Written by Rob Davies, Volunteer Coordinator.
For the warm, sun-filled month of June we read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, a quintessentially English book and author. We decided to read it because we realised that in the four years of our book group we had not read a single Jane Austen novel, so we thought it was time to rectify it with Northanger Abbey.
The novel focuses on the character Catherine Morland, who has an overactive imagination. Catherine is taken to Bath for the season by the friendly Allen’s, where she meets the Tilney’s and is subsequently taken to their estate at Northanger Abbey. It is of course a romance and Catherine is eventually swept off her feet by the dashing Mr Tilney.
A majority of the novel is set in Bath, and personally I believe it is the better half of the book. Austen vividly recreates Bath for the reader, with its lavish balls, gossip and excitement. One of my favourite chapters is when Catherine and Mrs Allen cannot find anywhere to sit, and when they finally do find somewhere they then cannot get any service and do not know anyone else at the party, which makes them both feel very uncomfortable. The book group felt this is a prime example of how Austen’s writing is still relevant for today’s audience, particularly regarding social awkwardness and the desperation to be part of the bigger party.
One of themes of the book is reading itself; the rise of the novel as a pastime is shown in how Catherine refers and makes connections to The Mysteries of Udolpho, a book she is reading. One of our members remembers reading it at University, and she says that although the book isn’t what we would imagine to be gothic nowadays, it caused a sensation when first published. Catherine’s enjoyment of reading novels is an insight into social history of the period, as the reading of novels was a growing popular pastime amongst middle and upper class ladies. Throughout the novel Catherine allows her imagination to run wild, applying gothic novel themes to real life which, as you can expect, gets her into trouble.
As a whole we enjoyed Northanger Abbey, we had a lively conversation about the book and agreed it was nice to finally read an Austen. For July we are reading Patrick Leigh-Fermor’s A Time of Gifts and we are meeting on Thursday 24th July at 5.30.