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Northanger Abbey

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Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen's shortest major novel. She started writing it in 1798 and sold it to a publisher in 1803 for £10. The publisher did not issue the book and sold it back to Jane Austen's brother Henry for the sum he had given for it. Jane Austen revised it and it was finally published in 1818, shortly after her death.

Plot Summary

WARNING: Plot Details Follow

The novel makes fun of the fashion for Gothic novels whose plots, often set in the past, hinged on mystery and suspense and often imported elements of the supernatural like ghosts. It alludes to a number of these novels, including those of Ann Radcliffe. At one point seven such "horrid" novels (the adjective is the one used in the novel, where the heroine considers it as a term of praise) are named: it used to be thought that the titles were exaggerated and an invention of Jane Austen's, but subsequent research has established that the books really did exist.

The 17-year-old Catherine Morland accompanies neighbours, Mr and Mrs Allen, to the fashionable spa resort of Bath. There she meets and befriends Henry Tilney and Eleanor Tilney, children of an eccentric general. Another acquaintance Catherine makes in Bath, Isabella Thorpe, tries unsuccessfully to arrange a marriage between her brother John and Catherine. Isabella herself becomes engaged to Catherine's brother James. John Thorpe, a lively, thoughtless young man, given to careless exaggeration, tries to undermine Catherine's friendship with the Tilneys.

Catherine is invited to Northanger Abbey, the Tilneys' home. She imagines that this will be the scene of happenings from a Gothic novel, and Henry Tilney encourages her fantasies for the fun of it. On her stormy first night she finds some old writings, but her candle blows out before she can read them. In the morning they prove to be no more than laundry lists. In Northanger Abbey is a group of unvisited rooms which were used by General Tilney's wife, who died some years before. Catherine indulges all sorts of gruesome ideas about how she died, and even speculates that she is still alive, kept hidden from the world by an uncaring husband. She persuades Eleanor to take her to these rooms but they are interrupted by the General. On a second visit to them Henry finds her, and she confesses her suspicions about his father. Despite her fears, she is allowed to continue what proves to be an enjoyable visit.

Meanwhile Catherine's brother James breaks off his engagement with Isabella, who has been flirting with Henry Tilney's older brother, a captain. The Tilney's are shocked. But when the General returns from a trip to London, Catherine is told unceremoniously that she must leave. She returns home in unhappiness.

Henry follows her there a few days later. He explains what happened. Initially James Thorpe had led the General to believe that Catherine was a rich heiress, and this made the General keen on Henry marrying her. In London he met James, who now told him Catherine was penniless, and decided that Catherine was wholly unsuitable for his son. Eventually the General discovers that Catherine's family, though not super-rich, are comfortably off, and consents to the marriage.

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