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HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 7 December 2017
This for me is one of those books akin to putting on an old cosy pullover, simply because I find myself transported straight into Highbury and its characters. Although this wasn’t the last of Austen’s novels to be published, it was the last in her lifetime.

Set in and around the fictional village of Highbury, Surrey so we also take in the bigger houses and estates in the area. At one of the larger houses lives Emma with her father, her sister being already married. Jane Austen before she started writing this had already said that she was going to create a character that people would probably not like, but in fact Emma has been liked, and still is, as we see her develop in this tale.

Thinking herself a matchmaker so we see Emma going about trying to find a suitable suitor for Harriet, although she has one, which so Emma believes is beneath her. And with her dabbling and outspoken manner so we see the consequences of her actions, not even realising when others are in thrall to her charms.

With some unforgettable characters, such as the fussy, dithering and rather old maidenish Mr Woodhouse, we also have the non-stop talking Miss Bates, who makes a great comic character, as well as others. With Highbury also appearing here quite a bit, so the place really comes to life, instead of being just a backdrop, showing Austen was on top form and creating something with a bit more realism and substance.

Full of wit and insight into the characters this has some great sparkling dialogue and is a joy to read. A comedy of manners, as well as what we nowadays term a romantic comedy, this also takes in the place of women at the period and social status. There is lots of incident here with its dances and other events, as well as a lot of eating – so probably not the best book to read if you are on a diet.

With so many adaptations most people have already seen this, if not read it before, but it certainly pays to read this and come back to it, as it is something that is just so enjoyable.
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on 3 November 2017
Unabridged audio editions of Emma are scarce - good readings of Emma are even rarer. Prunella Scales made an exceptional reader but sadly this version is no longer available as a CD and it's to be pittied because Victoria Morgan is a very poor substitute. I'm not even sure that she 'knows' the text - her rendition of Miss Bates is so slow it's painful. And her ability to use 'voices' is boring - they often merge so that one has no idea if it's Mr Knightly speaking or Emma. Mrs Elton is too arched, too precise in pronounciation and too affected (and yes, that's Mrs Elton summed up) that it reduces the pleasure of Austen's words. There are also gaps in the recording - presumably, where Ms Morgan took a break, or a result of poor editing. I tried sharing exterts with my A Level class - but they didn't like it either.
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on 7 December 2016
This is the longest of the six novels by Miss Austen and it feels like it, it took a long time to reach the conclusion. Well done to the volunteers who make this freely available, so must not complain too much but it lacks the sparkle and passion of other works. Pride & prejudice, Sense & sensibility and Emma are all magnificent but Mansfield Park seems to plod along, it has no pace and no humour. I found myself dis-connected and at times uninterested in the plot. For all the hopeless romantics out there, yes, it all works out in the end for the heroine but its all rather subdued, a final chapter that ties up the loose ends. No doubt the army of Austen devotees will rally to the defence of MP but for me it misses the heights of S&S, P&P and Emma which were all superb. Maybe, three stars seems rather harsh but that's a reflection of just how good her other novels are.
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on 25 February 2015
I first and last read this book probably about 20 years ago, when as a teenager I devoured Jane Austen’s stories one after the other. Some I loved, some I didn’t. Last year I re-read the one I liked the least, ‘Mansfield Park’ and I found that my reaction to the book was vastly different, which is unsurprising as I am very different to the person I was then, so I decided that I should give the other books I hadn’t re-read another go. I enjoyed 'Northanger Abbey' the first time I read it but it never became a favourite of mine, I think partly because the heroine, Catherine Morland, isn’t the sharpest tool in the box and I never gelled with her, but more because I wasn’t a big fan of Henry Tilney. I didn’t like the way he was always laughing at Catherine because at the time I felt that he was laughing at and not laughing with her. Also, I read it not long after ‘Pride & Prejudice’ and was afraid that they’d end up in 25 years in a relationship like Mr & Mrs Bennet! So I didn’t re-read it until now, and, of course, found that I should have re-read it much sooner because Austen is a delight!

