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"Northanger Abbey" Review by Joyce

Northanger Abbey is available for free download from our ebook catalog. This ebook is also part of The Complete Works of Jane Austen ebook compilation.

“The wish of a numerous acquaintance in Bath was still uppermost with Mrs Allen, and she repeated it after every fresh proof, which every morning brought, of her knowing nobody at all.”
--Jane Austen

Let me admit, that, until I read Northanger Abbey, I was a Jane Austen virgin. Although I lived for a while with one of Austen’s biggest fans, I was more likely to be curled up with a sci-fi or computer book. In short, I had to be re-programmed to appreciate the classics in general and Jane Austen in specific. Please consider this when reading my comments.

Twenty three years have elapsed since my last teaching assignment; forty since college, and yet I find myself thinking about Cliffs Notes. The booklet sized analyses, much sought after by students and almost universally disdained by English teachers intended to lead the student through the intricacies of great literature, such as A Tale of Two Cities or Anna Karenina. More often students sought them as an alternative to reading the book, thus the disdain they received from teachers, who might otherwise have used them as a teaching tool to be read alongside the novel. I suppose a purist might insist that one should form one’s own thoughts regarding the book. However, as a teacher, I was a pragmatist. Sometimes the intricacies of the author’s prose could turn opaque, leaving the reader, especially an inexperienced one, at a loss to understand the plot, much less any accompanying symbolism. If Cliffs Notes helped to clarify the plot and introduce the symbolism in understandable terms, who am I to disdain them?

A Northanger Abbey Cliff's Notes version might have helped me understand the intricacies of the ending, which came tumbling at me so fast I scarcely knew what hit me. No ending has taken me as much by surprise since I read Georgette Heyer’s The Black Moth. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my first venture into Jane Austen. However, it got me wondering how a laundry bill could become such a pivotal symbol in the progress of the story and wishing I had paid more attention at its discovery.

My real issue with the ending was that I understood on some level what happened, but the dénouement was not spelled out for me as I expected it to be. This is not so much a fault of Jane Austen as it is of my inexperience in reading Jane Austen. Should you read Northanger Abbey? Absolutely. But I admonish you to pay careful attention when you do. Do also enjoy Ms. Austen’s turn of phrase, an example of which appears above, because very few people can put together a sentence the way Austen does. Cliff’s Notes wouldn’t hurt, either.

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