"It is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language."
Jane Austen's 'rant' that crops up in the middle of Northanger Abbey is just fantastic, isn't it? Listening to Audible's dramatised version on my way to work, when Emma Thompson as narrator launched into this passionate support of the novel as art form I couldn't help but outwardly smile and inwardly whoop. It's almost comical how detached it is from the rest of the book, but that's what makes it so brilliant – it's like a Machiavellian aside but from a witty author with a point to prove, and she's not backing down until she's made it! Austen did so much for the novel form, and this is a timely reminder of her achievements and skill.
Northanger Abbey itself I really, really enjoyed. I loved the subtly sardonic tone with which the narrator presents Catherine Moreland's coming of age, her life lessons learnt in the most warming and amusing of ways. I love how the novel gently plays with gothic tropes, and satirises upper-class, priggish characters in the way only Austen can. The word 'parody', though, doesn't do the novel justice in my opinion, as that implies it's lacking in substance and depth. On the contrary, I found it to be a sort of love letter to reading, to imagination and to growing up. Austen presents us with many different facets of femininity also, which must have been so rare and original at the time.
I still have Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park to read but I think this one might be one of my favourites of hers before long! Do you have a favourite Austen?