Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen's fifth known novel and one of her most unique, and, in my mind, most well-written. It was originally written in 1798, sold to a bookseller in 1803, but it was not published until 1817. While it does not seem to be as well-known as many of Miss Austen's works, it is a most delightful book and is still widely in print.
Miss Austen introduces her readers to her heroine very promptly with the words: "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine." Catherine is the daughter of a respectable clergyman and one of ten children. As a child, she enjoyed frolicking about and playing with her brothers instead of quiet, sitting-down sorts of things, but as she grew older "she began to curl her hair and long for balls...her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart..." She has a huge imagination and a taste for thrilling, "horrid" Gothic novels.
At the age of seventeen, Catherine is invited to accompany an older, childless couple to spend six weeks in Bath. It is here that her life will change forever. She meets the Thorpes: Isabella, the woman with whom Catherine's brother is in love, and who enjoys fun and flirtation and horrid novels, like Catherine; and John Thorpe, Isabella's unobliging, underhanded brother. Catherine also meets the Tilneys: the hard-to-understand, and sometimes frightful General; the kind-hearted, pleasant Henry Tilney; and sweet, soft-hearted Eleanor. During Catherine's stay at Bath, General Tilney invites her to come and stay with them for a few weeks at his home: Northanger Abbey.
Instantly, Catherine's mind is full of imaginations of adventure at the word "abbey". Her taste for wild, romantic, adventurous books has conditioned her mind to expect her life to be like the stories she reads about. What secrets lie behind the walls of Northanger? What does the General expect of her? What will she learn about the realities of life; what is important and what isn't?
Northanger Abbey was the most tasteful, enjoyable book, full of fun and wit and many good laughs. One thing that intrigued me was how accurately Jane Austen describes and writes of the thoughts and perspectives of seventeen-year-old girls (like me! :-) ) Often she will peep into Catherine's thoughts and they remind me so much of my own. I also enjoy the way she builds the plot and helps you see things-- expectations and disappointments-- through Catherine's eyes. As I read, I learned, dreamed, expected, and sorrowed with her. In fact, the night before the day I finished it, I had to stop reading just a few chapters before the end, when her situation takes a sudden and alarming turn in which it is hard to tell if everything will turn out well, and I actually dreamed that night about what might happen after that. So there you see how obviously the book wraps up the reader in it's pages!
Like Emma, Northanger Abbey is not considered a "Christian" book, as it does not speak of Jesus Christ in so many words. However, (again, like Emma), I found a wealth of lessons to be learned from it. I enjoyed seeing Catherine as she grows and changes, especially after she makes some big mistakes at the Abbey. I also enjoyed the character of Henry Tilney (clergyman), whose demeanor is marked by kindness and wisdom. I felt there was so much to learn in Northanger Abbey and highly recommend it to you as a fun and enjoyable book for a quiet, wintery day.
P.S. Please do not suppose that because I recommended this book to you that I also recommend the movie adaptions to you. My mom has previewed both versions and both of them worked some questionable things into the story, particularly into Catherine's daydreams. So please be content to just read the book! :-)