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Literature: Northanger Abbey
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.
Opening Line

The definitive Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey was Jane Austen's first completed novel, which she wrote as "Susan"; it developed farther the satiric vein found in her juvenilia, such as Love And Friendship. However, circumstances prevented the novel from being published until after her death in 1817.

The fourth of ten children, and eldest daughter, 17-year-old Catherine Morland is a Tomboy grown into a major Gothic Novel fan girl. She's become so involved in reading that she fancies herself as the heroine of such a work as The Mysteries of Udolpho. One day, she is invited to come along with the childless Allens for a trip to the spring resort of Bath. There, she meets two families, the Thorpes and the Tilneys. The Thorpes' eldest son, the egocentric twit John, tries to woo her. However, Catherine fancies the Tilneys' second son, the gentleman Henry. Henry's father, General Tilney, invites Catherine over to the Tilneys' estate, the eponymous Northanger Abbey. There, Catherine's expectations of the world clash with bitter reality.

Countering the Adaptation Overdosed tendency of Austen's other works, this has to be the least adapted of all her works. It was twice adapted into Made for TV Movies, once by The BBC in 1986 and once by ITV in 2007. Marvel Illustrated is releasing a Comic Book Adaptation starting November 2011, script by Nancy Butler, pencils and inks by Janet Lee, and covers by Julian Totino Tedesco. It was also the second book given a modern day Setting Update by The Austen Project, written by Val McDermid.

