Recently I have been re-reading Northanger Abbey with a lovely group of Jane Austen enthusiasts – most of whom are far more knowledgeable than I am. I have so enjoyed our discussions and I have learnt a lot from them.
The first time I read Northanger I didn’t get it at all. I had heard that it was very funny and I couldn’t understand why. Then I learnt about gothic novels and read it again. It turns out that it is indeed hilarious and I have loved it ever since.
The plot has a great deal to do with that (of course) but I also love how heavily books feature in the story. As a bookish teenager I very much identified with Catherine – I too have spent much time living more in my fictional worlds than in the real one.
I have also very much appreciated the books I have discovered within its pages. Like many people, I was pushed to read The Mysteries of Udolpho by Catherine Morland and, although the sentences are long and have far too many commas, I enjoyed it. An even better discovery was Fanny Burney who I read partly because she is mentioned in Northanger and partly because I knew Jane Austen herself enjoyed reading her. For me she was far superior to Mrs Radcliffe.
From there I went on to discover several other 18th century authors including Maria Edgeworth who I loved. I have not yet embarked on any of Samuel Richardson’s novels but I have no doubt that I will at some point.
For now though I have returned to the gothic and am about to start Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. This one isn’t mentioned in Northanger Abbey but I’m sure that Catherine and Isabella would have adored it.