Catherine Morland is, at seventeen years old, typical of her time and age--a passionate reader of Gothic novels. On a visit to Bath, she is befriended by General Henry Tilney and his charming sister Eleanor, who invite her to stay at Northanger Abbey, their family home. Catherine is entranced, convinced the Tilney home will be filled with dreadful secrets. However, it is the prejudices of the real world that eventually cause disaster. Fortunately, Catherine's fundamental good sense and Henry Tilney's loyalty ultimately overcome all hurdles and lead to a happy conclusion.
Catherine grows up to be a passably pretty girl and is invited to spend a few weeks in Bath with a family friend. While there she meets Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor, who invite her to visit their family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Austen amuses herself and us as Catherine, a great reader of Gothic romances, allows her imagination to run wild, finding dreadful portents in the most wonderfully prosaic events. But Austen is after something more than mere parody; she uses her rapier wit to mock not only the essential silliness of "horrid" novels, but to expose the even more horrid workings of polite society, for nothing Catherine imagines could possibly rival the hypocrisy she experiences at the hands of her supposed friends. In many respects Northanger Abbey is the most lighthearted of Jane Austen's novels, yet at its core is a serious, unsentimental commentary on love and marriage, 19th-century British style. --Alix Wilber