The novel provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: General Tilney might be seen as emotionally abusive. His behavior to his children goes from overbearing to tyrannising and it's clear that Eleanor fears him. Catherine even wonders why his children are always so sedate when he's present.
  • Adults Are Useless: Mrs. Allen fails to do her job when it comes to advising Catherine on etiquette. Enough so, in fact, that Catherine finally complains that she's being left dangerously to her own devices.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of Gothic Romances.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: After the 2007 adaptation was broadcast, a letter to the Radio Times complained that the scriptwriter had added a jarring reference to baseball. That passage came word for word from the book. In fact, the OED records it as the first mention of baseball (by that name) in literature.
  • Ascended Fangirl: Gothic romance novel fangirl Catherine gets to spend some weeks in a Gothic abbey. The trope is ultimately subverted, when Catherine is proven to be Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Mrs. Morland is unaware of this, and does not warn her daughter against the peril.
  • Author Filibuster: Austen screeches the plot to a halt early on to rant about how novels are undeservedly thought of as low art.
  • Black and White Morality: Catherine's firm belief at the opening of the novel. In the end you could argue that the novel encourages to consider things as The Good, the Bad, and the Evil with a lot of A Lighter Shade of Grey and Classical Anti-Hero (Catherine, despite being moral, being this).
  • Big Fancy House: Northanger Abbey from the title. Catherine is disappointed as it is too fancy and too comfortable for her taste. She would have preferred something of a haunted house.
  • Building of Adventure: Catherine expects the abbey to be this and is rather disappointed when it turns out to be just an elegant building with every modern comfort.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Deliberately invoked by the Narrator to deliberately narrowly avert an Ass Pull!
  • Clock King: General Tilney.
  • Completely Missing the Point: The Paperback Library printing of this book, egregiously so. They mistook it for an actual gothic novel of the sort that it parodies. Hilarity ensued. Could also count as a Contemptible Cover.
  • Coordinated Clothes:
    • Isabella Thorpe, a reputed beauty, tries to invoke the trope by suggesting her newest, bestest friend Catherine that they should be dressed exactly like each other because men often do take notice of that. She probably wants to invoke the beautiful twins image and attract attention. The innocent Catherine doesn't follow.
    • Isabella's younger and less attractive sisters Maria and Anne try to imitate Isabella's style and they dress like her. According to the narrator, it kind of works, but their rude brother John thinks his younger sisters are laughable and quirky.
  • Conversational Troping: EVERYWHERE!
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Catherine has all these suspicions about the Tilneys and the abbey, all of them based on nothing except conventions of gothic novels, and jumping to wild conclusions based on tiny discrepancies in what she thinks someone's behaviour should be. For this, she earns the title of Idiot Hero, because although she tends to be smart if naive in other matters, here she drops down right into deep stupidity. She gets better, though.
  • Dances and Balls: At Bath. Catherine meets Henry Tilney at one.
  • Diary: Whether Catherine actually keeps one is never mentioned in the novel, but Henry jokingly assumes that all young women do, and goes on to speculate that that's why they're (supposedly) so good at letter-writing. This is an early (perhaps the first) example of the word "journal" used as a verb. Henry speaks several times about "journaling", making the whole conversation sound oddly modern. Played straight in the 2007 movie, in which she is revealed, two seconds after this conversation, to be writing about the events.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The narrator. Also Henry Tilney who might be described as spear version of Elizabeth Bennett.
  • Death by Childbirth: Since this was a Dead Horse Trope even in Austen's day, she explicitly points out in the first paragraph that this did not happen to Mrs. Morland.
  • Deus ex Machina: General Tilney refused to let Catherine wed Henry only because he did not want Henry to marry a poor girl. But then, his daughter Eleanor marries a nobleman, making him happy enough to consent to his son's marrying whomever he wants (although it also doesn't hurt when he finds out that Catherine's not as poor as he thought). By the way, remember the laundry list? That was said rich man's.
  • Doorstop Baby: No family in Catherine's neighborhood raised a boy found on their doorstep. No wonder she had to leave home to have adventures.
  • Drives Like Crazy: John Thorpe. The scene where he invites Catherine for a ride in his carriage is actually rather terrifying, especially since he refuses to listen to her insistent pleas to stop and let her get out. It's hard to tell how crazily he's actually driving, since Catherine's sensibilities for such things are probably pretty low, but Henry Tilney is much more sensible.
  • First Name Basis: Isabella and Catherine reach this very quickly.
  • Foregone Conclusion/Medium Awareness/Spoiled by the Format: "The anxiety, which ... must be the portion of Henry and Catherine ... can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity."
    • Subverted in editions that include Lady Susan and the unfinished novels, the end of Northanger Abbey occurs when only halfway through the book.
  • Generation Xerox : Notably averted as Catherine has to do a lot of effort to see, between a very realistic painting of their mother on the one hand and Henry and Eleanor on the other, any resemblance. The same, in mind, happens with their father: Henry Tilney is kind, generous, satirical and open, while his father is mean, mercenary, ridiculous for the narrator, and mysterious.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • Catherine "remembered that her eldest brother had lately formed an intimacy with a young man of his own college".
      • At the time this would be a strong, deep bond known as a romantic friendship. Friend couples hugged, kissed, just slept together, wrote passionate letters, and pledged their devotion with rings, locks of hair and keepsakes. There were church ceremonies to solemnize their platonic union.
    • Henry Tilney refers to himself as a "queer man".
    • Mrs. Allen uses the word "fag" to describe a long, tiring voyage.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Isabella Thorpe is made of this trope.
  • Identical Grandson: Catherine expects this of the mother's portrait
  • I Do Not Speak Nonverbal: Mrs. Allen explicitly doesn't.
