Northanger Abbey

The last remaining novel of Jane Austen’s that I’d not yet read. Published posthumously along with Persuasion, Northanger Abbey was the first she wrote although her publisher delayed printing it until after her death. It’s definitely clunkier, but you can see Austen developing the wings she’d soon soar with. In Chapter 5 she goes off about how novels get a short shrift and name checks novels by Fanny Burney (Cecilia, Camilla) and Maria Edgeworth (Belinda). The whole book leaves us breadcrumbs of other works to consider, as I’ve discovered that most well-mannered books do; she mentions late 18th century authors like Ann Radcliffe, Eliza Parsons, Regina Maria Roche, Eleanor Sleath, Francis Lathom).

There’s a delicious swerve in the conversation when Henry (object of Catherine’s adoration) rails against the new meaning of the word ‘nice:’ “Oh! it is a very nice word indeed!—it does for every thing. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement; —people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”

Austen flexes her feminist muscles a bit in Chapter 14: “To come with a well-informed mind, is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can.”