It's not too often in my life that I'm not actively re-reading one of Austen's novels. Pride and Prejudice is arguably my favourite, the staple to which I run again and again in all weathers, moods, and situations. The others are harder to rate one against the other, since they all have such nuance and difference that every time I read one of them, I'm persuaded that it's my favourite after P&P.
I've been reading Northanger Abbey lately, which means that it's my current 2nd fave. One of the things I love so much about Austen's novels is that each reading deepens the understanding of the characters and situations. I never read one of them without gleaning a little more from the current reading than I did from the last; and Northanger Abbey is no exception.
I've always loved the fact that, contrary to all fashionable and popular books of the time, Catherine Morland (a reasonably typical 17 year-old) falls in love with the hero first. Puppy love that deepens to real love, but love nevertheless- and without any inkling of whether or not he may be in love with her. Shocking!
With my latest reading I've begun to see a little more. I see Henry Tilney's flirtation where once I saw only kindness and a likeable personality. I see his subtle jealousy and his discomfort with it. I see his delight both at Catherine's undoubtedly kind and loving nature, and her naivety. She's young and foolish, but she's also kind and sensible and willing to learn. Henry Tilney values those things, as does his sister Eleanor; and it's this value he places on Catherine that makes me like him more.
On my first few readings I thought him lovely but wasn't sure he was in love with Catherine until much later in the book. This time I caught all the tiny, delightful hints that make me sure he liked her from the first and fell in love much more quickly than I gave him credit for.
General Tilney is quite terrifying in his unreasonableness: more so than I ever remember him being. His up and down moods, the heaviness of his displeasure on Eleanor and even Henry--his suffocating lack of love and understanding--really stood out to me on this reading. He's a worthier-- and far more subtle--villain than Isabella and John Thorpe, whose inconsistencies, lies, and insincere friendship are the first sustained assault that Catherine meets with in Bath.
I enjoyed this re-read so much that it prompted me to watch both versions of Northanger Abbey that I own on DVD. If you're going to do the same, I recommend the Peter Firth, Catherine Sleisinger, Googie Withers version. It's dated, downright odd, and delightfully addictive, with a synthesised and saxaphonic soundtrack. The new version with JJ. Fields is also excellent, but I suspect I'll always love the older version better.