Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
The company began to disperse when the dancing was over – enough to leave space for the remainder to walk about in some comfort; and now was the time for a heroine, who had not yet played a very distinguished parts in the events of the evening, to be noticed and admired. Every five minutes, by removing some of the crowd, gave greater openings for her charms. She was now seen by many young men who could not see her before. Not one, however, started with rapturous wonder on beholding her, no whisper of eager inquiry ran round the room, nor was she once called a divinity by any body.
She was looked at however, and with some admiration; for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to be a pretty girl. Such words had their due effect; she immediately thought the evening pleasanter than she had found it before – the humble vanity was contented – she felt more obliged to the two young men for this simple praise than a true quality heroine would have been for fifteen sonnets in celebration of her charms, and went to her chair in good humour with every body, and perfectly satisfied with her share of public attention.
At first I was surprised this was an early Jane Austen work, as it was well-developed and full of Austen’s trademark snappy wit and favourite character types. But then halfway through I started a new chapter and it was like starting an entirely different book: Austen’s society heroine is knee-deep in her brother’s engagement scandal when she suddenly leaves the city and travels to a gothic abbey to become embroiled in dark mysteries and howling storms. At the end we come back to a strong, but hurried, romantic Austen finish. Luckily Jane Austen finds her footing and sticks with her strengths in subsequent novels.
Northanger Abbey follows seventeen-year-old Gothic novel aficionado Catherine Morland and family friends Mr. and Mrs. Allen as they visit Bath. It is Catherine’s first visit there. She meets new friends, such as Isabella Thorpe, and goes to balls. Catherine finds herself pursued by Isabella’s brother, the rough-mannered, slovenly John Thorpe, and by her real love interest, Henry Tilney. She also becomes friends with Eleanor Tilney, Henry’s younger sister. Henry captivates her with his view on novels and his knowledge of history and the world. General Tilney (Henry and Eleanor’s father) invites Catherine to visit their estate, Northanger Abbey, which, from her reading of Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho, she expects to be dark, ancient and full of Gothic horrors and fantastical mystery.