This post contains no spoilers for Northanger Abbey, for those of you who are reading for the first time (lucky you). Welcome to the first post for our readalong!
If you’re unfamiliar with Jane Austen, you can read a brief biography of her here. She’s a pretty big deal, especially when it comes to English novels. But don’t take my word for it.
Northanger Abbey was one of the first novels Jane Austen wrote: she wrote it during the 1790s and it is set in during that time. In the book, Austen makes a lot of references to current culture, and set much of the action in Bath, which was a very fashionable social resort at the time. As a whole the novel is considered a satire of the Gothic novel genre, which was very popular and trendy at the time – at least for novels, which were considered a lower form of popular entertainment. In other words, everyone was reading them but not everyone was admitting it. I’ll do another post later on centering on Gothic fiction of the time.
Northanger Abbey was first called Susan, and then Catherine, following the convention of many novels of this century which followed the misadventures of a heroine, usually as a way to show young ladies of the time how their virtue would be rewarded or their sins punished. Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson (published 1740) is one of the more famous of these. Gothic novels of the time sometimes followed this trend as well.
Jane Austen sold the manuscript of Northanger Abbey to a publisher in 1803, but they held on to it for a long time. She was able to buy it back from them a year before she died in 1816, but the revised book wasn’t published until 1817 (along with Persuasion).
Some questions to keep in mind while reading:
- Is it affectionate toward Gothic novels, or is it satirical, or is arguing against them? Or some combination of these?
- In each scene, which character is exerting the most power? And over whom?
- How is language and communication being used or abused by each character?
Reading schedule: We should have chapters 1-9 read by June 9th!