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A Summary of Northanger Abbey

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Northanger Abbey was published in 1817 after Jane Austen had died. Though not as popular during its release or even today, it is one of her most humorous novels. This particular story is a satire of the gothic novels which were enormously popular during this period of time in British society.  Thousands of readers were purchasing such tales of mysterious deaths, dark family secrets, and gloomy old mansions. Jane apparently found these tales vastly amusing and decided to poke fun at this particular genre of literature.

Jane's heroine in this novel is Catherine Morland, a young woman who is invited by family friends to the city of Bath for a few weeks of society and relaxation. While she is staying there, she meets a wealthy man named Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor. Catherine quickly falls in love with Henry and develops a friendship with Eleanor. As their relationships deepen, they invite Catherine to spend time with them in their home called Northanger Abbey. Catherine agrees, in part because of her active imagination and her choice of novels. She begins to imagine all sorts of bizarre and mysterious occurrences and later thoroughly scares herself in the guest bedroom during a thunderstorm. Then, she begins to suspect that Henry's father was once abusive to his wife and creates all shorts of scenarios (one of which involves Henry's father murdering his wife).

Several days after her arrival at Northanger Abbey, Henry's father suddenly forces her to leave his house and offers no explanation for his behavior. She briefly thinks that her theories may have been correct. However, she later learns she was forced out of the abbey because Henry's father found out she was poor and he didn't want Henry to be tempted further.

Catherine returns to her own family but one day Henry pays her a visit. He later discovers Catherine has been in love with him for a while and then proposes. Despite his father's objections, they get married.

Though not nearly as brilliant or memorable as her earlier works, Jane Austen's wit and sarcasm sparkly in her critique of the then-current obsession in Britain with the gothic novel genre. She wove some gothic elements into her story, but the "climaxes" turn out to be just the opposite and Catherine is made to look foolish in her fantasies. It is not hard for readers to smirk as Catherine's wild imagination gets the best of her several times in this novel.


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