Recently I have read two books by Jane Austen. It is always a pleasure…or almost. I like some books more than others. I started with Classic spin #14 which guided me to Sense and Sensibility. It has been on my shelves for ever, and I don't know why I have not got around to read it. Well, now was the time, and I am happy to say that I did manage - for once - to finalise one of my classics in time.
Surprisingly, because I was always thinking this was one of her best and most famous books, I did not like it. I thought the story rather simple. Ok, this is maybe the norm for these kind of books, but normally Jane Austen manages to capture a lot of, I would not call them actions, but happenings along the way. Here I thought it was just ono long uphill account of trivia that could not engage me. The only one really engaging me as a character was Elinor, and she is not enough to carry the whole book.
The story is the usual. Two rather poor, but not desperately poor sisters are looking for a good match. Being Jane Austen it still has to involve love and that can, as we know, be rather complicated. Nevertheless, Marianne, the younger sister, falls in love with the dashing John Willoughby who is passing by the area where they live. When Willoughby has to leave to attend to his affairs elsewhere, there is an understanding that they are engaged without it being officially pronounced.
Elinor and Marianne are invited by friends to spend some time in London, and Marianne is eager to meet Mr Willoughby again. Unfortunately, he is not as eager and a love triangle is developing.
In the meantime Elinor is in love with Mr Edward Ferrars, who has a problem socialising in a normal manner and complications follow. There is also a Colonel Brandon, an older gentleman in love with Marianne. The story continues, as it seems to me, forever, and nothing is really happening. Maybe, I should not say that, of course we get a picture of London life, and how the nobility go about their lives. But the story seems to drag out forever before the final end. There is nothing wrong with the end, it just took quite a long time to get there. As Shakespeare said: "Much ado about nothing".
Of course, Jane Austen's writing is always a pleasure to read. This was her first book, although it was not published until after her death. She went on to write Pride and Prejudice, my absolute favourite of her books. Her typical stories on the life of the gentries are already in line here, and her following novels are just clear improvements.
The second book I read was Northanger Abbey. This was her second last novel that she wrote (Persuasion was the last) and it was published posthumously. I really loved this novel. Here Austen is inspired by the Gothic novels like The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, which also plays an important role in the novel. The unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, one of many children of a countryside gentleman, with enough, but not an access of money. She is invited to spend some time in Bath with their neighbours, and the first part of the book tells of her adventures there. We are introduced to her brother James, his friend John Thorpe and his sister Isabella. These two last characters are something out of the extra ordinary, and they are described in a very good way. Rather quickly we realise what kind of people they are, but our innocent heroine needs more time to see through the external frame.
We follow Catherine's stay and her love interest, a Mr Henry Tilney, whose family estate is Northanger Abbey. The second part of the book takes place there, when Catherine is invited to spend time with Henry's sister Eleanor. The Abbey is run by the father Colonel Tilney in a rather rigid fashion, and Catherine is amazed how Henry and Eleanor are obeying their father's whims. The Abbey fascinates Catherine and when she hears that Mrs Tilney died suddenly when Henry and Eleanor were away, her fantasies take hold of her, supported by her reading of The Mysteries of Udolpho, and she sets out to find out what really happens.
It is all a very charming book, and funny. You really laugh here and there which is maybe not how we remember Jane Austen. Although you can be slightly irritated at Catherine, being so innocent and not the cleverest of heroines, the novel has a lot of unforgettable characters, the description of times in Bath and times in the countryside, give you an insight of the world at the time. One of Austen's great creations.