Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: The Fellowship of the Worms goes Classic

May 30, 2014 Book Club, Classics 30

Cheerio, Bookworms! smarty-mcwordypants-199x300

It’s that time again. The Fellowship of the Worms is now in session! This month’s selection was Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. WARNING: We will be discussing the WHOLE book. This will no doubt include SPOILERS. If you did not read the book and would like to participate, pick up a copy of Northanger Abbey and give it a read. This post will be here waiting for you when you finish. Now that the particulars are out of the way, I’ll remind you of the premise here. I’ll pose questions in bold and answer them in regular type.  If you don’t want your opinions influenced by my rantings, stick to the bold first. Feel free to answer them in the comments, or if you’re so inclined, on your own blog. A linky list will be provided at the end of this post for anybody who has reviewed Northanger Abbey on their own blog, even if it has nothing to do with the following discussion questions. Don’t be shy, please link up!

1. When tackling a classic, there’s always a bit of difficulty (at least for me) adapting to the language. Did any of you struggle with Ms. Austen’s flowery and polite prose?  I didn’t actually READ this novel, I listened to an audio version on a road trip. I think that was a wise choice, because the narrator was fantastic. There were a few points where I thought to myself, “Dang. The inflection helps a ton. I probably would have fallen asleep trying to read that sentence.” (I should mention I do most of my reading before bed… Though I will admit that classics tend to conk me out much faster than contemporary works.) I especially enjoyed the narrator’s inflection and found myself laughing aloud more than I would have expected… And yelling, actually. Because JOHN THORPE.

 2. And since it wouldn’t be the Fellowship of the Worms if I didn’t insight violence, how much did you want to northangerabbeypunch John Thorpe? I was so thoroughly irritated with John Thorpe I can’t even tell you. I wanted to punch him SO SO SO much! Acting like he owned Catherine, cancelling plans on her behalf, being a money-grubbing jerk weasel. Ugh. Horrible. And always hating on novels and talking about his stupid horses. Because, you know. His horses are better than your horses. His carriage is better too. Oh, and did he mention his horses?

3. The prevailing opinion of the time by the presumed literary elite was that novels were silly and not worth reading. Does this attitude surprise you at all? It really does surprise me that novels used to be considered inferior reading. I mean, I know a few non-fiction snobs who refuse to read fiction, but they’re few and far between. Most people I meet who prefer non-fiction aren’t jerks about it. Of course, book snobbery is TOTALLY still a thing. There are the highbrow literary fiction folks who turn a stink eye toward YA and Romance (and I have to admit I occasionally fall into the snobby category. I’m working on it, though.) so I suppose things haven’t really changed all THAT much, except that now SOME novels are considered worthy.

4. Money, money, money. Was anybody else appalled by the fact that these people were SOOOO fixated on money? I saw Isabella’s true colors a mile away. I mean, her brother was obviously a gold digger  from the first, but General Tilney surprised me. I mean, he CAST CATHERINE OUT. How unimaginably rude! And all because her fortune wasn’t what the wicked Thorpe had initially rumored and THEN denied? Seriously. Catherine was a catch. A bit of a ninny, maybe, but I suppose that was rather prized at the time. I know class snobbery certainly hasn’t disappeared, but I’d like to think people are better about it now… Maybe I should meet some rich people and test the theory. Wait! Is this why I don’t know rich people?! Now I’m giving myself a complex…

5. Ah Catherine and her runaway imagination. In what ways did you find Northanger Abbey parodied gothic novels? Anybody have an inclination to check out the The Mysteries of Udolpho? Catherine’s expectations upon arriving at Northanger Abbey cracked me up. She was like “Where are the secret passageways? We need more ghosts here!” It was like she expected foreboding musical accompaniment in her explorations. DUN DUN DUN! I was terribly amused by her assessment of General Tilney. Though it was proven false that he murdered his wife, he clearly was a bit of a turd. Just not a murderous turd. Part of me wants to read The Mysteries of Udolpho just so I can say that I did, but who am I kidding? The odds are incredibly slim.

