Halloween Book Review: Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey is a satirical Gothic work by Jane Austen. The protagonist Catherine, travels to Northanger Abbey and imagines her life as parallel to the plot of a Gothic novel, although her real life brings her back down to earth.

Although Northanger Abbey isn’t strictly a Gothic novel, or in fact wholly a ghost story, I wanted to talk about some more Jane Austen, and I didn’t feel like discussing Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was entirely appropriate in the run-up to Halloween!

I’m a huge fan of the Gothic genre, and so I went into reading Northanger Abbey with great excitement, eagerly waiting for Austen to satirise the genre as much as she could.

However, I was disappointed in how long it took Austen to start talking properly about the Gothic; I was halfway through the novel and Catherine hadn’t even arrived to Northanger Abbey yet! I did appreciate the references to some more Gothic classics though, such as Matthew Lewis’ The Monk and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho.

The character of Henry was also really amusing – he painted fantastic Gothic images in Catherine’s mind, images which reminded me of Brontë’s Jane Eyre, of haunted rooms, and hints at mysterious family deaths, raising the question of ghosts.

It’s particularly ironic to read Northanger Abbey as a Gothic-loving English student, because it makes me even more aware of the stereotypical Gothic conventions. I can only imagine how Austen’s readers felt at the time, when the Gothic genre was so popular.

All in all, I did enjoy Northanger Abbey but it’s definitely not my favourite Austen novel.

– Judith

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Film Review: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Harry Potter is the story of a gifted child who discovers he is a wizard and is taken to Hogwarts, the school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Whilst there, he develops his skills, makes new friends, and embarks on all sorts of magical adventures whilst avoiding the dangerous clutches of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.

Even if you’ve watched this film multiple times, like I have, I still find it amazing how I am captivated by all of the magic (the literal and the metaphorical).  The actors, costumes, colours, setting, score are all fantastic and I can’t imagine the film being made in a better way.

The late, great Alan Rickman is superb as Snape – it is impossible to re-read the books without visualising his performance and hearing his voice – and it is a way for all of his fans to remember him and hold on to him. I really liked Richard Harris’ portrayal of the character and appearance-wise, seemed to fit more with the books than Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore, who took up the role after Harris passed away in 2002.

I think this film is a brilliant, accurate adaptation of the book and hardly anything was altered or omitted – although it is a shame that Peeves, the mischievous poltergeist, doesn’t make an appearance.

I also thought some sequences in the book, such as the Wizard’s Chess scene and the final confrontation with Professor Quirrell (Ian Hart) were less dramatic than they were in the film, which I suppose is to be expected, so as to keep the tension levels high enough for a film production.

I thought it was interesting how in the book, the relationships between Neville (Matthew Lewis), Dean (Alfred Enoch), Seamus (Devon Murray), Ron (Rupert Grint), Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and the Weasley Twins (James Phelps and Oliver Phelps) were a lot more close-knit. They seemed like a well-connected group of friends from the start, whereas the film focuses more on the core three characters (Harry, Ron and Hermione), and we don’t really see a united friendship group until Goblet of Fire and Order of The Phoenix.

This a great film to watch, and one I recommend strongly if you haven’t seen already.

– Judith

Book Review: The Monk

The Monk is an extremely Gothic novel and was extremely scandalous when it was first published too. It is about a monk Ambrosio, who is tempted by lustful desires before eventually giving in to his urges, and embarking on a path of further transgression and self-destruction.

I approached The Monk with caution; I don’t read books with vulgar language or sexual content, and so I was very wary of walking into a 18th century version of “Fifty Shades”. Thankfully, what was considered rather scandalous and explicit in 1796 is actually incredibly tame by today’s standards.

The Gothic concepts included on almost every page made this book incredibly enjoyable, such as violence, religion, taboo behaviour and the supernatural.

However, it was difficult to remember who all the main characters were, and what their roles were, because of their similarly spelt Spanish names. I also didn’t enjoy the lengthy passages of poetry Lewis included, because I prefer prose as a form.

Overall, I did enjoy reading this book and was pleasantly surprised by this, given the “horror stories” I’d heard about it.

– Judith