Friday, March 17, 2017

Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen

The word 'novel' derives from the latin word for 'new' and dates back to the early 19th century, when novels were precisely that. They were considered decidedly second-class to poetry and history - especially the 'sensation novels' reaching a mostly female, therefore inherently inferior, audience - and were disapproved of by more refined members of society (though of course widely read).
In 'Northanger Abbey', Austen has a go both at contemporary gothic novels (Radcliffe's 'The Mysteries of Udolpho' is explicitly mentioned) and at conduct books (Richardson's 'Pamela' comes to mind, of course). There is also her customary marriage plot with its pertaining social criticism, as well as the equally frequent coming-of-age of her main character.
That makes for a lot of various themes in one and the same book!

True enough, Austen ought perhaps to have settled for less, and arguably might have, too, had this novel been penned later on in her career. As it was, this was her first finished novel, sold to a publisher in 1803 (for £10!) but only published posthumously.

Her sameness of themes is bewildering to me : Was it, in the end, rather fortunate that she did not get to repeat herself in more than six novels? Or would she, given a few more years, eventually have matured into a more versatile novelist? 

Only one more Austen-novel to go now, then I will have reread them all (except Pride and Prejudice, which I felt I knew well enough already). : Elizabeth Klett is an excellent reader!

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