Alright Bookworms, it’s your turn! What did you think of Northanger AbbeyPlease link up below if you’ve written a review of Northanger Abbey somewhere on the interwebz or if you’ve chosen to answer The Fellowship questions! Don’t be shy, y’all!

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30 Responses to “Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen: The Fellowship of the Worms goes Classic”

  1. Jayne

    Don’t bother with Mysteries of Udolpho! I was inspired to read it after reading Northanger Abbey and OMG that book is SO boring! I couldn’t bring myself to finish it and now it sits on my “shelf of shame”. If you really do want to give it a shot, you’re welcome to my copy so it will stop mocking me.

  2. Pauline

    I actually really liked The Mysteries of Udolpho! It took me a long time to get into it but once I did it was very exciting. The eerie atmosphere was great. Plus, now I find the satire in Northanger Abbey much more funny.

    And I totally agree with you about John Thorpe. He drove me crazy!

  3. AMB (Koiviolet)

    Hi Katie! Thanks for encouraging me to revisit Northanger Abbey.

    (1) I didn’t have much difficulty adapting to the language, but that could be because I’ve read it before. I knew what I was getting into! I don’t find Northanger Abbey as easy to read as some of Jane Austen’s other novels (which I believe went through more extensive revisions than Northanger Abbey did).

    (2) John Thorpe was so annoying! I couldn’t believe it when he just took it upon himself to interfere in Catherine’s plans. I was really angry at his sister, too.

    (3) I’m not surprised that the novels read (or written) primarily by women were considered silly. I was pleased to see Henry call people with that viewpoint “intolerably stupid.” I agree that it’s not that different today. When Jennifer Weiner writes a novel, it’s “chick lit”; when Jonathan Franzen writes one on family relationships, it’s “literary fiction.” Ugh.

    (4) Yeah, class snobbery certainly persists. It’s just more subtle now. We like to tell ourselves that we’re a meritocracy and all that matters is where you’re going–not where you come from–but that isn’t how it always plays out. We just don’t talk about it as openly.

    (5) Catherine’s runaway imagination really highlighted how she’s still so young and naive. I’m not very familiar with gothic novels of the time–and I don’t think I’ll ever get around to reading Mysteries of Udolpho–but I can see how it’s probably a parody of conventional themes. Catherine is kind of plain, doesn’t need to be saved (except perhaps from her own imagination!), and ends up falling for a guy who isn’t all that interested in her (at least at first).

    • Words For Worms

      SUCH an interesting point on #3! I hadn’t thought about the fact that many novel writers at the time were female. It makes so much sense! I guess I don’t think about the stereotyping of women writers now as much as I ought to, because they make up the bulk of the authors I read. I haven’t and likely won’t read Franzen because he sounds like such an insufferable douchebag. I haven’t read Jennifer Weiner either, but I have no particular objection to her, “chic lit” or not.

    • M.S.SH

      please can anyone answer these questions?!!!

      1-The marriage of Henry and Catherine happens very quickly at the end of the novel, almost as if it is an afterthought. Does this speediness cheapen the importance of the wedding? Why do you think Austen wraps everything up so fast?
      2- Some say the climax of the novel occurs when General Tilney sends Catherine away. However, some say the climax occurs when Catherine sneaks into the late Mrs. Tilney’s room and discovers nothing, and then gets caught and scolded by Henry. Which do you think is the climax? Why?
      3-Do you think the novel endorses strict parenting, or rebellious behavior on the part of the children against such a parent?
      4- When Austen satirizes resort-goers in the novel, does she do so affectionately or sharply?

  4. Megan M.

    I kind of cheated on this one. I got the Jane Austen and I read the first few chapters, and then I just happened to see that there was an adaptation of Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid. So I read that one instead.

