Wednesday, October 05, 2016

31 Days of Gothic Romance | Northanger Abbey

By Jane Austen's day, gothic romance was all the rage and ripe for parody. Which is exactly what she did with Northanger Abbey. She started her career working on multiple books at once, but Northanger Abby was the first one she finished (though it went by other titles in its various drafts). She failed to sell it though and it wasn't published until after her death.

The only Austen I've ever read was Pride and Prejudice and I thought that was plenty for me until I learned Northanger Abbey's relation to gothic romance. These days, it's on my reading list, too. It's the story of a young woman named Catherine who's ridiculously fond of gothic romances. When she's invited to visit friends at their estate (from which the novel gets its title), she expects a spooky place full of dark secrets. And, as it turns out, there are some mysterious parts of the house that no one ever visits. But her imagination gets the better of her and there's some embarrassment before she learns that she's confusing fiction with reality. After that, the novel is in more familiar Austen territory as various relationships are resolved.

One very cool thing about the novel is that it creates a reading list of other, lesser-known gothic romances that are recommended to Catherine by a friend. Catherine's reading The Mysteries of Udolpho at the time, which turns the conversation to The Italian (The Monk also comes up in a later discussion with someone else), but then friend Isabella comes out with The Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, The Mysterious Warning, Necromancer, The Midnight Bell, The Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Collectively this list is known as the Northanger Horrids and it's also on my To Read list.

I've read Castle of Wolfenbach already and it's a good one. It certainly has its problems: everyone is one-dimensional and there are so many counts and countesses that I literally lost track of them all. But I also enjoy the absolute goodness of Wolfenbach's heroes and seeing the villains get their comeuppance. And in addition to haunted rooms and secret passages, this one's got pirates.

I said earlier that I don't plan to read a lot more of Jane Austen, but I do seem to love all movies based on her work. That includes the 2007 TV movie of Northanger Abbey starring Felicity Jones as Catherine. It's been a while since I've seen it, so I can't write a proper review, but it was that version that clued me in on Northanger's gothic influence and made me decide I really needed to read the book, too.

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