Immersion, Escapism and Northanger Abbey: An Analysis of Jane Austen's Most Underrated Romance

I began reading Northanger Abbey last week, and after about four chapters I decided I couldn't wait and downloaded the movie. And as my Instagram followers well know, I fell completely in love with it. Now I've re-watched a good amount of movies in my day. I remember I was sick once and was watching Austenland, and once it ended I re-winded it and watched it all over again.

But I have never re-watched a film four times within the span of six days. There's something about Northanger Abbey that has stuck with me since I viewed it the first time, and I haven't been able to get it off my mind.

It's safe to say most of the Jane Austen adaptations are very immersive. They draw you into a different and simpler time, and for a couple hours at least allow you to escape into another world. But Catherine Morland's story touched me in a very different way, that even my long time favorite film, Sense & Sensibility, never has. I thought it a little strange that I, serial binger and re-watcher though I be, have been able to sit through this film four times in a row and enjoy it just as much as I did the first time. But I wasn't the only person that this film has had the same impact on. I introduced my good friend to this movie the night I viewed it and she, like myself, has not been able to stop watching it. She's seen it as many times as I have.

So, I watched it yesterday for a fifth time, to try and figure out why Northanger has had such an effect on me. I pondered on it for a while. And I came to a conclusion that, though quite simple, cannot be understated:

The romance is realistic.

From the very first scene Catherine and Henry are in together, you're already rooting for their relationship, and you don't even know why yet. I however, do know why.

JJ Field's Henry Tilney is an incredibly down to earth and realistic character. I've met plenty of individuals like him, young men who like to playfully tease and are very gentlemanly. A lot of the time male lead's in movies like this set expectations incredibly high in comparison to the average man (I'm looking at you, Mr. Darcy).

For me I've always been more drawn to the characters that aren't "the perfect man". And I found that in Henry Tilney, both in the film and the book. It fascinated me, the simplicity of his character. His attributes and personality are real and attainable features in someone, and aren't idealized beyond what is reasonable. It's rare to see characters like that in films and TV nowadays. Hollywood likes to idealize every aspect of a person, to the point where we as the audience know that such a man/woman is frankly, unattainable. I had the rare opportunity of walking away from this movie, and genuinely believing Henry Tilney to be a man I, and many other women, could meet and fall in love with.

Catherine Morland is a girl I've met before, inhabited in other people. I was her at one point in my life, too. She is a character who has been heavily influenced by the literature she reads, and takes what she knows from novels as her knowledge of the real world. And it gets her into trouble.

Naivety is normally a trait in characters that comes across as obnoxious, but in Catherine's case it's simply a matter of having a sheltered upbringing. Catherine has a maturity about her in many ways, especially in her conduct. Her character is appealing because she's a genuine person. But her biggest flaw is that she's too trusting. And when she becomes acquainted with the Thorpes', that naivety is taken advantage of by her false friends.

As she becomes further acquainted with Henry and Eleanor, however, she realizes that they are the genuine, high quality people she's been looking to befriend. This is proved when Henry becomes upset with Catherine for suspecting General Tilney of murder. Even though he's clearly angry, his reaction is loving. Eleanor barely meditates on it, because both of them understand how innocent Catherine is, and how her imagination has been affected by her upbringing (which Eleanor once regards as being "dangerous").

This is what really connects Henry and Catherine, and makes them compatible- they are high quality individuals, with pure hearts. Both have a straightforward idea of right and wrong, and they each act on those principals throughout the film and novel. I enjoyed especially that they developed a comfortable friendship with one another first-hand. Henry and Catherine were relaxed in each others company, even though they both knew how they really felt about each other.

And finally, I appreciated how completely awkward and excitable the proposal scene was. They didn't know whether to hug, or kiss or both, and that to me is how I expect most proposals to go. It is awkward, because it's an unfamiliar situation. Their fidgeting is so sweet and innocently romantic, that I've re-watched it at least half a dozen times outside of my full length re-viewings of this movie.

This story, to me, is a tale of true uncomplicated love. There are stressful situations throughout of course, but the relationship between Catherine and Henry remains the same. Rarely was it tested, and most fully was it embraced. To me the most escapist stories are the ones that reflect pure, yet realistic situations and lifestyles. A little of the familiar, with some light romanticism.

I believe every young woman or man with a romantic inside them should watch this film. They'll come away from it feeling that there is a perfect person for them out there, who is just as imperfect as they are.

If you loved this movie as much as I do, or have been wanting to watch it, click the image below to purchase a copy!

© 2018 by J.E Stanway. All Rights Reserved.