From the desk of Debbie Brown:
Soon, All Hallow’s Eve will be upon us, when restless spirits of the dead are said to roam. What better time to pick up a gothic Austenesque novel centered around an ancestral family curse that continues to claim its victims? Beware, brave readers: this tome is not for the faint of heart. Several characters will not survive until the end of the story. (Cue creepy organ music, a bolt of lightning, and evil laughter!)
Diana Birchall’s latest, The Bride of Northanger, is a sequel to Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. In this case, General Tilney’s estate is the setting for melodramatic goings-on that are NOT the products of anyone’s imagination.
Catherine Morland – who becomes Catherine Tilney in the early pages here – is a year older and wiser. She has put aside silly gothic romances and instead reads more scholarly works. (There’s an interesting subtext here: her husband Henry is happy to see how educated she is becoming but, since she is a woman, there are limits on how much education is desirable in a wife.) Our more mature heroine is determined to control her imagination, though she still retains curiosity that must be satisfied. As she says, “I am no longer a fanciful girl, given to fears.” Her resolve is sorely tested throughout the book.
As the book opens, Henry reluctantly explains the superstitious rumor that the Tilney family is cursed. “…the race of Tilney might survive, but its fruitfulness be blighted forevermore. The wife of each firstborn son would die, either in terror or in madness, early in her life…” That doesn’t apply to Catherine since Henry isn’t the firstborn – his older brother Frederick is. But she’s no longer superstitious, so she’s not dissuaded anyway.
Jane Austen’s book established that Northanger Abbey is a pretty spooky place, and Ms. Birchall embellishes its creepiness. General Tilney’s own presence there is enough to make you want to go screaming out the estate doors to begin with, but we have crumbling abbey walls, underground passages, and a glasshouse that holds clues to a dark secret. There’s even a warning addressed to the “Bride of Northanger” stabbed onto Catherine’s bedchamber door with a dagger.
You want some phantasmal beings? Looking out on the grounds, Catherine was “…frightened more than ever before, by seeing a ray of light from the moon picking out and illuminating a wispy, ghostly lady in grey.” A horse-like beast with a foaming mouth and glowing eyes also makes an impactful appearance.
Since there’s bound to be at least a death or two, an enlarged cast of characters gives us a few potential victims and suspects. General Tilney’s house party provides a number of politically influential gentlemen – Lord Grey, Admiral Symonds, Mr. Dunning of Parliament, among others – plus one visiting Frenchman, Monsieur Blaine, with whom the General has a vehement disagreement.
As for romance, Catherine and Henry are demonstrably happy together. A section of the story in Bath has them meeting with her sister Sarah, who has her eye on Mr. Speedwell. Alas, Sarah’s familial relationship to the scandalous Tilneys throws a roadblock in the path of their romance.
The Bride of Northanger meets all the requirements of a Regency gothic romance and provides us with so much more. It’s inspired by Jane Austen, so there are humorous elements, mostly provided by the characters themselves. Isabella and John Thorpe find their way into the story and display their distinctive narcissism, wreaking havoc and suffering consequences. Viscount Charles Eastham, married to Henry’s sister Eleanor, is a dedicated ornithologist. His obsession is observing wildlife in its natural habitat, making for some unusual dialogue. There’s a feisty young prostitute named Harriette whose arrival at Northanger Abbey leads to other bizarre plot twists.
It’s impossible to overstate how well Ms. Birchall mimics Jane Austen’s style of writing. I noted some words that appeared to be misplaced or misspelled (fillip, dilate, doat, depended), but a little investigation revealed that, while not used in these particular contexts today, they appear as Miss Austen herself would have used them in her era. I didn’t notice a single error otherwise. Every detail of the story supports the primary plot, with the tension flowing, sometimes ebbing and then surging again, and building to a suitably horrific turning point and eventual HEA.
Most of the various mysteries are incompletely or illogically explained, or there’s no attempt at an explanation at all. I believe this is intentional, but if you’re a reader who needs everything tied up in a nice little bow, you won’t find that here. It had no effect on my enjoyment of this delightful homage to one of Jane Austen’s less appreciated works.
The bottom line? The Bride of Northanger is a beautifully written piece of Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) that’s a clever mixture of mystery, humor, thrills, irony, and ─ naturally ─ Jane Austen! Perfect reading for All Hallow’s Eve!
5 out of 5 Stars
Austenprose is delighted to be part of the #Janeite Blog Tour of The Bride of Northanger.
Learn more about the tour and follow along with us.
The doyenne of Austenesque fiction, Diana Birchall, tours the blogosphere October 28 through November 15, 2019, to share her latest release, The Bride of Northanger. Thirty popular bloggers specializing in historical and Austenesque fiction will feature guest blogs, interviews, excerpts, and book reviews of this acclaimed continuation of Jane Austen’s Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey.
- October 28 My Jane Austen Book Club (Interview)
- October 28 Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog (Review)
- October 28 vvb32 Reads (Spotlight)
- October 29 A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide of Life (Guest Blog)
- October 29 From Pemberley to Milton (Excerpt)
- October 30 Drunk Austen (Interview)
- October 30 Silver Petticoat Review (Excerpt)
- October 31 Jane Austen’s World (Review)
- November 01 So Little Time… (Interview)
- November 01 Laura’s Reviews (Review)
- November 04 English Historical Fiction Authors (Guest Blog)
- November 04 Confessions of a Book Addict (Spotlight)
- November 05 More Agreeably Engaged (Review)
- November 05 Vesper’s Place (Review)
- November 06 Jane Austen in Vermont (Interview)
- November 06 Diary of an Eccentric (Interview)
- November 07 All Things Austen (Spotlight)
- November 07 A Bookish Way of Life (Review)
- November 07 Let Them Read Books (Excerpt)
- November 08 Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
- November 08 vvb32 Reads (Review)
- November 11 My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
- November 11 Reading the Past (Spotlight)
- November 12 Jane Austen’s World (Interview)
- November 12 The Calico Critic (Excerpt)
- November 13 The Book Rat (Review)
- November 13 Austenesque Reviews (Review)
- November 14 Fangs, Wands, & Fairy Dust (Review)
- November 14 The Fiction Addiction (Review)
- November 15 My Love for Jane Austen (Spotlight)
- November 15 Scuffed Slippers and WormyBooks (Review)
The Bride of Northanger: A Jane Austen Variation, by Diana Birchall
White Soup Press (2019)
Trade paperback & eBook (230) pages
ISBN: ISBN: 978-0981654300
Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2019; text Debbie Brown © 2019, Austenprose.com