This book, if you aren’t familiar with it, is a bit of a humorous dig at some of the gothic romances that were around at the time. The heroine, the naive Catherine Morland, drinks up these torrid tales and when she finds herself in a situation that could be interpreted in the light of the likely events of one of these novels she imagines all kinds of horrors. Meanwhile, she misses all kinds of hints of a real intrigue going on before her, the behaviour of some new friends that she becomes acquainted with in Bath, when she travels there in company with a rich neighbour of her family.

My teenage self didn’t give Catherine credit, and I was unfair there – she is a mere 17 years old when our story unfolds and she is unremarkable in lots of ways – she isn’t particularly clever or beautiful, but she is a nice girl with good principles. She is very naive in the ways of the more worldly people than herself and she’s unused to having to understand the subtext of a conversation because in Catherine’s experience people have always said what they meant rather than playing the game of society manners.
‘...but why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?’

Catherine’s main fault is a result of her reading matter – she’s been allowed to read what she likes and the result is that she favours reading some very lurid gothic novels without realising that they delineate some really unlikely events. The first few chapters of the novel are very heavily ironic on this very subject. I started highlighting the amusing parts on my kindle but I had to stop when I realised I would basically be highlighting the first few chapters in their entirety!
‘Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings – and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on.’

Henry Tilney is a most amusing hero, certainly the most amusing of Austen’s. He is fond of wordplay, obviously intelligent and not immune to flattery. I have seen people compare him to Elizabeth Bennet in his teasing observations and you can certainly see some similarities; they are both charming, although Elizabeth wants a partner in life who understands her teasing, and Henry is content with something less, though there is every likelihood that Catherine will come to understand it in time!

The Thorpes are interesting characters although deeply obnoxious – you see Isabella Thorpe reeling in the naive Morland siblings, and John Thorpe, her brother, is a wonderful character to read. He’d be horrible to spend time with, but I can find plenty of amusement in him on the page! As ever, with Austen’s work, a lot of enjoyment comes in her prose style. There are so many quotable quotes, such as:
‘The person, be it gentlemen or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.’

And the novel itself unashamedly defends the work of novel writers, arguing that, although some novels are full of histrionic nonsense, some will also be of much higher calibre:
“And what are you reading, Miss — ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best–chosen language.

If you have never picked up 'Northanger Abbey', or haven’t read it in a long time, I suggest that you give it a go, and prepare to be amused. A 5 star read.
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Originally posted on A Frolic Through Fiction

I had to resort to using an audiobook. For the first time in my life.

I really wanted to finish this before watching the adaptation on movie night, but I just wasn’t getting through it as quickly as I thought I would. Something about it just seemed really slow. I think it’s the fact that not that much happened. And when something DID happen, Anne wasn’t the sort of character to be in the middle of all the drama. So it’d sort of be told through a sort of secondhand judgement.

That, and the fact that I couldn’t seem to keep hold of everyone’s names. I’ve no idea why. I just couldn’t keep track of who’s who. I thought I’d get the hang of it soon enough, but even though I could remember a few of the main character’s names, everyone else’s was just lost on me.

And yet…

And yet I still enjoyed it. I started using an audiobook found on YouTube ( Aimee's idea, not mine), and it somehow suddenly clicked better. Having it read aloud to me helped me pass through the book quicker…which is a bit confusing, considering the voice read slower than me. But I think it’s because I understood more hearing it rather than reading it. I wouldn’t pause for a while if a paragraph was particularly long – I’d just trundle on, letting the words sink in.

I think I just enjoyed this because of 1. the time period and 2. Jane Austen’s writing. Even though the story was somewhat slow, not much happened, and it was a bit of a push to get through, the things I love most about classics was still there. The main one being the sheer ridiculous way people react to the smallest comments or events – I find it hilarious to read about. Plus the elegance and classiness that comes with the time period. I just adore it.

Also, when it comes to classics I tend to struggle getting through the vast majority of them. This one was still relatively easy to read, considering I didn’t have to look up half the language used. Which I appreciate. There’s nothing I hate more than trying to read a classic but feeling a bit dim for not understanding.

