Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rollicking Readers - Northanger Abbey

A novel about reading? Why yes, that's what Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey really is. Catherine Moreland, a naive seventeen-year-old with a taste for Gothic novels, is invited to Bath (a resort town) with family friends. Befriended by several young people, she is then invited to Northanger Abbey, the sinister-sounding home of Eleanor and Henry Tilney. Her imagination runs wild due to all the novels she reads and her visit ends badly.

My Rollicking Readers book club discussed
Northanger Abbey yesterday evening. Although not everyone there had actually READ the book, those of us that did enjoyed it. I know I did! I think I'm finally getting the hang of reading Austen! Our discussion ranged from the uses of novel reading in the plot to the difference of the hero from the average Austen hero to our enjoyment of the verbal repartee.

We then watched two versions of Northanger Abbey on DVD - one from 2007 and one from 1987. Oh my, what a difference! We found the recent version utterly charming, but the older one? Let's just say if that was the only version available, well then, none of us would be Austen fans.

The 2007 version features a charming Catherine Moreland who portrays a believable mix of naivete' and straightforwardness. The hero is witty and honest (and handsome and charming!) and the villains are pleasurably hateful. The costuming is beautiful and doesn't call attention to itself except where it should. The abbey is not as described in the novel and there were a few scenes that didn't match with the book, but it was a fairly good adaptation. Each of us was rightfully horrified at the treatment Catherine suffered at the hands of the villains and happily satisfied by the romantic ending!

If you want a laugh, and only then, you should borrow (not buy!) the 1987 version. The hero (see right) was not handsome enough and had a very effeminate manner. Plus he was wearing tan lipstick, I think! The actress who played Catherine had apparently attended the Over-acting School of Wide-eyed Looks, as her eyes widening and insipid smiles were about all the depth the viewer is treated to. That, however, is not as bad as the actress portraying Isabella who punctuated every line with a forced-looking saccarine smile. The hairdos! Oh my, the hairdos! The overdone makeup! Those red red lips! (see left) Definitely an 80's production. And the outfits! I particularly recall one broadly striped green suit that made the wearer appear to be a leprechaun. And the overdone Gothic-ness of the dream sequences - just terrible. Yes, I understand Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothic novels, but I think this adaptation is a parody of itself. Just awful. However, we laughed our way through it!