Northanger Abbey (2007) Encore on Sunday

Don’t miss the encore presentation of Northanger Abbey (2007) on Masterpiece Classic PBS Sunday, February 14th 9:00 – 10:30 PM (check your local listings). This adaptation by screenwriter Andrew Davies stars Felicity Jones as Jane Austen’s idealistic and naïve heroine Catherine Moreland and JJ Feild as the charming and witty hero Henry Tilney. 

Northanger Abbey is one of Jane Austen’s most overlooked novels, but contains some great dialogue by Henry Tilney and a heroine in Catherine that most ladies will smypathize with as she ventures into society in Bath for the first time and embarks upon romance. This adaptation is both lively and beautifully filmed. 

When it originally aired in the UK in 2007 Carey Mulligan, who portrays Isabella Thorpe, was a relative unknown British actress who had a supporting role in this movie. She has since becoming the darling of British film and awarded a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination for her role in An Education. What this adaptation lacks in Austen’s beautiful language it makes up for in style and charm. Enjoy! 

Why not spend Valentine’s day with Jane Austen’s ultimate hero, Henry Tilney? *swoon* Join us on Tweetgrid  or your favorite Twitter aggregator for a an informal bicoastal Northanger Abbey Twitter party during the Masterpiece Classic viewing 9-10:30 eastern and pacific times. Use hashtag #emma_pbs from the last Emma party. Enjoy!


Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Gothically Inspired: Day 19 Giveaway

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days – my hair standing on end the whole time.” Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14 

Even though Northanger Abbey has often been touted as the least popular of Jane Austen’s six major novels in readership and sales, I have long adored it for its burlesque humor and charming characterization of hero Henry Tilney. It has always been a puzzle to me why others did not bond with it, and felt it has never gotten a fair shake. The fact that the 1986 movie adaptation of it was really odd and not a true representation of the story or characters did not help matters either. So when PBS premiered the new Andrew Davies adaptation of Northanger Abbey (2007) last January on Masterpiece Classic, I was thrilled with the possibility that it could generate a new audience for my dark horse. 

When it aired, the reception was mixed by the public and critics. I was enchanted even though it was much too short at 90 minutes and unfortunately, much had been cut out of the story. On the positive side, it was energetic and great fun and Austen’s intensions were treated much more reverently than the previous effort in 1986, so it was step in the right direction. 

One of the benefits to being a bookseller is that I see the immediate impact on the public from television and movies as viewers seek out novelizations or related books. One weekend shortly after the PBS airing of Northanger Abbey, I had an interesting encounter with a new fan as I assisted a retirement aged woman in locating a long list of titles on an assortment of subjects, none of which was Austen or Austen inspired. Her husband joined us after a few minutes with a joyous look on his face, obviously pleased that he located the title that he had wanted to purchase. “I found it” (he holds up the cover and shows it to his wife who looks surprised but annoyed). “Oh what is it now?” she bellowed. (she had selected about six books to his one) “The Mysteries of Udolpho! They had it featured as a staff rec.” He exclaimed. (I am a silent smiling observer of their husband wife acerbic discourse, and then the wife turns to me) “My husband just loved that Jane Austen movie on television, and now he wants to know why that young girl was hooked on that book.” (She points at the book cover. He smirks at her and says coldly) “Her name was Catherine Morland dear.” 

Ok, that made my day! 

Even after ten months, this story makes me smile. In a way that some objected to, the new Northanger Abbey movie did reach people in a positive way inspiring them to read Austen’s gentle parody and the Gothic fiction mentioned in the novel such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and the other ‘horrid novels’ listed in the Northanger Canon. One of my customers even quoted Henry Tilney’s great line about “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Talk about Gothically inspired! Now that gentle readers, made my entire year!

