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Monday, August 18, 2014

Northanger Abbey Read Along Discussions, part 1

One of my favorite parts of Austen in August is the opportunity to reread and then discuss some of my absolute favorite books — to dive into those stories and greet the old friends therein, and then chat about those stories and friends with you. I love the new perspectives and the sharing of old loves, and I very much look forward to what all of you have to say.

To that end, this year, we are reading one of my favorite books, not just of Austen's, but of all time. There are very few books in the world that make me happier, and it saddens me (and makes me a leeeetle murderous) to see how dismissive people can be of it. We are talking, of course, of Northanger Abbey, which is generally regarded as a bit of fluff, and I've been wanting to read it with you, my Janeites, since the beginning of my Austen events, here in my corner of the internet.

ALL are welcome to this read along, whether it's your first or 50th time reading the book, and whether you love it as I do, or *gulp* hate it. You can respond to my questions or skip them entirely and focus instead on your own spin on the book, and those responses can come in any form — create your own blog, vlog, tumblr post, performance art [omg, somebody please do this!], and link it up in the comments, gush over Tilney on Twitter with the hashtag #AustenInAugust, or just share your thoughts in the comments below. The second set of questions will go up next Monday; respond to either or both at any point over the next two weeks. Whatever works for you is fair game!

If you haven't already started reading it but you want to join, you can grab a copy for FREE from a whole bunch of places, like any of these (X X X X), or if you want a physical one, I'd lay money on it that your local used book store has a nice, battered, loved old copy kicking around. Or, if you want, you can listen to this book (again, totally free!).

Now, on to the questions...

These discussion prompts concern Volume One of Northanger Abbey (ie Chapters 1 through 15, when Catherine visits the Tilney's at their lodgings in Milsom street)
  1. We'll start, of course, with first impressions. What are your initial thoughts on Northanger Abbey, either from the first time you read it, or if this is a reread, your impressions upon picking it up now? Does anything stand out to you that you'd like to talk about? What are your general impressions of the characters, style, tone, etc?
  2. What do you make of our introduction to Catherine and her family? Of the subversion of novel tropes  (many of which are still common today), such as the beautiful heroine/damsel in distress/perfect lady, the general (apparent) need for catastrophic events, heroic actions, pitiable circumstances, etc?
  3. One of Austen's most famous and frequently (and earnestly) quoted lines, "Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love" is delivered near the beginning of the book. Having read the scene, what do you make of the irony in it, in the fact that both the friendship and the "romance" are less than 24 hours old? Of the general use of over the top, borderline sarcastic statements such as this that are peppered throughout the beginning of the story? And/or of Austen's playful mockery of her young heroine, and young women in general? 
  4. Austen breaks the fourth wall a number of times in her books, but none so noteworthy as in Northanger Abbey's veritable speech on novel writers who are anti-novel within their own novels. Share your thoughts on this in-book tangent, coupled with the fact that she herself is writing what can only really be described as a satire of the novels of the day...
  5. Catherine often finds herself at the mercy of others' whims, and there are many scenes of her being pulled along or just going along with something, at the behest of one of the many strong personalities she finds herself surrounded by. On the other hand, she frequently does try to stand up for herself. Discuss this dynamic and any standout moments to you, such as the carriage outing, etc.
  6. Northanger Abbey is known for Catherine's naivete and Henry's (pleasant) mockery of it. Share your thoughts on this dynamic, or these aspects of the characters, and what it brings to (or detracts from) the story.
  7. Discuss any other standout points or anything else you'd like to discuss from Volume One, whether positive or negative.

(aka The One Everyone Loves to Hate On for Some Reason, Even Thought Its Pretty Much Perf.)
While enjoying a six weeks' stay in fashionable Bath, the young and callow Catherine Morland is introduced to the delights of high society. Thanks to a new literary diet of the sensational and the macabre, Catherine travels to Northanger Abbey fully expecting to become embroiled in a Gothic adventure of intrigue and suspense and, once there, soon begins to form the most gruesome and improbable theories about the exploits of its occupants. An early work, but published posthumously, Northanger Abbey is a satire on the Gothic mode typified by the novels of Ann Radcliffe, as well as a witty comedy of manners in the style of Jane Austen's later novels and, ultimately, an enchanting love story.

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  1. I started the reread today and for some reason this time through (maybe because I'm listening to the audio book for the first time), I'm sort of surprised at how good Catherine's judgements and perceptions are at the beginning of the novel. It doesn't really take her very long to start harboring doubts about many people and events in this first volume, but she doesn't have the confidence to speak up. It's different than many Austen's heroines, and I wonder if it's a product of both Catherine and the author's age- they are too young to fully understand and express the way in which character and beliefs can become more set as you get a bit older and more certain of yourself. Anyone else notice Catherine's rather astute observations (mixed in with the wildly off the mark stuff you'd expect from a teenager :)?

    1. I'm noticing that so much more too, this time around! I've always loved that she has a strong moral compass and she does try to express when she doesn't agree or something makes her uncomfortable, but I see now just how dead on she is most of the time. =D


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