Jane Austen presaged the current obnoxious teenage girl, equipped with walks down country lanes rather than cell phones, and letters instead of text messages, in most of her stories.  Clearly part of her popularity today is due to the fact that movies (like Clueless) can be made from her work that appeal to the modern teenage audience.  She’s certainly the least painful of high school reading assignments.

Though Emma  is her most finely drawn version, Northanger Abbey gives us Catherine, who is probably the worst uber-teen there is.  She would have done well with Bratz dolls and Juicy sweatpants.  Without a wit of commonsense and a lack of wit to boot, she’s the epitome of flighty, willfully silly girl.  She’s got a brain she just won’t use,even when her future husband points the obvious out to her.  One wonders how quickly the appeal of this student/teacher relationship will last.  Poor Henry (and poor Catherine) in the age of no divorce, once her girlish charms become churlish wifeliness.

Jane Austen is famously attributed to have said that girls are no use to anyone until they grow up.  And though she illustrates this opinion broadly in Emma and specifically in Pride and Prejudice (especially with Lydia) there is no other book that tops the sneering, snarkiness of Northanger Abbey.  It is called her most lighthearted book.  But I think it her darkest, in the sense that she lets her real opinions on girls out.  It is humor, but humor at someone’s expense.

This is the book in which I wholeheartedly embrace what I see as the real Jane Austen.  The girl who saw other women’s mistakes and grew up to be the woman who did not repeat them.  She chose not to get married to save her self and she chose not to tolerate the foolishness of others, regardless of gender. 

Though she makes Catherine likable enough to keep the reader interested (she uses her heavy artillery on Isabella) she is almost certainly laughing at loud at her own creation’s naivete.  

And that makes me like Jane all the more.

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