    The old-fashioned language does trip me up. I’m used to being able to read and comprehend pretty quickly, and reading an older book makes me have to slow down and really make sure I understand what’s being said, and that frustrates me. So that’s why I went for the adaptation, and from what I can tell, it follows the original plot very closely (although the reason that Catherine gets thrown out of the Abbey was changed.)

    The Thorpes… wow. I’m a very mild-mannered and bookish person like Catherine, but if I had to deal with people like that, there’s no way I could have held my tongue for long. I definitely wanted to punch John Thorpe! And it was very obvious what Isabella was after. I would have had to tell her off, too.

    It is weird to me that people thought less of novel-reading. But then it’s weird to me that people look down on any kind of reading. You can find great writing and terrible writing in any category.

    • Words For Worms

      This is TOO FUNNY! I went to my inlaws’ last weekend and my MIL had the Val McDermid version and was asking me if it was the right book! How was it? I’m always skeptical of adaptations, but this one has me curious. What was John Thorpe obsessed with in modern times? Cars instead of horses?

      • Megan M.

        Exactly! He wouldn’t shut up about his car! LOL I really liked it, it was really well-written I thought. It seems like McDermid really captured the essence of the characters and the plot.

  5. Darlene @ Lost in Literature

    1. The language got to me a few years ago when I tried this one. I put it down after a couple of chapters. But I picked it up again last year for a read-a-long and it went much better. I think that’s because my quantity and quality of reading has increased so much in the past few years.

    2. I wanted to knock John Thorpe right out of that carriage! And smack him back and forth a couple of other times.

    3. I don’t know. What else were they supposed to do after they knitted and took a walk?
    I don’t get why reading a novel would be looked down upon unless maybe they saw it as unproductive??

    4. The money…well, I can see why you want you daughter to marry someone who could provide for her, but all this contest about who has the most is ridiculous.

    5. I can’t add anything here. It was utter book-snobbery like you said that she was laughed at for reading Udolpho. I’m sure I won’t read it, but I love that Grigg did in “The Jane Austen Book Club” movie.

    • Words For Worms

      Darlene, did you read The Jane Austen Book Club? I haven’t seen the movie, but the book was a lot of fun! I’ve been trying to get through all six novels since I read the book. I’m down to only Mansfield Park! Eeep!

  6. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    Consider me linked! I read this one a while ago, and I loved it because AUSTEN. But it was not my fave Austen book. I felt like there were some serious flaws in Catherine and Tilney’s relationship. I loved the take on gothic conventions. Super fun. And I pretty much wanted to kick everyone else in the teeth (coughTHORPEScough).

    • Words For Worms

      Sweeet! I don’t know that I can pick a favorite Austen. Not until I finish them all, I think. Honestly, I think this one might be second only to P&P for me (as cliche as it is to have P&P be your favorite Austen novel…)

  7. Jenny @ Reading the End

    I didn’t reread Northanger Abbey this month but I am weighing in anyway to put in a plug for Henry Tilney. Henry Tilney! I love him! He gets short-shrifted when people are talking about the Austen heroes, because eeeeeeeeeeeeveryone’s so in love with Mr. Darcy, but in MY opinion, Henry Tilney is the best because he jokes around with Catherine. Mr. Darcy barely even knows what jokes are.

    • Words For Worms

      I couldn’t agree more! I mean, I love Pride and Prejudice, but that’s more a function of Lizzie than of Darcy. Darcy had no sense of humor at all- the brooding romance is all well and good, but if I were an Austen heroine, I’d MUCH rather marry Tilney.

    • Erin

      Thank you! Northanger Abbey is actually my favorite Austen book BECAUSE of Henry Tilney!

  8. Samantha

    I really, really need to reread Northanger Abbey, it’s been about 2-3 years now, and I loved it the first time around, a LOT more than Pride & Prejudice. I also agree with Jenny that Henry Tilney doesn’t get enough love as an Austen hero.

