Well, friends, we did it. We reached the final novel published (posthumously) by Jane Austen. What a journey our girl took us on! Imagine the stories that would’ve come out of her brilliant brain had she not been taken from the world so soon. *deep, awkwardly emotional sigh* But we shan’t dwell on what could’ve been, when we have her legacy to dissect, enjoy, reimagine, and adapt over and over and over until the eventual heat-death of the universe.
It’s no secret that Northanger Abbey is my favourite. This story is just FUN, you know? There’s not a whole lot of angst (although there has to be SOME, it is Austen afterall), there’s a generous serving of sarcasm and cheek, and the love story is just so darn sweet it gives us all cavities. It’s charming rather than sexy, silly rather than dramatic, straightforward rather than brooding, and all while conveying Austen’s signature wit and scathing social commentary. It is, in essence, the perfect story to put a smile on this girl’s face.
So yes, it’s my absolute favourite of all time, but the thing is, there is no superior Austen novel. They are diverse; with different types of leads to connect with, different journeys to go on, and different points of view. There is an Austen novel for every type of human. Our personal preferences are just that; personal, and they in no way determine the “best” Austen story, because that idea simply does not exist.
I’m a goofball (SHOCKING, I KNOW), so my preference leans towards the silly novel; the fun one. You may be an intense romantic who is ride or die for Persuasion. Enemies to lovers may be your ultimate jam, so Pride and Prejudice resides in your heart of hearts forevermore. This is the brilliance of our queen, Jane Austen. This was her gift to us. She wrote to and for all of us. She excluded no one*.
I love a story that begins by brutally dragging the protagonist. The movie was narrated by Austen (Marilla Cuthbert herself, Geraldine James), telling us from the start that Catherine isn’t heroine material. She’s not accomplished, is just growing into her looks, doesn’t have strong opinions, isn’t morally pristine, or super competent. She’s just an average woman who loves to spend entire days reading trash books and daydreaming about more exciting things than her actual life. If you weren’t immediately like, “oh shit, that’s me,” then I don’t know what to tell you.
Anyway, Catherine’s well-to-do neighbours, the Allens, invited her along with them to Bath so Mr. Allen could cure his gross foot, and Mrs. Allen could be hilariously socially inept.
If you’ve never imagined a bunch of ruffians overtaking your mode of transportation while you either A) fight them off and save everyone, or B) fall in love with one of them, and then you get super annoyed when someone talks to you and brings you out of your fantasy, then I don’t even know you anymore. Catherine’s overactive imagination is the exact reason I identify with her so hard, and I will never stop loving her for it.
They arrived in Bath and some dude said, “there’s a little peach that’s ripe for plucking,” while another one “accidentally” rubbed up against her, because it doesn’t matter the century, gross jerks have to be true to who they are (gross).
After a fun shopping trip worthy of Pretty Woman, Catherine and the Allens went out into society. It went as well as expected for people with no connections, seeing as they couldn’t talk to anyone unless they were introduced, and they couldn’t be introduced to anyone unless they could already speak to someone. Sort of like getting a job as a millennial.
Well hello there, Mr. Tilney! This meet-cute was just so (forgive me) cute. He accidentally snagged Mrs. Allen’s dress and then proceeded to astound with his knowledge of muslin, forever winning the heart of Mrs. Allen, and endearing himself to Catherine, who could tell he was being cheeky.
He proceeded to find them a seat, brought someone to properly introduce them, and then it was ON.
Imagine leaving your tiny little village for the first time as a teen and THIS is the first man you meet?? The poor girl probably thought all men were like this, when the truth is that Tilney is ONE OF A KIND (and resides in my heart forever).
This guy (whom we later learn is John Thorpe) was staring at her so intensely that it honestly seemed he was concentrating on a spell. Like, relax, dude! Catherine noticed and asked Mr. Tilney if he knew him, and he was all, “uh, gross, no, but he’s obviously got a lil’ crush,” and Catherine was like, “on lil’ old meeeee? Hahahaha absurd,” and Tilney just gaped at her slack-jawed like, “oh shit, you’re one of those.”
The Allens (who believed Mr. Tilney a decent man because he had a sister and knew of muslin) informed Catherine that he lived in Northanger Abbey, long to be believed haunted (or at least very creepy). This of course set Catherine’s imagination aflame, because she is who she is!
