Vault Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen


This was Jane Austen’s first novel, and dear god, does it show.

I feel almost heretical giving Jane Austen a bad review. I totally expected to love this, it is the woman herself, it’s a Gothic satire, it is a romance… it is basically everything good in this world.

Alas, no. Forget the North, this was just Anger Abbey for me.

So basically, Northanger Abbey is about this girl called Catherine. She goes to Bath meets this family of TOTAL MORONS and becomes friends with them.

She totally doesn’t get that Isabella is an absolute bitch and her brother, John, is a Grade A Douchenozzle. He makes it blatantly obvious that he wants to marry her, but naive little Catherine totally never notices. Cue minor drama.

She also meets the Tilney family while in Bath and falls for Henry, while becoming BFFs with Eleanor (who may be the only person I didn’t hate). Their father, General Tilney is about as pleasant as viral pneumonia, but Catherine agrees to go visit their house, Northanger Abbey, mostly because she wants some hot, hot Henry lovin’. Cue minor dramas.

This is quickly falling into plot summary, but I basically spent the whole book like:


CATHERINE, WHAT THE HELL?! This girl is literally one of the thickest “heroines” I’ve ever met, and I’ve read 50 Shades of Grey. She’s literally intolerable. Lizzy Bennet would have a field day with her.

She gets to Northanger and suddenly decides that General Tilney is a murderer. He may be a great many things, but a murderer he is obviously not. If I were Henry, I would have got rid of Catherine post haste.

Even then, I feel sorry for Catherine for marrying a man who obviously thinks she’s an absolute idiot. I see this marriage going down very, very badly. Think A Doll’s House badly. Torvald, Tilney, whatever.

Tilney is so flat and one dimensional. He has none of the charm of the men in Pride and Prejudice. To (mis)quote Caroline Bingley, an Austen hero:

“…must possess a certain something in his air and manner of walking, the tone of his voice, his address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved” 

I know that quote was meant to be about women, but Henry lacks pretty much everything here. He’s a cardboard cutout.


All the scenes in Bath with the Thorpes made me want to slap each and every single one of them upside the head. General Tilney may be nasty, but John and Isabella are just horrible!

If John were around these days, he’d be one of those dickhead guys driving around in a BMW, probably honking at the girls as he drives past. Different girlfriend every two weeks. You know the type? Yeah, that’s him. But even then, he doesn’t really create much of a problem, because he disappears, never to be spoken of again.

Isabella gives Caroline Bingley a run for her money in the bitchy stakes. She’s just vile! There is absolutely no saving her character. At least Jane agrees with me on the Thorpe point, that kept me going. It only takes Catherine 3/4 of the book to work out what was supremely obvious from the get-go.


Much of the time in Northanger was spent doing very little. Occasionally, Catherine got a letter, which served to push the plot along a bit. Every so often, Catherine would wander off to be an idiot and violate someone else’s privacy some more. But much of it was awkward dinners, walking and not much else.


If someone had dug a hole, this book would be significantly improved. Maybe they could have buried the Thorpes in it.

This is meant to be a cautionary tale about circulating libraries and how they can make you stupid, but I spent half the book thinking that Udolpho sounded far more entertaining. The trademark Austen satire was here, but not fully fledged yet.

It took me over a month to finish this. I put it down, went back to it, left it a while… I figured I should just finish it, get it over with, maybe the ending would be better. I discovered at 1am that the romance was a major anticlimax and I shouldn’t have bothered.


Sorry Jane, but I give this 1.5/5 stars. I have faith that you won’t disappoint me like this again.


12 thoughts on “Vault Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

  1. I’ve never read this one and I don’t think I intend to now! Can I just say that ‘douchenozzle’ is going to be my new favourite term of abuse for the rest of the week!

  2. I think Austen was making fun of romance novels and Gothic novels of her era when she wrote this. She wasn’t actually trying to write a love story with believable characters and a satisfying happily-ever-after; she was suggesting that such things are unrealistic in the current structure of her society, and real life is the fact that Catherine has been left entirely uneducated & thrown into Bath to catch a husband. The only thing Catherine is really prepared for as a “heroine” is to see doom around every corner because she reads so many Gothic novels. Women of the era couldn’t read Latin (like men) & couldn’t attend college. They learned to embroider useless doilies, paint firescreens, play piano, & then get married and be entirely ridiculous. Mrs. Allen (quite superficial & vacuous) demonstrates how Catherine Morland will turn out, if she doesn’t get some sense.

    Catherine’s not equipped to see the reality in life. I think Austen makes her purposefully ridiculous to highlight the fact that women in her era were often as ill-equipped when they were suddenly declared “heroine” enough to go from childhood to wife. A woman could be duped by a Thorpe and miserable forever. No one has taught her how to think for herself.

    Austen is often presenting a mockery of whatever she appears to be suggesting. Her “love stories” are actually a critique of society in her day.

    Only my thoughts. 🙂

    • Hi! Thanks for your fabulous comment, it’s definitely appreciated!

      I definitely see your points and they are good ones! I agree with you about Catherine needing to wise up and learn to be more realistic and learn to think for herself.
      I also definitely agree that her love stories are a scathing critique of her society. It’s abundantly clear that Austen had some bones to pick, and has used the very best (and likely only) way of having her say. Much of what she said is still very obvious in our society today.

      Northanger Abbey is a difficult one for me, as I know on one hand that all you said is true and I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have nothing against Austen and her work =)
      I just really, really didn’t like any of the characters in this book… usually there’s a redeeming quality in most of her characters, but I just didn’t click with anyone.
      I also had very high expectations, due to it being an Austen novel. I feel that the writing wasn’t to the standard of her other works and the plot just didn’t work in the way I had hoped. Though, considering it is her first novel and was published posthumously without further correction by the author herself, I somehow think Jane herself might be disappointed =)

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  6. I enjoyed this review (which I think you’ve reposted; I’m working my way back through a load of blog posts not caught up with over the past few weeks) and it gave me a different perspective on a book I’ve always loved … but it used to be my favourite and I found myself loving other books more on my recent re-read of the whole lot of them.

    • Again, you’re right, reposted… originally from October or November last year (I think…) I’m still disappointed by this book! I’m going to read it again at some point, because I may like it more when I know it’s not going to be her best work, or what I expected it to be (though I can’t remember what that was!) Thank you!

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