Further reading

  • Read my review of Northanger Abbey (2007)
  • Read a review of Northanger Abbey (2007) at Jane Austen’s World
  • Read about the Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey
  • Purchase The Mysteries of Udolpho


Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 19 Giveaway


Penguin Classics – The Mysteries of Udolpho (2001) 

By Ann Radcliffe introduction by Jacqueline Howard 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of the Penguin Classics – The Mysteries of Udolpho

(US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts

Day 20 – Oct 30          Group Read NA Chapters 29-31

Day 21 – Oct 31          Go Gothic Wrap-up

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Guest Blogger Isabella Thorpe Chats about Horrid Movies


Austenprose recieved a misdirected letter from Isabella Thorpe in the post this week intended for her dearest friend Catherine Tilney nee Morland. Since she dicusses the two movie adaptations of Northanger Abbey, we thought it quite timely, and decided to include it as a guest blog during Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey. Enjoy!   

Putney, October- 

My dearest Catherine, 

It is an age since I heard from you; I have received no reply to my last, but I suppose you are too happy with your Mr. Tilney to remember poor me. I saw the news of your marriage announced in the papers and I am sure you are amazingly lucky, for you were a girl as portionless as myself, and we all know what is the wealth of the General. My brother John (who still pines for you amazingly, you know, and would be charmed to wait upon you at Woodston at any time) has told me all the particulars he heard at Oxford, how the General threw you into the street, but that it was all made up in the end. Well, my dear, it may be a fine thing to be married into such amazing wealth, but I would not marry into that family, all eaten up with temper and pride as they are, for any consideration. The General is a perfect monster, as wicked as any we used to read about in our delightful horrid novels, do you remember those dear, long ago days when we were such friends, Catherine?  I swear I long to renew our friendship; you always were the sweetest girl, not another of your sort is to be seen in all the world, I can assure you. 

I always read about weddings, having nothing else to do here in Putney, which is the most amazingly disagreeable place in the world.  Picture to yourself the being confined with only my mother and sisters, who are insipid enough. My bloom is being thrown away, and unless we can go back to Bath next spring, I fear I will have no chances at all. Beauty does not last long, you know, and mine is of a peculiar sort that is not much admired by the villagers hereabouts, though in Bath, I admit, I had a certain amount of attention. I have never ceased to hate that odious Captain Tilney, whom I cannot call any thing else, in all honesty, even if he is your brother-in-law now.  Confess, Catherine, he is one of the worst of the fickle sex, and I have no doubt that he has made many a girl miserable since we parted. Not that he made me so; I would not wish him to think I was such a fool as to care whether he stayed in Bath or left. A coxcomb like that has no heart. Does Captain Tilney visit you at Woodston? I wonder that he and your Mr. Tilney can get along at all, they are so very different; but perhaps, being brothers, your beloved sometimes thinks it proper to invite him. Though if I were the Captain, I should rather spend my idle days with my sister the Viscountess, than visit your little parsonage, or worst of all, be driven to haunt Northanger Abbey. 

Do write, my sweetest Catherine, and tell me all the news. Are you expecting a little one yet?  I would suppose so, as that might be a reason why you have not written to me.  I cannot bear to think that your affection might have diminished; mine certainly has not.  Do you remember the frolics we had together, at the Play and the Rooms, and how we quizzed your Mr. Tilney and my brother and all our wicked beaux?  Oh Catherine, I never before encountered such a heart as yours, and I never shall again. There was only one heart I ever met to match it – and that was the heart of your dear brother.  Dear James! I have thought of him ten thousand times, and how I long to hear of him, you cannot conceive.  I am in the most hideous agony, from my painful ignorance.  I can only hope that your tenderness of heart will take pity on me and write a minute description of his health, and how he is occupying himself without poor me to tease him, and if he is married?  I have seen nothing about it. 

The fashions are more hideous than ever, this autumn, I collect from my reading, since I never see a fashionable creature from one end of Putney to the other. I have picked and torn apart all my turbans, in an effort to contrive some new bandeaux, in which I believe I have not been altogether unsuccessful; it is amazing how every other girl in town copies them, but they all do not have the knack of wearing them becomingly, as I have. 

