Northanger Abbey main character Catherine Morland sitting and reading

Northanger Abbey

by Jane Austen

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Northanger Abbey

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Catherine Morland, the protagonist, is an enthusiastic reader of Gothic novels. She expects her life to be like those she reads about, despite the fact that she is no storybook creature--neither beautiful nor clever nor rich, just a country parson’s daughter in a large, happy family.

Like the maidens in romances, though, Catherine ventures away from home. Instead of some exotic locale, she visits Bath, where she enjoys ordinary resort pleasures with amiably normal English folk. Of her new acquaintances, the most agreeable are a witty young clergyman, Henry Tilney, and his sister. Catherine is delighted when their proud father, General Tilney, invites her to stay at their country house, which is, she is thrilled to learn, an abbey.

In spite of its antiquity and monastic origins, Northanger Abbey turns out to be both comfortable and convenient. Catherine’s education in the difference between life and literature continues when she discovers a mysterious document in an old chest, broods all night over what dire tale it may relate, and at daybreak finds that she has lost sleep over a laundry list.

Catherine’s new experiences may not be what the Gothic novelists describe, but they are not simple, direct, or dull either. General Tilney, though not the wife-slayer Catherine had idly fancied him, is a brutal and calculating man. On learning that she is not the heiress he had supposed, he packs her off to her parents. But Catherine does not have long to mull over the harsh lessons of real life. Henry Tilney, outraged by his father’s behavior, rushes to her and proposes. The Morlands approve, and the general comes to decide that his clerical son could do worse than marry a clergyman’s daughter.


Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975. The first part of this two-part study describes the political and feminist controversies of the period. The second part examines Austen’s novels within this historical context and demonstrates her conservative politics. Includes an index.

Dwyer, June. Jane Austen. New York: Continuum, 1989. A good basic reference for the general reader. Dwyer suggests that Northanger Abbey is the novel that gives the best introduction to Austen’s worldview and writing style. Includes a selected bibliography.

Fergus, Jan. Jane Austen and the Didactic Novel. London: Macmillan, 1983. Fergus differs from many critics in considering Austen’s early novels to be primarily intended to instruct the readers. The chapter on Northanger Abbey considers the novel from this perspective.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. This feminist study examines Austen within a female literary tradition, arguing that Austen balances her criticism of male-dominated social structures and her feminine submission to those same structures.

Harris, Jocelyn. Jane Austen’s Art of Memory. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Explores the literary and intellectual influences of Austen’s own reading on her novels, demonstrating how Northanger Abbey drew upon John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Contains a bibliography and an index.

Jones, Vivien. How to Study a Jane Austen Novel. London: Macmillan, 1987. Designed to help students develop their own critical skills, this text offers practical advice about how to read, understand, and analyze literature. Jones uses selected passages from Northanger Abbey in her discussion of the power of the authorial voice.

Lauber, John. Jane Austen. New York: Twayne, 1993. Discusses Northanger Abbey quite extensively. Especially interesting is Lauber’s discussion of the connections between Northanger Abbey and Austen’s juvenilia (works she composed between...

(This entire section contains 860 words.)

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the ages of twelve and eighteen). Includes a chronology, bibliography, and index.

Monaghan, David. Jane Austen: Structure and Social Vision. London: Macmillan, 1980. Monaghan examines the use of and attitude toward formal social ritual in Austen’s novels to reveal how Austen viewed her society. He devotes one chapter to Northanger Abbey.

Pinion, F. B. A Jane Austen Companion: A Critical Survey and Reference Book. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973. The first part of the book includes chapters on biography, historical background, each of Austen’s novels, her letters, and her literary reputation. The second part includes a list of people and places in Austen’s fiction, as well as a glossary of unusual or outmoded words. Also contains a variety of maps and other illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.

Sulloway, Alison G. Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989. Places Austen within a female tradition of “outsider” satire, written by those rejected and devalued by society. Includes a bibliography and an index.

Thompson, James. Between Self and World: The Novels of Jane Austen. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988. Examines Austen’s portrayal of the disparity between individual and society within the context of its historical, social, economic, and literary circumstances. Includes an index and extensive footnotes.

Watt, Ian, ed. Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1963. A valuable collection of fourteen essays divided into three categories: general Austen criticism, studies of particular novels (including North-anger Abbey), and discussions of special topics. Also includes a chronology and a bibliography.


Critical Evaluation


Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen