rating: 4 of 5 stars
For my summer of revisiting Jane Austen, I started at the beginning, the earliest written yet posthumously published Northanger Abbey (technically, which was written when is a little complicated, but Northanger Abbey is usually treated like her first). Knowing already that it was a send up of the Gothic novels of the time, with their catastrophic heroines, dangerous castles and possibly vampiric men, I didn't know if the story would stand on its own.
Holy cow what a delight! Austen's writing is ingenious, as she subverts her readers' (and her heroine's) expectations by laying out what "should" excite her characters or send them into the throws of ecstasy (be it a ball, new handkerchief or old building) and instead, lets things be quietly pleasing and realistically worthy. It's hilarious to feel Austen winking from behind the page. In fact, I found myself beginning to draw smiley faces in the margins whenever she coated critique with demur sensibility- where she dresses her sarcasm in petticoats, as it were. All in all I counted 14 smiley faces (about 1 every 14 pages), and an exclamation point in the margins of at least every 7 pages.
It's been a long time since I laughed out-loud reading a book. It makes my heart fluttery to be chuckling along with a novel from 1813, and more-so to be moved by the spunky candor and cultural critique of a woman writing her observations of how ridiculous everyone around her was- 200 years ago.
Northanger Abbey is the Chai Tea Latte of Victorian Fiction*- smooth, delicious, warm, but with a bit of spicy bite to it.
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** and yes, it's anachronistic to call Jane Austen Victorian fiction- but somehow "Victorian" has come to mean 19th century England, however inaccurate that might be**