The Bride of Northanger: An Austen Variation

The Fiction Addiction

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The very beginning of The Bride of Northanger, by Diana Birchell, has Henry Tilney admitting to his bride that actually, yes, the family really is cursed and the curse is on the wives of the eldest son of each generation. Sweet Catherine, newly practical and rational, ignores this because Henry is the second son and they’re not actually going to live full-time at Northanger Abbey anyway.

But this time, the creepy old house really is full of gothic dread. There’s the family curse and some truly insufferable flesh-and-blood relatives, not to mention sightings of ghostly grey lady, an anonymous warning letter left for Catherine, medical mysteries, insane relatives, and all kind of creepy things.  At one point, young bride Catherine is informed that family tradition requires a member of the family to stay with a newly-deceased relative, which means she’s about to spend the night alone with a corpse. There’s also a death by impalement on architectural decor, a truly gothic way to go.

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen flips the Gothic novel, setting up hints of ghostly activity and then giving a mundane explanation. Here, Diana Birchall flips it back, putting a more mature Catherine into an extremely Gothic horror story, with ghosts and curses and imprisonment. But it’s also a reversal of modern haunted-house horror movie, since it’s the wife, not the husband, who ignores any evidence of supernatural disturbance in the house, looking for a rational explanation and insisting that everything is fine.

The Bride of Northanger is a horror novel homage with a twist that plays on what readers expect from a haunted-house heroine.  Janeite readers can’t help thinking Austen would approve.

For more Austen-inspired fiction, try The Other Bennet Sister, Pride and Prejudice and Passports or any of these Jane Austen reimaginings.

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