Friday, August 11, 2017

Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen

I bought this paperback in Prospero's Bookshop in Tbilisi, Georgia. English-language books are expensive there, and their selection of used books was paltry. The Penguin Classic edition had the twin benefits of being light on my wallet and light on my luggage allowances.  A pathetic way to select a book, but I'd not read any Jane Austen since my schooldays, and never Northanger Abbey.

I know people who count Austen as one of the greats of English literature. Much as I enjoyed this novel, I'm not one of them.  I fall into the camp with those who say her writing gets high marks for style but lacks substance.  That said, it's still great fun to read, and her character sketches are possibly up there with Dickens'.  The older chaperone who is obsessive about her gowns. The friend's brother whose mind races about as maniacally as he drives his horse and carriage around the countryside. And the heroine, 17-year-old Catherine Morley, whose imagination---especially the darker corners of it---is fuelled by a steady stream of romance novels. (One of the men tells her that such books have no redeeming value, and I could picture the author giggling as she wrote that line.)

That was possibly the biggest surprise to me; I had never thought of Jane Austen as funny. It's an understated, wry humour, but it is there, and it saves the books from being the sort of vapid romance her characters deplore.

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