  • I Gave My Word: Henry proposes marriage to Catherine and then tells her his father forbade it. She's glad, saying that if she learned first of the objection, she would have been honor bound to turn Henry down. But now that she accepted him, she's bound to keep her promise.
    • In the 2007 movie version, this is inverted, as Catherine must, to be romantic in current context, accept to marry Henry even if he becomes poor. So, he tells her first that he broke with his father because he opposed the idea of the marriage and that he'll probably be dishinertited (this is total modern romanticism taking over the rule of the work's universe and lack of research, as this never happens in the book, wouldn't have been possible as Henry is a second son and wouldn't have inherited, and finally doesn't even happen in the movie either), and then asks her. She ignores his father's opposition and accepts gladly.
  • Irritation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery:
    • Subverted with Isabella and her younger sisters. Isabella is the beauty of the family and she gets imitated, but not irritated. She might even be pleased that she's a star.
    • Played straight when one girl tried to copy Isabella's look and wore a turban like Isabella did. In Isabella's opinion, Charlotte did not pull it off as turbans only suit her own fair face.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Everywhere.
    • The BBC Radio adaptation adds more; at the beginning of the second episode, Mrs Allen recounts the events of the first to her husband, who replies "Thank you, my dear, for that clear account of Catherine's adventures to date."
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Again, everywhere.
  • Lemony Narrator: Austen's most prominent use of the trope.
  • Lighter and Softer: Austen's shortest book, with a much more overtly comedic tone than her others.
  • Love Triangle: Two of them, with each person in one a sibling of someone in the other — John Thorpe/Catherine Morland/Henry Tilney, and James Morland/Isabella Thorpe/Frederick Tilney. Yes, this makes things awkward.
  • Mating Dance: dancing is a metaphor for marriage, according to Henry Tilney.
  • Meaningful Rename: Lampshaded and Subverted as Catherine's younger sister Sally changes her name to... Sarah, for what young lady of common gentility will reach the age of sixteen without altering her name as far as she can?
  • Missing Mom: Mrs. Tilney. She died when Eleanor was a teenage girl at school.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: General Tilney.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: A major part of the Aesop for Catherine.
  • Na´ve Everygirl: Catherine
  • The Oath-Breaker: Isabella's jilting her fiance is treated with all the gravity that the era would regard it.
  • Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List: Catherine finds some old papers, and imagines their terrifying contents just as the lights go out. When she gets some light and reads them, she finds a laundry list. This is a Chekhov's Gun.
  • Parental Marriage Veto:
    • Isabella fears this from James's parents, for no good reason.
    • General Tilney does veto Henry's engagement to Catherine.
  • Pimped-Out Car: John Thorpe's "curricle-hung" gig is the Regency equivalent. Verges on Rice Burner; a curricle should be pulled by two horses, but his gig only has one, and Thorpe's boasts about its performance aren't borne out.
  • The Place: Northanger Abbey from the title is a place.
  • Poor Communication Kills
  • Rear Window Investigation: Catherine snoops around the Abbey when she suspects General Tilney of killing his wife.
  • Relative Error: Averted, and the narrator is amused. When Catherine sees Henry with an attractive young woman, she immediately (and correctly) assumes it's his sister, because he already mentioned having a sister. The narrator points out that she missed a great opportunity for a dramatic fainting fit there. It is played straight in the 2007 miniseries, in which she mistakes Eleanor for Henry's fiance, which makes their laughing while Henry looks at her while whispering in Eleanor's ear seemingly more cruel.
  • Sacred Hospitality:
    • Played straight by Henry and Eleanor.
    • Subverted by General Tilney.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Inverted. Near the end, Eleanor has to inform Catherine of the General's decision to (more or less) kick her out of the house. Catherine does not shoot the messenger. She actually pities her because she knows it's hard for her.
  • Shout-Out: To numerous pieces of literature from its day.
  • Spoiled by the Format: Lampshaded (see Foregone Conclusion, above). invoked
  • Spoof Aesop: Only by Henry proposing to Catherine against his father's wishes is a happy ending possible. The second page quote discusses the trope.
  • Suddenly Suitable Suitor: The deus ex machina ending.
  • Tears of Remorse: Catherine, after Henry disillusions her about his mother's death.
  • íThree Amigos!: Catherine and Eleanor and Henry Tilney.
  • Troll: On the approach to the abbey, Henry spins a typical gothic romance story about what Catherine will find there, clearly just teasing her about her obsession with them. She later tells herself that she wouldn't have made nearly as big a deal about the cabinet in her room if it didn't play perfectly into his story.
  • Unable To Support A Wife: Eleanor's lover — brought up in the end.
  • While You Were in Diapers: Henry teasingly boasts to Catherine that he's surely read a lot more novels than she has. Really though, by the end of the book, Henry is 26 and Catherine is 18.
    Henry: I have had years the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home!note 
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The result of Catherine seeing the world of a Regency Romance through Gothic Literature Eyes.

Tropes appearing in adaptations:

  • Awkwardly-Placed Bathtub: When Catherine is in her bath, she drifts into fantasy and her bathroom becomes a symbolically fertile woodland grove. Then Henry stops by to admire the view, so to speak.
  • Romance-Inducing Smudge: There's a lovely splash of mud on Catherine's face and Henry tries to clean it... Shown during the montage in the Abbey after General has left and the trio of young people enjoy their time together.
  • Romantic Rain: In ITV's TV movie, during Catherine's visit to the Abbey, Catherine and Henry go horse riding to see Henry's parsonage. When they reach it, it's about to start raining. Catherine suggests they race back to the Abbey. It's quite a rainy and muddy ride and at the Abbey, Henry cleans and caresses Catherine's face.

I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.
Closing Line

Mansfield ParkPublic Domain StoriesThe Odyssey
EmmaCreator/Jane AustenPersuasion
North and South 19 th Century LiteratureNotes from Underground

alternative title(s): Northanger Abbey; Northanger Abbey
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