NORTHANGER ABBEY is, sadly, perhaps the most underrated book in the Austen canon. It is also becoming one of my favorites. (In truth, they are all my favorites.) The more I read and re-read this novel, the more I appreciate its humor, its heart, its wise commentary on human nature, and the lessons it provides, not only for those coming of age as teenagers, but those of us who are coming of age at any stage of life. And its famous defense of the novel form is worth the price of the book.
The heroine of NORTHANGER ABBEY, Catherine Morland, reminds me to see the world anew through the eyes of someone who is anything but jaded. Her innocent and naïve belief that people say exactly what they mean is both poignant and refreshing.
Experience is a great teacher to Catherine, and so is the irresistable hero of the book, Henry Tilney, who embodies all that is best about an Austen hero, or indeed, any hero: humor, compassion, and intelligence.
How could a young girl (or any woman) not fall in love with Henry Tilney?
I love NORTHANGER ABBEY so
much that I decided to make it the next subject of my Twitter experiment, i.e.,
I've decided to tweet the entire novel, 140 characters at a time, just as I did
(and had so much fun doing) with PERSUASION.
[I'm in the minority for sure, but I love this version as well. It stars Catherine Schlesinger and Peter Firth, who later became the fabulous Harry of my favorite thriller series, MI-5 (Spooks in the UK).]
Here are the first eight
chapters tweeted thus far. To read them as they come out, follow me on Twitter.
To read them in periodic digest form, check this blog periodically or subscribe
to its feed. When I finish tweeting the entire novel, I will post it on my
Tweets of Chapters 1 through
8 of Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY:
In the meantime, if you'd like to read the Twitter version of Jane Austen's PERSUASION, go here.
"From fifteen to seventeen [Catherine] was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read"
Yet Catherine "had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen" anyone worth falling in love with."
Indeed, Catherine had never "inspired one real passion" herself, only "very moderate and very transient" admiration.
"But when a young lady is to be a heroine,…something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way."
And so Catherine accepts the invitation of her neighbors, Mr. & Mrs. Allen, to travel with them to Bath.
For "if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad."
Catherine's "heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind."
"When in good looks, pretty -- and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is."
But instead of warning Catherine about noblemen who seduce young girls, Catherine's mom only advises her to dress warmly.
And on the journey, "neither robbers nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero."
When they arrive at Bath, Catherine is "all eager delight… She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already."
1st they shop. Mrs. Allen, Catherine's host, tho' good-natured, has "a trifling turn of mind" and a passion for clothes.
Finally, Catherine's first ball in Bath: Crowded, not a friend in the room, and not a chance of being asked to dance.
Yet, at the end, she hears "two gentlemen pronounce her to be a pretty girl"—and so the evening is not a total loss.
At the next ball, Catherine even gets to dance. Her partner is Mr. Tilney, who, "if not quite handsome, was very near it."
"There was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by her."
Tilney mocks the empty words that men & women must say when first they meet--& Catherine is unsure if she should laugh.
"I see what you think of me," said he gravely -- "I shall make but a poor figure in your journal tomorrow."
& "I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms…was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man…"
"Indeed I shall say no such thing." T: "Shall I tell you what
you ought to say?" C: "If you please."
T: "I danced with a very agreeable young man… seems a most extraordinary genius -- hope I may know more of him."
T: "That, madam, is what I wish you to say."
C: "But, perhaps, I keep no journal." T: "Perhaps you are not sitting in this room, and I am not sitting by you."
Mrs. Allen interrupts, worried she might have torn a hole in her gown, a favorite tho' it cost only nine shillings a yard.
"Particularly well…my sister has often trusted me in the choice of a gown. I bought one for her the other day."
is impressed. "Men commonly take so little notice of those things…what do
you think of Miss Morland's gown?"
is very pretty…" said he, gravely examining it; "but I do not think
it will wash well; I am afraid it will fray."
can you," said Catherine, laughing, "be so ----- " She had
almost said "strange."
prattles on, Tilney politely answering, & Catherine wonders if he's having
just a little too much fun w/Mrs. Allen's silliness.
Still, Catherine ends the night with a definite wish to see him again. Whether she dreams about him that night is unknown.
For "it must be very improper that a young lady should dream of a gentleman before the gentleman is first known to have dreamt of her."
Next day, Mrs. Allen runs into a friend, Mrs. Thorpe, whose daughter Isabella befriends Catherine. Tilney’s a no-show.
It seems Isabella knows Catherine’s brother, James Morland. He and Isabella’s brother John are college friends.
Catherine's so happy w/Isabella that she almost forgets Tilney: “Friendship is...the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love."
Still no sign of Henry Tilney the next day. But at least Catherine can distract herself with gothic horror novels. “Yes, novels.”
For “if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard?”
“Let us leave it to the Reviewers to…talk…of the trash with which the press now groans… Let us not desert one another.”
“We [novelists] are an injured body…Our foes are almost as many as our readers…”
“There seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist.”
"Oh! it is only a novel!”…”only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed…”
It is only a work that displays “the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties…”
It is only a work in which “the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”
Novels ease the pain of MIA Tilney. Says Catherine, "while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable."
Meanwhile, Isabella schools Catherine in the mysteries of men: One must " treat them with spirit, and make them keep their distance."
And so when Isabella spots 2 "odious young men" staring at her in the Pump Room, she grabs Catherine & takes off in pursuit of them.
The odious young men are forgotten, for Catherine's brother James Morland arrives with Isabella's brother, John Thorpe.
And when Isabella passes the "offending young men" while walking w/Catherine, James, & John, "she looked back at them only three times."
Catherine endures John Thorpe's bragging about his horse & ignorant remarks about novels. But he does ask her to dance w/him that night.
Thorpe's late for the ball. Isabella swears she will not dance without Catherine "for all the world" but does so anyway.
Poor Catherine! Asked to dance, yet "sharing with the...other young ladies still sitting down all the discredit of wanting a partner."
Ah--there's dishy Henry Tilney, talking to a young lady whom Catherine guesses to be his sister, rather than "lost to her forever."
Henry asks Catherine to dance, & she very reluctantly says no, as she's promised to Thorpe, who shows up a moment later.
Thorpe proves to be not only inconsiderate in his lateness, but an excruciatingly boring dance partner.
Luckily Henry's sister, Eleanor, stands next to Catherine at the dance & has something intelligent and interesting to say.
Catherine no sooner escapes Thorpe than finds that Henry Tilney has tired of waiting and asked another girl to dance. Dang.
"Catherine was disappointed and vexed. She seemed to have missed by so little the very object she had had in view…"
This Twitter version of NORTHANGER ABBEY is brought to you by Jane Austen, displaying the liveliest effusions of wit and humour since 1811.