Austen in August Challenge – Least Favourite Jane Austen Novel

Another tough pick for today’s challenge. Which is the Austen I love the least? While starting into something by Dickens or Tolstoy can feel like a real undertaking, Jane Austen’s novels are almost never hard work. Rain or shine, Austen’s prose seems effortless. But … if my back’s against the wall? I can pick out the one I am least fond of.There are trends in this just as there are fashions around favourites. Mansfield Park is having a tough time in the popularity stakes despite being thought of as Austen’s most mature work during the twentieth century. Its heroine’s lack of fun leads to a fall in favour. Yet Fanny Price is really more misunderstood – CS Lewis describes her as a Jane Austen heroine stuck in a Charlotte Brontë situation. For me, I look elsewhere …

I’m sorry, Northanger Abbey. It’s not your fault. You sat on the shelves for years, your heroine’s name was changed and your moment passed. Reading A Truth Universally Acknowledged, a collection of essays about why we read Jane Austen (it’s amazing, best read of the month so far!), one writer describes Northanger Abbey as a ‘literary toddler’ alongside the other five novels. There is some truth there. Northanger Abbey is exuberant and slapstick and hilarious. But it is also unconvincing, cringe-making and its heroine foolish. Will a man as intelligent as Henry Tilney really be happy with a naive country girl like Catherine Morland? Or are they doomed to end up like the Bennets in the future, his wit turned bitter by her vapidity? I hope not but Catherine’s idiocy is often toe-curling. The big thing for me though is the horrible, horrible passage where Henry realises what a story Catherine has been cooking up in her imagination. I’ve always been someone who physically struggles to get through embarrassing moments in fiction whether on the screen or on the page. Northanger Abbey is an uphill battle for me in that way.

For my whole Austen in August Fan Challenge – see here

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6 thoughts on “Austen in August Challenge – Least Favourite Jane Austen Novel

  1. As it happens, Northanger Abbey is my least favorite as well. I’m still very fond of it, as it was the first Austen I read, probably one of the first grown up classics actually, but on reflection, it feels very much like a first novel and lacks the subtlety of her other work. I also find Catherine Moreland a very irritating heroine, far more so than poor Fanny, who has always just struck me as being socially awkward and out of her depth.

    1. I think most people end up picking this one by the looks of things. I was actually warned off this book by my mother when I had my first crack at reading Austen when I was approx 10. She said it was just about a silly little girl thinking silly things. It’s not an inaccurate description but it doesn’t capture the book’s positives. I am fond of Northanger Abbey too but you’re right, it feels like a first novel.

  2. Totally agree. There are some scenes I love in Northanger Abbey, but there are some scenes I skip over because they are so cringe-making–the part where the Tilneys are coming to walk with Catherine and she’s riding off with John Thorpe. Good point about Catherine as a heroine. Today we would think her far too young to be contemplating marriage, and could a witty, intelligent man like Tilney really fall in love with her? So this is the novel I pick up the least.

    1. Gosh yes – that part is total agony! Even when she’s trying to sort out the misunderstanding afterwards it’s really uncomfortable. Some people enjoy cringe comedy. For me, it brings me out in hives!
      I think Tilney is Austen’s most charming leading man and I really don’t know if he found everlasting happiness with Catherine 🙁 It’s still a book I love but I don’t think of it as quite as much of a masterpiece as the others.

  3. I don’t exactly disagree with any of the above. But…Tilney. He is the best of all the Austen leading men! It’s hard to downgrade a novel that features Henry Tileny.

    But I fail this challenge. I can’t pick my least favorite Austen novel any more than I can pick my most favorite one. They are all so good.

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