Do you know, Catherine, that even though horrid novels are impossible to obtain in this wretched town, some enterprising man has put up a Pan Opticon device, and I have seen two remarkably horrid picture shows!  Oh, they were more dreadful than Udolpho, and The Monk, and Children of the Abbey, all together!  And do you know what they were?  Why, they were tales of girls in Bath, that were so amazingly close to our own selves and circumstances, you would swear the authoress was listening over our shoulders to our intimate conversations!  Let me tell you about them. 

Katherine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland

The first of these horrid pictures was painted, they say, in 1986, if you can believe such a thing.  I was shocked speechless at my first sight of the heroine: she is the most hideous girl I ever saw, with popping eyes and a crooked nose, and I thought I had taken leave of my senses, that anyone could think that was my appearance. But no, for some strange, inexplicable reason, they have made you the heroine, and this remarkably plain girl, Katherine Schlesinger, is meant to represent you!  You are certainly not flattered in the least, I can tell you. I cannot think how this actress has been chosen to portray you, in all your sweetness and prettiness; unless the maker of the piece took too seriously those lines of Miss Austen’s:  “She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features.”  They do not seem to realize that was a description of you at ten, and that by seventeen you were quite a pretty girl. Sure Miss Schlesinger is not unpretty, but with those affected curls she looks like an Italian harlot.  And with that nose and chin, she could play the young Queen Victoria, which is not a compliment.

Peter Firth as Henry Tilney 

But worse is in store. Never could I have believed that an actor who is squat and plain, with blond balding locks, and a self-important air, seemingly about five and thirty years old, could ever be selected to portray your Henry, who is tall, and dark, and young, and altogether really very handsome.  This fellow, Peter Firth, is a smug priss, old enough to be your father. It is such a vile piece of miscasting as to spoil the picture in every possible way. 

Googie Withers as Mrs. Allen

Cassie Stuart as Isabella Thorpe

The other actors are better cast: Googie Withers is your Mrs. Allen to the life, and Robert Hardy is a most magnificent General.  I had to hide my face, to be sure, when that Cassie Stuart was playing me.  To be sure she is a pretty girl, as she would have to be, with a plentitude of golden curls; but she has always the same inane giggle, and that, you know, is not like myself at all. 

Henry Tilney sings?!?

If you can ignore the casting of the lead parts (though to be sure that is not an easy thing to do), this is a very pretty Northanger Abbey.  The Rooms look very natural, and the music and dancing are particularly good: Peter Firth, for all he looks like a Scottish butler, sings enchantingly (that must be why he was chosen, and a very poor reason too, since Henry Tilney does not sing in Miss Austen’s book, so why chuse an ugly, middle aged, songster to play him?). I never saw such graceful country dancing, but it does not last long enough. Every thing else lasts much too long, however, and when you, Catherine, or rather that thyroid-eyed girl with greasy curls was rummaging through the trunk at Northanger (in a night scene that was inexplicably brilliantly lit), I thought I would go to sleep, if she would not. 

Catherine and Mrs. Allen take the Baths

There is one effect that I love in this picture, perhaps my favourite in any Austen panopticon performance (and I have seen them all, as there is nothing else to do here in Putney), and that is the scene with the ladies and gentlemen wandering like automatons chest deep in the steaming Roman Bath waters.  It is a most magnificently surreal image, the fanciful hats, the wet gowns, the walking through water, though of course it is like nothing that ever happened on this earth.  We never got our gowns wet in such a way, you remember, though some invalids were dipped; and the 2007 picture is far more realistic in the way its ladies and gentlemen merely sip the waters. 

