I just finished reading Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen's first novel to be completed for publication. Austen sold it to a London bookseller Crosby & Co. in 1803, but they decided against publication, so she bought it back for the same sum of ten pounds, and it was finally published after her death in 1817.
Northanger Abbey has all the trademarks of an Austen novel: the intricacies of etiquette in high society, deliberation on marrying for money and marrying for love, the social commentary, and Austen's wry sense of humour. Austen uses the book to poke fun at the gothic novel, which is hilarious at times, but somehow that part feels extraneous to me. Maybe it's just that I've read Austen's other works, which feel more polished and complete. Okay, the obsession with gothic novels is part of the main character, but is it necessary to the story? If Austen had gone another way, would it have hurt the book?
There is also an unexpected author intrusion where Austen gives the reader a piece of her mind on the value of novels. Apparently there was a great deal of prejudice against them at the time.
As the main character, Catherine, is obsessed with gothic novels, and the book plays on that fantasy versus reality aspect, I wonder if the author intrusions where Austen reminds us that we're reading a novel and breaks the reader's immersion in the story are a conscious choice. Here's a link to the Jane Austen Society's analysis of the book for further reading. The page also has an excerpt of Austen's defence of the novel.
What did I take away from this as a writer? Parody's hard to get right. This is one of Austen's earlier works, originally meant to be read only to her family. Maybe she was still finding her groove? The prose is lovely, and the voice is there, but somehow this rings hollow to me. I didn't get that invested in the characters or the story; not like I did with Pride and Prejudice or Emma.
In the end, I feel like this is two books smooshed together: a Jane Austen novel and a parody of the gothic novel.
An enjoyable read, but it doesn't make my list of all-time favourites.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen