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This review is from: Northanger Abbey (Wordsworth Classics) (Paperback)
Jane Austen's first completed novel is lighter and more humorous in tone than her subsequent work. It is however, as beautifully written as that later work - there was, as always with Austen, a lot of rewriting before publication, which in this case was posthumous - and it is in no sense an inferior effort.
All her novels have a sly, subversive wit, but Northanger Abbey is the one in which she employs her humour more or less throughout, although darker elements emerge as the story develops.
It is basically a satire on the Gothic novel, a genre still familiar to us through film, and makes particular reference to The Mysteries of Udolpho. You don't need to have read that to appreciate the humour; you just need to have some idea of what a Gothic story is, with its gloomy castles, secret chambers and dastardly deeds. In fact, in the episodes that take place in the abbey, the author shows herself very capable of building mystery and tension. She could have written a splendid Gothic horror.
Austen's extraordinary insight into human nature is already evident here. In chapter 5 of this book - which has more author intervention than any of her others - she presents a defence or justification of the novel as a literary form, in which she says, "...the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties...are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language". That is certainly true of Austen's own novels.