Elaine Ives-Cameron as the Marchoiness and Robert Hardy as General Tilney 

Then I must mention another strange going-on at Northanger Abbey, that you would abhor: the General has his mistress there, a masked Venetian witch who seems to have wandered in from some other film, Casanova perhaps. She has a little black servant, too, who makes up to Catherine and does cartwheels.  I have seen nothing like it these thousand ages. It puts me in mind of my own brother’s description of Camilla, as recounted by Miss Austen:  “it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man’s playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not.”  That is much the way I feel about this 1986 version of Northanger Abbey.  There is nothing in the world in it but a Venetian masked pocked harlot in the same room with respectable ladies (which could never happen) and a little black boy turning cartwheels.

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland 

Now, my sweet Catherine, have patience, and I will tell you about the 2007 Northanger Abbey. This one is as your own Henry would describe it, “nice.” Just that. Maggie Wadey’s eccentric version, for all its bizarreness, yet uses more of Austen’s language, and has a more natural look. This one, the Andrew Davies version, is improved in only one important way: the casting. This new young Catherine, Felicity Jones, is all loveliness, with a real look of yourself, an ingenuous young thing, who conveys real feeling, just as you do, my sweet one.

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney

Her Henry is not your Henry, to be sure; he is strangely gangly, just made to play Mr. Abraham Lincoln; but JJ Feild is an unspeakable improvement over that hideous elderly chap in the other version. This Catherine and Henry manage to have some chemistry, as it is called, together, while the other pair looked all mutual aversion. In my opinion, however, the actress playing Eleanor Tilney, Catherine Walker, “stole the show,” as they say in the hideous twenty-first century. She exuded warm womanliness that informed the whole production, and filled up the chilly gaps. The General here, Liam Cunningham, was a cardboard ogre.

Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe and Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland

I have left mention of the portrayal of myself by Carey Mulligan to the last, because it deserves no better. This Isabella is a stick, your eyes glide past her on the screen because she barely registers a presence. You cannot think why the gentlemen, such as Captain Tilney and James Morland, would be falling all over her, as they certainly did with me once, did they not, my Catherine?  In short, I have never been properly represented yet, in either version; my odd character, I suppose, is very difficult to execute, but in short, I am not satisfied.

Catherine Morland in a fantasy bath scene cut from the US version 

What more is there to say? The first film was a botch; the second is mighty insipid. There is little real, genuine Austen dialogue, and the tedious, metronome-like flashes of Gothic scenes, although pretty and operatic-looking, I found tiresome beyond measure, interrupting what little action there was. 

Catherine Morland goes Gothic

And now, my dearest Catherine:  I hope you appreciate my describing these amazingly horrid movies for you (and they were horrider than Udolpho, were they not?  That wall-eyed troll who played my brother, William Beck, was certainly more terrifying than any skeleton of Laurentina’s could possibly be). In exchange for my telling you so much, in the goodness of your heart, do you not feel inclined to invite me to Woodston? Sure you would like a female companion to help you while away the tedium of your confinement, and your sisters are really too young for such an office.  And if your brother, or your husband’s brother, should chance to visit while I was in residence, I should not be ashamed to see them.

Your most loving friend,

Isabella Thorpe

Many thanks to Miss Isabella Thorpe who was channeled by author Diana Birchall, whose creative Austen-esque stylings can be found in her highly acclaimed novels, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America available through SourceBooks. You can also catch her weekly column Mrs. Elton Sez at Jane Austen Today if you are in need of some sage and sardonic advice, or just a good laugh.

Upcoming event posts
Day 06 – Oct 9             Group Read NA Chapters 8-10
Day 07 – Oct 13           Guest Blog – Margaret C. Sullivan
Day 08 – Oct 14           Group Read NA Chapters 11-14
Day 09 – Oct 15           Guest Blog – Kali Pappas

Northanger Abbey: Our Hero Henry Tilney

Image of J.J. Feild as Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, PBS, (2007)COUNTENANCE

his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance.The Narrator on Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 3

In anticipation of the premiere on Sunday of the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey presented by PBS, I thought it helpful to introduce the hero Henry Tinley, and highlight some of his most insightful quotes and humorous passages from the novel.