Meet Isabella and John Thorpe, and Catherine’s brother James. James had visited the Thorpes and had a flirtation with Isabella that bordered on an understanding. Isabella, as evidenced from the very first moment we meet her (where she tried to chase down some boys while admonishing their flirtatious behaviour), is the worst.
[It must be said that there is NOTHING wrong with being an attention lover, or a total flirt, or even an ambitious gold-digger. Her the-worstness comes from the duplicity of presenting herself in one way and acting in another. Nothing she says is truly genuine, and she very obviously takes advantage of Catherine’s naivety, end rant.]
Anyway, her brother John was the wizard from the bar, and kept saying “dammit” and was way too forward for someone like Catherine, but she was game for a dance because dancing is the best.
Tilney showed up at the dance hall with his awesome sister Eleanor, making Catherine’s other pals totally jealous of the way the Tilneys immediately captivated her attention (obviously). As Henry went to get them some ice cream (do you SEE why he is my boyfriend????) Catherine gossiped with Eleanor about how her younger brother is the best (as evidenced by the ice cream), her dad is terrible, her mother is dead, and her older brother is a scoundrel. Just some normal introductory stuff.
The Thorpe siblings showed up with Catherine’s brother James to take her on a ride to Disneyland or something, but she wanted to stay behind and go on a walk with the Tilneys, as they had planned. However, Catherine’s “true friends” lied to her about the Tilneys heading out of town and ditching her, so she agreed to go with them.
They passed the Tilneys and John sped on by, not letting Catherine get out to go walk with them, THEN he had the audacity to gaslight her choices, and said the Tilneys were puppy-killers or something, and pretended the whole thing was all for James’ sake, who couldn’t be alone with Isabella without their company. He’s a total ass, basically. Anyway, it rained and the whole day was the stinky pits, and Catherine went to bed reading a sexy book, OBVIOUSLY thinking about a certain dreamboat with kind eyes.
Catherine saw the Tilneys at the opera and immediately bounded over to them and explained the whole situation with such genuine fervour that they forgave her instantly and planned another play date.
Meanwhile, John Thorpe, in a confusing move he thought would be to his favour (?) convinced General Tilney that Catherine was the heiress to the Allen’s fortune, which… hahaha, guy, it’s a marvel why you’re single. Anyway, this worked the General into a gruff tizzy about locking Catherine down, so he was all, “Miss Morland, you will be a welcome addition to my bank account *ahem* I mean family.”
Haha, oh Mr. Tilney, you know not what you do! On their walk, they discussed books like the adorable nerds they are, and he insinuated that books draw from life, which 100% stoked the fires of Catherine’s imagination, especially in terms of his own family. Then Eleanor’s secret boyfriend turned up and we learned that the General insists upon his children to marry rich, which I’m sure is fine.
Hahahahhahha, I love this movie. Catherine had a dream-fantasy about Tilney, dressed in his vicar garb, helping her out of the bath and basking in her birthday suit. I love it forever.
James proposed to Isabella, and she accepted, telling Catherine, “You know me, you know I could never trifle with a man’s affections,” and then went on to talk about her small fortune not being enough for the Morlands, clearly indicating that she thinks they’re far richer than they are.
Introducing Captain Tilney, the older brother of our heroes, and just the very absolute worst. He very openly flirted with Isabella while Catherine and Henry were off discussing the possibility that John Thorpe is also the worst. At this point Tilney called John his ‘rival’, which if that isn’t a declaration of his romantic intentions, then I shall eat my socks (please don’t make me).
Anyway, Isabella was all, “I won’t dance with ANYONE, no siree, no way, as God as my witness, dancing is OFF the menu for me until my beloved returns, nothing on heaven or Earth could possibly move me to dance,” and then she danced with Captain Tilney.
Ugh. Anyway, after a fitful night of sleep where Catherine dreamed about Captain Tilney as a villainous brute stealing Isabella away, she met up with Isabella, who was a bit peeved about the living the Morlands had promised James. She, like everyone in this story, thought the Allens would provide for the Morland family, and therefore was being a brat about the living she would have to endure as James’ wife. Like the master manipulator she is, she convinced Catherine she was upset about the two year wait, and Catherine, being the pure of heart dumb-dumb SHE is, forgave her instantly.
