Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Only a Novel?

"'...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...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 humor, are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language" (Austen 25). ~ Austen, Jane.  Northanger Abbey. Pub. 1817.

Northanger Abbey, although well known by title if you're an Austen fan, has little recognition as a coming of age novel when compared to other similarly themed novels like The Catcher in the Rye.  One of the reasons N.A. appeals to me is because it contains nuggets of Austen's true and timeless wisdom such as the one quoted above.  I can't decide what I like best about this quote - that it represents an impressive narration style and the author's intent is clear?  That it lends itself in context to illustrating how our protagonist Catherine Morland belittles her sense of self and value of reading?  I think it's both for me.  

The way Austen speaks to the reader in Northanger Abbey is unique; every so often she inserts a reminder that she is our tour guide through Catherine's learning experience.  It's as if Jane is my Great Aunt Claire, a woman I don't recall meeting but imagine her to resemble Jane Austen, and we've spent an afternoon as women did in those days: exploring the nuances of the human condition over tea.  Great Aunt Claire would likely have told me, just as my grandmother Marjorie Rose actually did, stories of young girls who learn the hard way what Catherine Morland does in Northanger Abbey:  that true friendships are hard to come by, that we shouldn't trust just anyone who claims to be a friend, and that we shouldn't belittle anything we hold so dear.

Only a novel?  I should say not.