    • Words For Worms

      P&P has a special place in my heart because it was my first Austen and I was in high school and in a swoony place. Plus it read like a soap opera, which was totally my bag at the time. I really loved Northanger Abbey, though! This had so much more humor to it, and Henry Tilney is where it’s at as far as the Austen heroes. He is my hands down favorite thus far!

  9. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    1. The flowery prose is actually one of my favorite things about Austen. I love everything about the way she writes 🙂

    2. Sooo much! What a jerk! I loved when Catherine stopped him from pushing her around.

    3. I wasn’t surprised because I didn’t feel like fiction in general was being looked down on so much as over-dramatic, gothic fiction.

    4. Yep, I definitely saw that coming. Isabella was trouble!

    5. I liked Catherine’s expectations too! I also enjoyed Austen’s impassioned defense of the novel. This wasn’t my favorite Austen, but I still love her 🙂

    • Words For Worms

      When Catherine put her foot down with John Thorpe, I might have cheered a little. By myself. In a car. In fact, I might have yelled “take that, douchebag!” I mean. Maybe.

  10. Ashley Z

    1- Oh where do I begin? I think I should have listened to the audio book instead of reading it. Maybe that would have made a difference because let me tell you, It took a lot out of me not to fall asleep while reading this! I had to make myself finish!
    2- I not only wanted to punch John Thorpe (he was kind of an asshat) but I did also want to punch just about everyone in this book! Especially *gasp* Catherine! What an immature, self-absorbed fool! Yeah, that’s right, I said it!
    3- Book Snobbery does, I agree, still exist. The attitude in this book did not surprise me at all. I found every single character snobbish in some sort of way!
    4- Isabella, General Tilney, and even Catherine to some extent were absorbed in class and money. I could smell Isabella’s motives from a mile away. General Tilney was just a jerk-face. And Catherine lacked depth. Blah!
    5- I can’t even answer this question because I saw Catherine as so immature and just a silly little girl. I felt like she didn’t even truly know what she wanted. I hated this book so much. Although I’ve only read one other Austen book (and enjoyed it) I think the next Austen book I read better be pretty darn fantastic or Miss Austen and I will have a serious beef!

    • Words For Worms

      Catherine was a bit of a ninny, I’ll grant you that. I have a much harder time reading classics than contemporary books, and since I do most of my reading in bed, I’ve fallen asleep mid book many, many a time. Here’s hoping you like next month’s pick better! 🙂

      • Ashley z

        I think next month will be amazing for sure. Ive eyed the pick a few times!

  11. Sarah @ Sarah Says Read

    Psssst – I have The Mysteries of Udolpho, but of course I haven’t read it yet. I’ll totally let you borrow it, if you get the urge to read it.

    I really like Northanger Abbey. It’s so dang FUN. I might try to fit it in this fall… it’s a good October read.

  12. Erin

    I really think that when (if) you read all of Austen’s books, you’ll come to a greater appreciation of Northanger Abbey. My book club recently read both the original and the Val McDermid versions of the book. In researching our discussion (I’m a librarian, and this was a library-sponsored book group….), I discovered that Northanger Abbey was Austen’s first book (although NOT published first), and Persuasion was her last completed book. You really MUST read Persuasion to fully appreciate the growth of this amazing author’s talent.
    Henry and Catherine (in my opinion) represent young love, naivete and eventual growth. The book is so upbeat, even in it’s silliness. Maybe the author thought at that point in her life that she, too, might find her hero. Persuasion is so much more serious, even though it also has some very “silly” characters.
    I thought Val McDermid did an amazing job of modernizing Northanger Abbey. I would definitely recommend that version, too.
    Yes, I love P & P…. It’s a requirement if you call yourself a Janeite! But…Northanger Abbey and the wonderful Henry Tilney/Catherine Morland are the perfect combination of humor, ridiculousness, and romance to me!

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