"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." If one were to take this sentence (made by Northanger Abbey's hero Henry Tilney) and replace the word "good" with its authoress' name, the statement would not become any less true. I should make myself clear: I am not saying that those who find Austen not to their personal taste are intellectually inferior to we fans, but I am disturbed by the popular assumptions that her novels are either lightweight precursors of our contemporary chick-lit, or else that they are heavy, outdated classics that have nothing to say to people or our age. Actually, I find her work consistently offers lasting lessons and insights for the average lady or gentleman-and isn't that the very definition of a classic? Northanger Abbey is one of her earliest and (in my mind at least) roughest, yet it too has much to offer, including an unconventional hero and heroine, bucket-loads of sly humor, and much to say on reading in general and the Gothic novel in particular. It opens on the modest home life of Catherine Morland, who, at eighteen years old, is showing spirit and potential after a very inauspicious childhood. Her neighbors the Allens invite her to accompany them to Bath, and there she experiences all the delights of her first season in the city. In Bath, she falls in with two different sets of people. First there are the Thorpes; college friends of her brother's, they are poor, outwardly cheerful and attractive, but really quite vulgar and self-serving. And then there are the Tilneys, a mixed lot; two of the children become fast friends with Catherine, but there seems to be something depressing about their father's presence to them, and Catherine, her mind full of Gothic horrors, is sure there is something mysterious secret lingering in their home of Northanger Abbey.... Austen tells as at the outset that "no one who ever had seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine" and repeatedly says throughout that she is "in training to be an heroine." Certainly she belongs to neither of the major categories of leading ladies we see in Austen's fiction, having neither Elizabeth Bennett's sharp wit nor Fanny Price's retiring steadfastness. And in terms of intelligence, she may be inferior to all of them-a classmate of mine summed her character up as "ding-y." Yet she has a good heart, repents when she does wrong, and is a good judge of character as long as she remains in touch with reality. I do not adore her as a literary character, but I do not think she pulls the book down either. And in certain ways she is a breath of fresh air. Henry Tilney, on the other hand, I find one of the most attractive and memorable of Austen's men. If Catherine is her dullest heroine, Henry is by far her wittiest hero. What conversations he and Elizabeth Bennett would have had if they ever met! He constantly pokes fun at everyone and everything around him, but he does so in such a way that you know that, despite appearances, he dearly loves most of the people he teases. Some critics have judged his treatment of Catherine misogynistic and tyrannical, and predict that their marriage will be a virtual recap of General and Mrs. Tilney's, which I find absolutely ridiculous. This is yet more proof that critics have no sense of humor. Of course, Henry and Catherine are not the only interesting personalities in this story. Several of the supporting characters stand out in my mind, perhaps none more so than Catherine's avowed friend and her brother's would-be fiancee, the ridiculous and manipulative Isabella Thorpe. Austen often included vulgar females in her novels to set off the virtues of her heroines (see Mrs. Elton in Emma and the fascinating Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park among others), but never did she allow one of them to have such influence over the star of the story as Isabella has over Catherine. And rarely was her skill at characterizing through dialogue so well used. None of Isabella's speeches could be confused with that of any other Austen character: her vocabulary is completely distinctive. Austen achieves a similar feat with General Tilney, who is outwardly all gentility and decorum, but who is in reality only after Catherine's supposed fortune. He is a villain through and through, something that Catherine suspects early on, although his crime is quite different from the one she pins on him. In fact, the more I think about it, this novel is very much about the relationship between appearances and reality. All of the evil characters (General Tilney, the Thorpes) put on fronts, whereas the people with whom we most sympathisize, such as Catherine, Henry, and his sister Eleanor, are sincere from the start. Eleanor is another of my favorite characters, sweet and reserved, never thinking of herself. She does have one secret, but she does not harbor it out of any sort of deceit, and her character is consistent throughout the novel. I have not yet spoken about the most famous-or perhaps infamous-aspect of Northanger Abbey: its satirical send-up of the wildly popular Gothic novel genre, especially Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho. Some would say that you cannot fully enjoy Northanger without a thorough knowledge of Radcliffe, and I have no doubt that it enriches the reading experience, but the satire and humor of it all was evident to me without any real acquaintance with the books Catherine and Isabella were reading. Some of the passages dealing with this theme are simply hilarious; I am thinking particularly of Henry's narration upon the approach to Northanger Abbey, in which he describes what Catherine may find there, making use of all the cliches and motifs of the standard Gothic thriller. Given that Catherine's fascination with these books leads her into making a great error near the climax of the novel might lead one to believe that Austen was fundamentally critical of the genre, yet she was undoubtedly conversant with all aspects of it, and both internal and external evidence suggest she enjoyed the works of Radcliffe and her ilk. I think of her attitude throughout Northanger primarily as that of a loving older sister, who appreciates her siblings' imagination while still seeing their flaws. And, of course, she is a great proponent of the novel in general. Book I of Northanger Abbey includes her famous "Defense of the Novel," in which she censures other lady novelists for having their heroines make fun of the very genre they are writing in. There's really not much more I can say about this passage: you simply must read it for yourself. Normally I do not include information about specific editions in my reviews of literary works, but I simply must take this moment to say that Barnes & Noble Classics did a hideous job in this instance. The introduction and notes weren't bad, I suppose, and there is a good outline of The Mysteries of Udolpho included, but the footnotes? Awful. Just awful. I suppose some modern readers who are not conversant with the time period could benefit from learning what a "full season" is, but I really and truly hope everyone knew that "Oxford" is a university in Britain. For the love of criminy.... Perhaps because Northanger is considered one of Austen's lesser efforts, it has inspired the fewest number of movie adaptations out of all six of her major novels. I have not seen the BBC's infamous 1986 adaptation, but it sounds absolutely abysmal. I am told it totally misses the point and humor of Austen's story, turning it into a sappy Gothic romance, instead of a satire on the same. The clips I've seen reveal a far too serious ambiance, fluffy 80s hair, and a musical score that could only have come from that endearingly bizarre decade. The latest ITV film has its good qualities-including two perfectly-cast leads in Felicity Jones and J. J. Field, an expanded storyline for Eleanor, and a brilliant performance from the up-and-coming Carey Mulligan as Isabella-but the script by Andrew Davies includes its fair share of unnecessary invention as well. I can enjoy the film as a decent adaptation of the novel, but I absolutely cannot approve some of the added innuendo, the most notable of which is a long quote from M. G. Lewis' near-pornographic The Monk. It is no surprise when we learn that Austen's John Thorpe enjoyed this book, but Catherine Morland would never go within ten feet of it! Northanger Abbey is a unique and charming fixture in Jane Austen's bibliography, although I did not enjoy it quite as much upon rereading as I did the first time around, and I would not suggest it as a starting point for Austen newbies. For gentlemen and ladies who have already had enjoyment from her other books, it is highly recommended: the novelty of it alone makes it worth a look.