Guest review by Christina Boyd
Albeit Jane Austen first sold Northanger Abbey to a publisher in 1803 (at first entitled Susan), it did not appear in print until 1817 when it was published after her death as a four volume set with her final novel Persuasion. In Northanger Abbey, Miss Morland is a daughter of a well-to-do clergyman, unabashed Gothic novel reader, and heroine-in-the-making, “Something must happen and will happen to throw a hero in her way.” Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1. Upon leaving her family home in the quiet village of Fullerton for the excitement of the resort town of Bath, the good-hearted and suggestible Miss Morland is entangled in a plait of plausible falsehoods fabricated by more sophisticated people she encounters. Invited to Northanger Abbey, the country home of the Tilney family, Catherine lets her Gothic-infused imagination run wild during her visit there. She suspects something sinister — true, but as in all Austen’s major works, money is the real labyrinth. Cloaked in a black veil of parody, Jane Austen subtly mocks the Gothic novel with actual dangers, fears, anxieties and misfortunes that torment Catherine Morland, making it relevant to the age in which she lived.
Author Amanda Grange’s latest offering Henry Tilney’s Diary, mirrors Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, but from the male protagonist’s point of view. When the young clergyman Henry Tilney is to be the hero, as in so many of the Gothic novels that he so fond of reading, the perverseness of his upbringing in a medieval home with a choleric, militaristic father, an aggrieved, sickly mother, his burlesque lothario of an older brother and a kindly, pretty sister cannot prevent him. Grange has scripted a rich back-story, starting with Henry’s first entries in his diary at approximately age 15. We are privy to his most private thoughts regarding his parents, his mother’s illness, his sister Eleanor and her secret amour, and of course, how his rake of a brother Frederick came to be. I found Henry so unlike other Austen heroes. He takes nothing seriously unless required, yet, is so self-assured that he has ready opinions on everything from marriage, politics and even fine muslin!
As in Grange’s previous books in the Austen diaries series, the entries are dated which is helpful in keeping the timeline in focus. She masterfully writes our hero’s thoughts and recollections with a strong, clear voice, seasoned with his wit, charm and satirical eye as Tilney attempts to influence others to rationality, even while on his search to find his own heroine. “‘Papa says I am the cleverest girl he has ever met. Captain Dunston remarked upon it as well. But I think he is a very stupid fellow.’ ‘He must be,’ I said; a remark which she did not understand, but which made her smile, for she liked to think of my sharing her opinion of the captain.’” p. 97. Fortunately, this Miss Smith did not suit.
Negotiating through a world that is oftentimes mendacious, and a society that is characterized by guile and polite fabrication, when Henry does meet Miss Catherine Morland, a pretty, young lady of meager fortune, he can’t help but be enchanted by her fresh charm and glorious honesty. And to discover her love of reading, it would seem he had found his match! Amused by her description of the south of France, “I could not help smiling when she went on, ‘It always puts me in the mind of the country that Emily and her father traveled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho.’ Eleanor and I looked at each other, delighted to have found another fellow admirer of Udolpho. Your heroine? Eleanor mouthed silently to me. I smiled, for Miss Morland certainly had all the hallmarks of a heroine.” p.115.
When General Tilney, who has pre-determined his children will make wealthy marital conquests, takes an unlikely interest in Catherine, even inviting her to visit their home, Henry is pleasantly surprised. Later after an indulgent evening of laughter with just the three young people, “‘This is how it will be when we are married,’ I said to Eleanor, when Catherine had retired for the night. ‘I am sorry for it, but there it is. My wife will not secretly resent you, as you believed when we were children. She will not slowly poison you, or lock you in the attic.’ Eleanor gave a sigh. ‘We must all bear our disappointments in life, dear brother, and it seems that having a good and charming sister, who loves me as much as I love her, is destined to be one of mine.’” p. 191. While Henry admits to himself his affection for Catherine, he also discovers her suggestible imagination has led her to suspect that his mother was incarcerated and murdered by his father… “Oh! I would not tell you” the rest “for the world! Are you not wild to know?” Northanger Abbey, Chapter VI.
Amanda Grange continues to build a dedicated fan base with her warm, witty and informative diaries of Jane Austen’s male heroes (and even a villain) since her first Mr. Darcy’s Diary in 2007 to Mr. Wickham’s Dairy last April. I was too anxious to wait for the US release in December 2011 for Henry Tilney’s Diary so I impatiently paid a small fortune last May for the shipping and hardback copy published through Robert Hale in the UK. I recall that from the time UPS delivered the book until I finished it sometime in the wee hours of the morn, I was thoroughly engaged. I believe my money and my time, well spent; surely one of her best diaries to date! Austen fans may declare Mr. Darcy as their favorite, I dare say, Mr. Tilney improves on acquaintance. Even if you are not as familiar with Northanger Abbey as other Austen works, you will still find the tendency of Henry Tilney’s Diary to be altogether recommendable. A must for your reading list.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Henry Tilney’s Diary: A Novel, by Amanda Grange
Berkley Trade (2011)
Trade paperback (288) pages
Christina Boyd lives in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest with her dear Mr. B, two youngish children and a Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Bibi. She studied Fine Art at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art and received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Salisbury University in Maryland. For the last nine years she has created and sold her own pottery line from her working studio. Albeit she read Jane Austen as a moody teenager, it wasn’t until Joe Wright’s 2005 movie of Pride & Prejudice that sparked her interest in all things Austen. A life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, visiting Jane Austen’s England remains on her bucket list.
© 2007 – 2011 Christina Boyd, Austenprose