As you can tell, this is a very mixed review. I liked it, but it was definitely one of the slower books I’ve read (in case I’ve not said that enough by now). Anne was a lovely character, and refreshing in the way that she wasn’t necessarily in the middle of all the drama – even if that did mean it felt like hardly anything happened. I loved how the relationships changed gradually through the book too – I could just imagine it happening that way back then. All the sophistication and uncertainty of what people are truly thinking is just fascinating to me.

So while it wasn’t my favourite of Jane Austen’s books (not that I’ve read many yet – but I’m getting there), it still entertained me and I’m glad to have read the character of Anne Elliot. She really is quite a lovely person.

Rated 3/5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 5 September 2015
This is a delightful "Coffee Table Book", its really large and has all of Austen's popular reads within it. Print is quite small but its charm is a wonder. The illustrations are extremely well done and really flow with the atmosphere and time of the stories within. Bookmarker and gilt edging make this a true classic to own and enjoy, perfect as a gift or just to own all of Austens novels in one volume which is quite a unique way of owning them. Because of the size of the book I feel its more of a "pick up and flick through" type of thing (hence the Coffee Table Book remark) rather than sitting and reading them from start of finish just as I feel it would be a little uncomfortable to hold at such large size, however, its not an impossible feat! So I am sure others have and will give it a go! Just beautiful book and am pleased to own it.
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on 11 September 2014
I know that Mansfield Park is generally seen as one of the less popular of Austen's novels and you can say what you like about Fanny Price, with her quietness, her delicacy and poor health - in my view, she is a lesson to us all. The wonderful thing about her is that she holds it all inside - we know she's in love with Edmund, but she hides it away even from herself; she finds herself disapproving of her family in Portsmouth, but then is mortified that she might have let it show. In short, Fanny Price is a very nice, kind lady who thoroughly deserves the happiness which eventually comes to her.

There's loads going on in the book - obviously, it's set on a grand country estate and it is really a romance of an English Country House. I've read critics who argue that the house is as much a character in the book as the Crawfords, Julia and Maria, Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas. I can't disagree - note how the pastoral idyll fails when trouble comes to the Hall - suddenly the very atmosphere has been infected by Maria Bertram's loose morals. Similarly, when Sir Thomas is away in Antigua - the house begins to fall apart as the custodian of the home is not there to keep it all in order.

The characterisation in the book is fantastic - Mary Crawford for instance - yes, we know she's flawed and that some of the things she does are very suspect, but she's kind of likeable too. Indeed, no one in the book is all bad or all good - in fact, they're just human and very realistic. There aren't many early 19th century romances which can claim the same.

In short, this is a wonderful, wonderful book which provides a fantastic life lesson to us all in patience, the art of courtship and romance and measuring the true worth of a person. Can't recommend it enough.

This kindle edition is FREE and it has page numbers so it's easy to reference in essays - this is a reasonable edition, I feel
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on 10 April 2015
The first of two novels published after Jane Austen's death in 1817, this one was published in 1818. This is the story of Catherine Morland who travels to Bath for six weeks with her neighbours, the Allens. She meets the Thorpes, Isabella, who becomes engaged to Catherine's brother James, and John who seems to woo Catherine in his own, bizarre way. Catherine, on the other hand, falls in love with Mr Tilney and is invited to spend several weeks with his father and sister at Northanger Abbey. The Abbey is a large, old house which Catherine is determined to turn into a setting for one of the gothic novels she loves reading. Her imagination goes overboard when she learns Mrs Tilney died in mysterious circumstances. After a few misunderstandings later, Catherine and Mr Tilney finally end up together and live happily ever after.

I really enjoyed this novel, I didn't know the story at all so it was very new and exciting for me. I love how Jane Austen pops up as the narrator in several places, her witty comments really made me smile. I liked Catherine as the heroine, I got very annoyed with the Thorpes in how they treated Catherine and rejoiced when Catherine turned John down. I loved Catherine's imagination at Northanger Abbey, I would totally be the same if I ever stayed in an old house like that, imagining all sorts of secrets and plots.

