Friday, July 23, 2010

Northanger Abbey Chapters 1-9 #NARead

I'm taking part in a read-along group hosted at Reading with Tequila. For the next few weeks we'll be taking a few chapters each week and blogging/chatting about them. This first week was just the first 9 chapters (about 50 pages), so there's still time to sign up and join us, if you're interested.

~ Northanger Abbey ~
by Jane Austen
Chapters 1 - 9

Catherine Morland is a heroine. You know, one of those unfortunate girls who have to deal with awful families, are locked up in castles, or have to overcome deadly plots, but manage to power through it all and fall madly in love with an extraordinary boy? Only problem is her family is lovingly ordinary. Oh, and she lives nowhere near a castle. And she doesn't seem to have anyone plotting against her. And none of the boys around town seem to be anything extraordinary.

And, what's more, Catherine is lacking the heroine's mind and skill. She's never attended to animals or plants, music evades her interest, lessons come at a normal speed, drawing is merely doodling, and she has never once known something inherently.

But all that could should will change when family friends Mr. and Mrs. Allen invite Catherine along on a trip to Bath. Surely this is the adventure she's been waiting for. These two will soon prove to be wicked, and she'll be locked up and finding her handsome hero in no time!

Or they could be two very agreeable people who bear the girl no ill will and have in mind her best interests.

Drat. Well, if her companions are set on being agreeable, she'll just have to find a dreadful situation to overcome. Surely there should be plenty of those in Bath! Shouldn't there?

Here's the storyline so far:

Catherine and Mrs. Allen know no one in Bath, and are thus extremely uncomfortable at the social balls they attend. After a few of these unfortunate experiences, Catherine is introduced to a handsome, humorous, good-natured young man named Mr. Tilney. After a delightful conversation and a parting of ways, she is eager to meet him again.

However, at the next ball-type-thing he is nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Allen despairs that they are once again friendless in this city. Luckily an old acquaintance, Mrs. Thorpe, surfaces and (re)introduces herself and her daughters. The eldest, Isabella, realizes that Catherine is the sister of her brother's best friend, and the two are soon inseparable. They share a love for the Gothic (especially Udolpho), and, of course, for twittering on about prospective boys, especially the elusive (and that much more appealing) Mr. Tilney.

When both their brothers (James Morland and John Thorpe) make a surprise visit, the duo quickly becomes a quartet, each paired off with the other's sibling. Catherine is pleased to finally have someone to fill the role Mr. Tilney had vacated (both as an interest and a dance partner), until Mr. Tilney makes his return! Now she's stuck running around with John, who is becoming less and less agreeable, when she would most like to become more closely acquainted with the mysterious and charming Mr. Tilney.

What is a heroine to do!?*

I'm finding the whole novel rather enjoyable so far. Heh, I've even started adopting the language style—I usually find it hard not to. Though it's much more slowly paced than the books I've just come off of, I can't help but enjoy Austen's sophisticated snarky humor.

She expertly describes the two brothers, John and James, as complete asses, without actually coming right out and saying it. And trust me, they are asses. The way they talk about women to women is just...bitch-slap worthy: "'[John] is as good-natured a fellow as ever lived; a little of a rattle; but that will recommend him to your sex I believe...'" Ugh! Makes me want to toss the book across the room on the off-chance that he might feel it.

I think what makes reading this the most enjoyable is drawing parallels to other literature. Northanger Abbey is a satire or parody of the Gothic novel, after all. I haven't read The Mysteries of Udolpho, which is what they most constantly refer to, but there are a few more modern books I'm finding particularly fitting. Twilight happens to be one of them.

I can see my follower list dwindling now... But just think about it for a second. A heroine (Bella) is thrust into an uncomfortable environment (boring old Forks/a supernatural war), and manages (dramatically) to cope the best she can. Suddenly, this mysterious boy (Edward) appears and she knows there's something different about him, something dangerous. Still, despite the danger, she pursues him. He reveals his secret (vampire), it is revealed that she possesses a unique skill (mental blockage), and they fall irrevocably in love with each other. Together they must defeat the villains (James, Victoria, the Volturi) who seek their destruction.

According to Wikipedia:
Prominent features of Gothic fiction include terror (both psychological and physical), mystery, the supernatural, ghosts, haunted houses and Gothic architecture, castles, darkness, death, decay, doubles, madness, secrets, and hereditary curses.

The stock characters of Gothic fiction include tyrants, villains, bandits, maniacs, Byronic heroes, persecuted maidens, femmes fatales, monks, nuns, madwomen, magicians, vampires, werewolves, monsters, demons, angels, fallen angels, revenants, ghosts, perambulating skeletons, the Wandering Jew and the Devil himself.
So, see where I'm coming from? It's actually almost too easy to compare Northanger Abbey with Nightlight, the Harvard Lampoon parody of Twilight. At least, so far. We'll see how much further the comparison goes. In the meantime, I'm finding it pretty hilarious drawing comparisons between Bella and Catherine.

Next up, chapters 10-15!


* This recap was originally as long as the entire post is now. But I figured most people interested in this post were or would soon be reading the book themselves, so I annotated it immensely.