an attractive person in general. When he first dance with Catherine, he says "I shall make a poor figure in your journal tomorrow." When Catherine denies, he creates an agreeable version of himself in her 'journal'. He wittily expresses his wish to be flattered by the heroine. The depiction of Catherine as a naive and simple girl is also very remarkable. It is quite amazing that she can be uplifted very easily after a grave disappointment.

Let's end this with a quote: 'To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability to administer the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid'

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