The General invited her to
marry his son visit Northanger Abbey, in a very warm, inviting manner. J/K, he basically ordered her to do it, then marched off in a sinister huff.
Catherine rode with Henry (after the General played Terrifying Cupid and insisted upon it), and on the way they discussed Catherine’s fear that Isabella would break her brother’s lil’ heart and run off with Captain Tilney. Henry was all, “sorry, I can’t hear you over our adorable flirtation,” and Catherine was like, “IS YOUR BROTHER GOING TO COCK BLOCK MINE?” and Henry was like, “whaaaaaaa??? Nooooooooooo, except probably, yeah.”
Dinner was awkward as effffffffffffff. She had to race downstairs to make it in time, and then had to be covertly tutored by Eleanor and Henry about what utensils to use, all while being grilled by the General about how much money the Allens have. He was all, “so, how big is Mr. Allen’s dick, ahem, dining parlour?” And she was like, “Does it matter?” And he was like, “Anyone who’s anyone knows that it absolutely DOES,” and she just slurped her soup and made silly fun doe eyes at Henry (honestly, who wouldn’t).
Catherine was all excited to find old pages in the bottom of a chest, but then was hilariously disappointed to discover that what she was too terrified to read during the night were in fact laundry lists (LOL I love this girl).
Henry and Eleanor just KEPT ON unknowingly building up the nefarious mystery playing out in Catherine’s mind. He was all, “all houses have their secrets, go ahead and imagine the worst thing you can,” and her imagination was like, “HAVE AT IT, GURL!” That mixed with Eleanor being all, “hmmmm, my mother’s death? I couldn’t tell you a thing about it because I didn’t make it home in time to see her illness, or even her dead body. She could still be alive! Haha, j/k, she’s super dead, but like, I don’t know how or why. Oh look, a flower!” Then they tried to sneak into Mama Tilney’s room to see her selfie, but the General grumpily stopped them.
Tilneys! Stop giving the most imaginative woman in the history of Austen SO MUCH fodder for imagined nefarious plots! Like, WHY didn’t the General let them in the room? It’s not like he was mourning so hard that he couldn’t bear the room be disturbed. He didn’t even like his wife! Really, they brought it on themselves.
The General left for a few days, and with the oppressive shadow of grumpiness gone, Henry, Catherine and Eleanor started to actually have fun. They picked apples, they visited Henry’s vicarage, they rode horses in the rain wearing fabulous top hats, they smiled, they laughed, and they wiped mud off each other’s cheeks with an intense twinkle in their eye that said, “I am very obviously in love with you.”
On another walk (these people must have really defined calf muscles), Henry egged her on even more by refusing to elaborate on the “secrets” of the house, and encouraged her to use her imagination. Tilney! You know not what you do!
Catherine told Henry her suspicions that his dad murdered his mom, and he wasn’t thrilled about it. He rode off in a confused, miffed gallop, and Catherine believed she’d ruined everything forever (lovable dummy).
The punches just kept on coming for Catherine. As she was crying on a bench thinking she forever ruined her adorable flirtation with Henry, a letter came informing her that her supposed bestie cheated on her brother, and their engagement was off.
Isabella made her own choices, but let’s be perfectly clear – Captain Frederick Tilney is 100% the villain of her story. She was just as young as Catherine, and ripe for manipulation. He was a (much) older, respected man who took advantage of her knowing what it would cost her. Just as was the case with Lydia Bennet, I don’t think Jane Austen wrote this character with judgement, as much as she did with cautionary intent. Stay away from these men! She wrote in her subtext. Be vigilant! Protect yourselves from a world that doesn’t value women! We must yet play by their rules until our descendents finally stand up and say, “eff the patriarchy!”
Where was I? Oh right.
The General returned home and kicked Catherine out of Northanger Abbey in the middle of the night. She assumed it was because of her murder board, but Eleanor was like, “girl, EVERYONE has a murder board, it’s not that,” but Catherine was convinced that she deserved this treatment, so she went on her way with zero malice in her sweet young dumb-dumb heart.
She made it home (after riding in a public carriage with strangers and a goose [LOL]), and went back to her life, lecturing her younger siblings about learning from her mistakes, and telling them all about the swoony, kind, charming dreamboat who she was definitely NOT in love with or anything.
