You can tell this is Austen’s first completed novel. Its characters and themes are not as well developed as those in later novels, and the ending is a little too tidy. But Northanger Abbey has a real freshness about it, and many Fans of Austen find that they enjoy this book more each time they read it.
The heroine, Catherine Morland, is a naïve and charming young woman who leaves her home in the country to visit the tourist town of Bath, England. There she becomes fast friends with Isabella Thorpe, another young woman who shares Catherine’s love of gothic novels such as The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. But Isabella is not as honest and loyal as she tries to appear. And her braggart brother John isn’t the dashing rake he so wants to appear to be. Catherine must figure this out for herself as she navigates the social circles in Bath.
In this effort she is aided by the truly charming Henry Tilney. At first, Henry teases Catherine and even condescends to her a little bit because of her lack of worldliness and her consequent gullibility and trusting nature. But Catherine is no fool, even if she is awfully young and inexperienced, and as the book progresses, Henry comes to appreciate her and to return the affection she so obviously feels for him.
Of course, there are complications. Henry’s father is a wealthy and proud man who insists that his son marry a woman with money of her own as well as high social status. But any Austen reader can tell you that everything is bound to work out all right. This is one of the reasons Jane Austen remains so popular after more than 200 years. Her books are like comfort food—something you can return to again and again knowing there will be no regrets.