Hey, guys! Welcome to this week’s Boozy Books! Sorry it’s a bit late…
This week, I want to turn to Jane Austen’s funniest book.
What? What, you say? Surely not! What about all that love you give Persuasion for Jane being at her snarky best? What about the fact that you never talk about the romance but always seem to focus on the social commentary? Hell, you talked about the slavery problem in Mansfield Park more than… wait, no you didn’t…
OK, are you done? Yes. I think Persuasion is Austen’s best book. And, yes, I spent most of my post on Mansfield Park being unfairly harsh on Fanny Price (she’s just… so… boring compared to the others, and I dislike Austen’s premise that being poor had somehow made her a BETTER person, which is utter bullshit and the same kind of romanticism of the poor that caused Russia so many difficulties) and not discussing the undertones of anti-slavery in the novel (if you want that discussion, watch the adaptation from ’99… if you can stomach what it does to the characters)… but, truly, Austen’s funniest book is Northanger Abbey.
It is also the one the fewest people seem to have read, which is weird. Because it’s pretty damn enjoyable. I think it’s because, of all Jane’s books, it’s had the fewest adaptations, and the only ones I’ve seen have been lacking.
You know how Charlotte Brontë has some pretty famous quips about Jane Austen, with her carefully tended gardens and lack of real feeling? Well, I think Northanger Abbey could stand as Austen’s reply to Brontë. After all, it’s a pretty ridiculous lambasting of exactly the sort of overblown, Gothic nonsense the sisters are known for. (Guys. I cannot tell you how much I hate Wuthering Heights and its sorry excuse for romance, if it can indeed be called love. Jane Eyre is the only of their novels I can stomach and it’s all madwomen, fires, and wandering the moors.) This is because Austen wanted the novel to be taken seriously as a form, and the Gothic romance was a big reason why it wasn’t. They were thought to be silly and corrupting.
And in the case of Catherine Morland, they kind of are. Her obsession with Gothic novels leads her down some very silly paths, up to and including thinking her love interest’s father murdered his wife because that’s what would’ve happened in one of her novels. She cannot separate reality from fiction and it almost costs her a a great deal of happiness. Especially since her fictional travails blind her to the very real cruelties and evils of very real people.
Of course, it doesn’t help that everyone — including Henry Tilney (her love interest) — mistakes her quiet confusion for a cool urbanity, which is, itself, one of the many things Austen lambastes. After all, a silent, wide-eyed woman is a good woman.
This is not my favorite of Austen’s books and even Henry Tilney only ranks fourth on my list of Austen heroes (Darcy, Wentworth, Brandon, then Tilney), but it really is a funny book. Not laugh out loud funny, of course, but definitely the funny of good satire. Be sure to drink something dark and brooding. Or at least a nice fortified wine like Brandy.