Mrs. Allen is a comic masterpiece. This might be a direct quote from the source material. Girl was more hung up on Mr. Tilney than Catherine was, and defended him when the whole family was ready to write every last Tilney off as the worst.
Mr. Tilney showed up at Catherine’s place and apologized to her family, instantly winning them over, because of course. Then he gave her mother the “imma propose” eyes, and away they were sent on a walk. He told Catherine why the stupid General had kicked her out of the house so rudely (he found out she wasn’t an heiress), and then revealed that he ran away from home and would never be a rich man. Catherine was all, “who the eff cares, get to the good part!” So he proposed, and they had the most awkward, most adorable kiss in Austen movie history.
SWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON. Eleanor got to marry her newly-rich secret boyfriend, and the movie ended with General Tilney walking all miserable and alone in his giant home, but I like to rewind to that adorable proposal because it makes my heart sing (heh… “rewind”… I know, I know). And thus Northanger Abbey ended, leaving us feeling happy and satisfied in a way only Austen can.
I hope at this point it’s obvious that I love all of her work, but I think the reason Northanger Abbey is my favourite (aside from the humour and whimsy) is the straight-forwardness of the romance. Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland were smitten with each other from the very first moment, and every single person knew it. They were both open about their feelings at all times (Henry because he’s a genuine person, and Catherine because she was too naive to know how to hide her feelings).
The story didn’t need grand gestures. It didn’t need a build-up fraught with tension, or epic romantic misunderstandings, or years-long passionate resentments (though I do love those things, don’t get me wrong). I suppose love Northanger Abbey because it’s the closest to my own romantic fantasy: a funny, kind person who is honest about their feelings… *thunk* *snort* *huh* Oh, sorry, I just fainted at the thought.
And that, my fellow Austen lovers, is that. Northanger Abbey was her final completed work. It, along with Persuasion, was published after her death. Each book was so different than the last, with such different heroines and romantic heroes, backgrounds, and statuses, that one has to wonder if Austen herself mad-libbed her way into new stories. Of course, more likely is that she wanted a challenge, she didn’t want to be a one-note author, and she wanted to touch as many people as possible with her stories; and let every type of person resonate with her characters.
Thank you, Jane Austen, for what you have given us, now and forever.
- *When I say that Jane Austen excluded no one, I am speaking in terms of our emotional states and personalities rather than our literal demographics. Obviously, due to the social restrictions of her time, all of her characters are straight white people.
- This seems to be the only recent version of this story, though when I was searching to see if I should consider others, I found THIS:
HAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA WHAT. Look, I’m sure this 1987 episode of Screen Two was good, but what is that poster!! They made the silliest Austen novel look like a surprise photo of a couple in a house of horrors when the employee dressed as a skeleton pops out.
- They tried it with Fanny in the 1999 version of Mansfield Park, but if any of the Austen heroines would be a writer like Austen herself, it would be Catherine. Girl has such an awesome imagination that should be put to use! Tilney joking about Catherine using her imagination to write a story about her suspicions about his home – “Northanger Abbey would make a very good title, don’t you think?” I SEE YOU, MOVIE!
- I identify with Catherine in how she can barely concentrate on real life with all the sword fights happening in her head (my brother calls me “Space Ranger”, no joke).
- The creepy horror gothic music was perfect.
- Mrs. Allen plastering on a huge smile and saying, “Yes, it is most disagreeable,” deserves an oscar.
- I use the term “trash books” affectionately, of course, as all books have value.
- In the book Austen stepped out of the narrative for a hot sec to lecture about the merits of novels, and how the people who were criticising them were just close-minded dweebs. I love how hard she called out her haters. How many of you truly believe in your hearts that if Jane Austen were alive today, and on twitter or something, you’d be total buds? *raises hand*
- Hear me out; Isabella Thorpe and George Wickham. Those two deserve each other. Maybe Lydia can fake her death or something.
- Upon returning home and ‘learning her lesson’ about her imagination, she BURNED The Mysteries of Udolpho, and I SAW RED. First – burning a book!?!?!? Second – books were not easy to come by at that time!! Catherine!
- The annoyed maid was 100% the MVP of this movie.
- If anyone wants a close-up of Catherine’s murder board, here you are:
Thank you for going on this weird little journey with me! STAY SAFE OUT THERE!