I liked the sub-plot of how reading fiction didn't mean you were a bad person, fiction was a relatively uncouth subject for cultured young ladies. Men of the same class traditionally read non-fiction, like politics or travelling biographies. It was generally felt that reading fiction was a waste of time. Jane Austen obviously disagrees with this and has her little rant throughout the story, making both her hero and heroine read and enjoy fiction immensely. This contrasts to Emma where reading novels was slated by Knightley and Emma (I think) as something which did nothing to improve a young lady.

I also picked up on another theme which runs through quite a few of Jane Austen's novels, the unreadable hero. In several of her stories, the main male character doesn't make his feelings known about the main female character until right at the end of the book. In this case, Mr Tilney keeps his emotions close to his chest and we aren't specifically told that he loves Catherine until he proposes. I suppose this keeps the reader guessing as the female lead is the narrator so we generally know what she thinks as she thinks it. This also happens in Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Whereas the non-lead males (James Morland, in this novel and Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice) wear their hearts on their sleeves. Is this a comment on it being better or worse to make your feelings known?
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on 1 March 2015
Fanny Price is adopted by her rich Aunt and brought up with her cousins as the poor relation. Obviously Fanny falls madly in love with her cousin Edmund after living with the family for 9 years (she's now 17 ish?). Enter local vicar's sister and brother in-law, sister falls for Edmund and brother falls for Fanny. There's the usual love triangles, will they won't they, misunderstandings, a big scandal and they all live happily ever after.

This is a long book, there are a lot of conversations which, although interesting and useful for character exploration, could probably be removed. Is that sacrilege? I also didn't like Fanny and Edmund, and most of the other characters (apart from Aunt Bertram, I found her quite amusing in that she couldn't do anything). The only thing Fanny stuck to throughout the entire novel was her dislike of Henry and Mary Crawford.

I think you have to like the lead characters in a novel, otherwise you don't care enough to read 560 pages (even though I did read them all). Jane Austen's prose is still delightful, her characters are amusing even if they are a bit weak-willed and rubbish humans. I still love her ability to write conversations in such a way that you can see the thought processes of the character, see them being manipulated (it seems everyone in 19th century England were master manipulators) until they eventually decide the exact opposite of what they just thought.

This is my least favourite Austen novels so far (it doesn't compare to S&S and P&P) but I can see her characterisation becoming even more skilled and diverse.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 January 2016
Reading this first novel Jane Austen ever wrote (but which was the last to be published) was a very pleasant experience. Below, more of my impressions, with very limited SPOILERS.

This is the story of coming of age of Catherine Morland, aged 17, a silly and immature but good-hearted, honest and likeable young damsel, who meets two very different suitors during her sejour in the good city of Bath somewhere around 1810. The heroin, let's stress it again, is very likeable but not particulalry clever and especially she is mentaly completely immersed in her favourite books - gothic novels. This lack of maturity and common sense as well as a certain estrangement from reality will play her a couple of nasty tricks, from which she will have to learn some valuable lessons... I will say no more about the plot.

Other than the usual delights of Jane Austen humour, wit and sharp social observations, this book offers an extra treat - it is the one in which we can see the real birth of author's talent. The first half of the book makes for a pleasant reading but not much more, as author, who was only 23 when writing her first novel, clearly was still hesitating, treading carefully and learning her trade. But past the middle point, suddenly we see the young writer spreading her wings and soar! Some writers graduate from honest labourer to gret master from one book to another but I think it is the first time I saw the birth of a major writer in the middle of a novel. It impressed me greatly.

My personal copy of "Northanger Abbey" was a Barnes & Noble "old style" hardback, part of "Barnes & Noble Classics" collection. Its very "passé" aspect (going as far as artificially yellowed paper and irregularly shaped edges of pages) actually increased the pleasure I took in reading this very pleasant, entertaining and in many moments quite amusing short novel. I will definitely keep this book and pass it one day to my kids...

I will say no more here about the book. Get it, read it, love it and one day come back to it. ENJOY!
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