I believe that Jane Austen has created her most charming, quirky, clever, and well spoken male character of any of her heroes in Henry Tilney. In one of her few physical descriptions of her characters of any length, we are given more than a brief introduction.   

The master of the ceremonies introduced to her (Catherine Morland) a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. Chapter 3

Image of J.J. Feild as Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, PBS, (2007)If by some happy chance, you are reading the novel or viewing the adaptation for the first time, you have quite a treat in store for yourself. Henry is the unique voice of reason and witty humor throughout the novel. When he speaks, it is usually in conversation with our heroine Catherine Morland, and he is all about winning her respect with bright and insightful little nuggets on life philosophy or personal opinion on a variety of topics! In fact, his decided views of love, marriage, dancing, history, politics and human nature make him quite possibly Jane Austen’s strongest male character, not only because we have no doubt of his mind, but the fact that he has absolutely no trouble expressing it.

Image of cover of Northanger Abbey DVD, BBC (1986)If you have previously read the novel, or seen the 1986 BBC adaptation staring Katharine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland and Peter Firth as Henry Tilney, you are well aware of his esteem-able nature and are quite possibly already a fan. He is hands down my favorite Jane Austen hero. Why? Many of Jane Austen’s heroes have fine qualities, but in my estimation, none reach the level of Henry. For who could not fall in love with a man of such “pleasing countenance” and “lively eye”; – – who dances quite well, is passionate about expressing himself with, alacrity, certitude and acumen, and happily rescues our heroine?  Who indeed?

Henry Tilney on the fair sex, marriage and dancing

“I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.” Ch 3

“I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.” Ch 10

“Come, shall I make you understand each other, or leave you to puzzle out an explanation as you can? No – I will be noble. I will prove myself a man, no less by the generosity of my soul than the clearness of my head. I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours.” Ch 14

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.” Ch 14

“No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.” Ch 19

“At any rate, however, I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing.” Ch 22

“The world, I believe, never saw a better woman. But it is not often that virtue can boast an interest such as this.” Ch 24

Henry Tilney on life’s pleasures, convictions, horrors and principles

“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement – people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.” Ch 14

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Ch 14

“It is as much as should be said of anyone. To be always firm must be to be often obstinate. When properly to relax is the trial of judgment;” Ch 16

“And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as ‘what one reads about’ may produce? Have you a stout heart-nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?” Ch 20

“If I understand you rightly, you have formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to-Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from?”  Ch 24

“You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature. Such feelings ought to be investigated, that they may know themselves.” Ch 25

“I am come, young ladies, in a very moralizing strain, to observe that our pleasures in this world are always to be paid for, and that we often purchase them at a great disadvantage, giving ready-monied actual happiness for a draft on the future, that may not be honoured.” Ch 26

“But your mind is warped by an innate principle of general integrity, and therefore not accessible to the cool reasonings of family partiality, or a desire of revenge”. Ch 27

Image of Carrie Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe, Northanger Abbey, (2007)Mark you calendars and set your watches for for the premiere of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, presented by PBS, Sunday, January 20that 9:00 pm. Staring Felicity Jones as Gothic novel influenced Catherine Morland, and J.J. Feild as her hero, and ours, Henry Tilney. Watch out for the stellar performance by Carrie Mulligan as Catherine’s flip, hip mentor, Isabella Thorpe. You can read the review An Austen Heroine with a Fertile Imagination in the Los Angeles Times, and tune in to PBS for all the horrid and romantic escapades of our heroine in the making on Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm.

Read additional posts about characters and quotes in my Northanger Abbey blog archive, including my introduction to our heroine Catherine Morland entitled Northanger AbbeyAcquistion of Higher Delight. Check out my musing on that despot General Tilney at my other co-blog, Jane Austen Today, and round out the Northanger converage at Jane Austen’s World’s post on the likeable hero & heroine Catherine Morland & Henry Tilney.