I was thrilled to receive a copy of the Annotated Northanger Abbey for Christmas because N.A. is one of the few Jane Austen books I hadn’t already read.
The story, about a girl with an overactive imagination and a fondness for Gothic horror stories, was fun to read. I rather think that Catherine Morland and Anne Shirley (from the Anne of Green Gables series) would have understood each other rather well and could share a rueful laugh or two over the the kind of scrapes you can get into if you are not careful with dramatic stories.
I can’t say that N.A. will ever rival Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, or Persuasion as one of my favorite Jane Austen novels. It isn’t nearly as polished, which makes sense since it was one of Jane Austen’s earliest works to be released for publication. Catherine, as a character, isn’t nearly as compelling as Elizabeth Bennet, Anne Eliot, or even Emma Woodhouse, but that might have been by design as the author was trying to make Catherine as ordinary as possible to contrast her with the very dramatic Gothic heroine that she was satirizing.
The ending was also rather abrupt. Miss Tileny’s marriage and its impact on Henry and Catherine’s prospects seemed to come from nowhere. It’s the closest Jane Austen has ever come to a deus ex machina kind of ending ending and that is something I think she would have managed better if she had written or revised the book a little later in life.
Lastly, unlike books like Pride and Prejudice which seem classic and timeless, Northanger Abbey comes across a little dated with frequent allusions to specific books and authors of Austen’s time that a modern audience wouldn’t necessarily pick up on. Even Jane Austen felt that the 13 year delay between when the book was intended to be published and when it was actually released had rendered parts of the book “obsolete” so I don’t think I am alone in feeling that a little extra information is needed to fully enjoy this story.
That is where David Shapard’s annotations come in. I have really enjoyed reading his annotations on books like Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, and Emma because they allowed me to pick up on details and nuances that I might have missed, not being as intimately familiar with Regency time and culture as Austen’s intended audience was. For Northanger Abbey, the annotations were even more helpful. With access to all the extra information, the book became much more accessible and enjoyable.