neděle 17. července 2011

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (Opatství Northhanger)

   Dear readers, please, stand up, fetch a glass and pour in something alcoholic. Done? OK. Let me make a toast as this is the 100th review on my blog – on good literature, on bad literature and on the vampires who don’t glitter. So, keep reading and commenting and let’s hope we will meet here for the occasion of another one hundred reviews.

   Northanger Abbey focuses on Catherine Morland, a 17 year old girl from middle class, quite pretty (but no reputed beauty) and quite plain. She is invited by family friends to accompany them to the city Bath and spend some time there with them. Catherine finds out that Mrs. Allan has no acquaintances in the city at all and just keeps repeating that she is very sorry about it and that she would love Catherine to have someone to dance with. Luckily, they meet Henry Tilney who dances with Catherine, they both like reading novel and have quite a lot in common. Catherine loves reading Gothic stories and there are many allusion to real Gothic novels of the period (some people believed she had made them up but they are real and were re-edited afterwards, you can have a look at them here...I really have to read The Necromancer of the Black Forest). Later, they meet Mrs. Thorpe who is a former classmate of Mrs. Allen and she introduces Catherine to her own daughter Isabella. They find out quite quickly that they know Catherine’s brother James who is a friend of Isabella’s brother John.... (just to clear it up, Catherine and James are siblings and Isabella and John are siblings...). Catherine and Isabella become BFFs (just the last F stands rather for fairly-short-period than forever) and they speak about Udolpho and other Gothic stuff.
   Catherine then meets Henry again and he introduces her to his sister Eleanor and they…surprisingly…also become great friends. She settles a walk with the Tilneys but than John, Isabella and James come and persuade her to come with them because the Tilneys wouldn’t have a walk after a rain and John claims to have seen Henry with another girl heading in another direction. When they are in the carriage, Catherine sees the Tilneys on the street and asks John to stop but he just makes the horses go faster. That’s just to demonstrate that John is a total ass.
   Catharine is then invited to come with the Tilneys to their home – Northanger Abbey. She looks forward to coming there because it will be just like in her favorite books – a huge mysterious house with long forgotten secrets, dim passages, unexpectedly moving curtains and all that stuff. She also meets General Tilney (Eleanor and Henry’s father) who is really extremely nice to her but often quite cross with his children and everyone feels much more in ease when he is absent. Everyone (expect for Catherine) can see that he is a despotic maniac but…she really has no chance, considering her backgrounds.
   Well, long story short, Catherine finds out that Isabella is a bitch, John is and idiot and the General has no secret basement where he hides his supposedly dead wife. Oh, and she marries Henry. For a short time, I thought they wouldn’t but that was really naïve. It might be a spoiler but I feel obliged to prevent everyone from being as silly as I was…
   The whole book is primary a parody of Gothic novels. The heroine is a perfect opposite of traditional heroines of those books (she is not really beautiful, her mother didn’t die in mysterious circumstances, she is not really bright, can’t play piano, draw…she is really nothing special). She has spent her whole life at home with her parents so when she comes to the real world she more or lese expects it to be like in the Gothic novels. There are some funny parts, for example when Henry makes up a story of what it will be like when Catherine comes to their house or when she finds an enigmatic wardrobe in her room. It won’t crack you up, it’s kind of…rib tickler. There are many other themes like boredom of life in higher society (but that’s in all 19th century novels), difference between fantasy and the real world or the fact that people are not what they seem to be.
   I liked the book but the end really annoyed me. The whole thing is solved on few pages, everything is explained and there are no obstacles for the marriage of Catherine and Henry. It might be much better if it took longer time to discover what happens at the end of the book. On the other hand, Austen probably wanted only to write a parody of Gothic stories and when her heroine comes to the Abbey, finds out there are no secret passages, no weird servants, Mrs. Tilney wasn’t murdered by her husband and, although it is kind of a let down, no part of the furniture in her room contains remains of a diary of a girl from the 15th century who entrusted her deepest secrets and dramatic romantic story to the paper, there is just no reason to bring the book on. It isn’t a bad book but it also isn’t particularly good one so it is a worth reading only for those who enjoy Jane Austen.

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