This is the second actual book by Jane Austen I’ve read, yet it was the first book Jane prepared for publication, though it was only published posthumously. From a quiet village home, Catherine Morland accepts the kind offer of family friends, and comes with them to Bath for a season. (Jane uses Bath as a backdrop a couple of times, and was definitely not fond of it or of most of its behaviors.) All the 17-year-old Catherine knows of life comes from Gothic novels, quite the rage in Britain at the time.
She has a very active imagination and fills in the blanks in her understanding Gothically – picturing all manner of vivid horrors behind closed doors and down dim hallways. Jane designed it perhaps as a parody, or maybe a comedy of manners. It plays well either way, and is often a lot of fun. Except I kept worrying about each new tangle Catherine involved herself in, not wanting anything too hard to happen to her young and naive self. Jane is good though (from the less than half of her books I’ve read so far) at having bad things happen to the bad guys, and in general good stuff happening to the good ones.
Isabella, for instance, is a stinker and ends up as she deserves – I could wish she was smarter and more discerning, and not bring so many difficulties on herself. Catherine’s brother is also naive and ill used, but with no long term consequences. Catherine herself nearly ends up engaged, not understanding the obscurities and nuances in the mating rules of that time. And then when she is sure she is headed into the arms of her true love, suddenly it all that blows up.
But since Catherine is definitely a good guy / person everything works out, and the blow up is a catalyst in producing her happy future. Long live Jane!