Northanger Abbey

Description of adaptations page


May 2007 Gothic Classics cover

Cover art by Lisa K. Weber showcases Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla.

Not a dramatic adaptation, but too interesting of a piece of news to pass by:

Graphic Classics has published Gothic Classics, a multi-author collection featuring comics adaptations of Northanger Abbey and The Mysteries of Udolpho. This edition is available from Graphic Classics and other retailers. Udolpho is adapted by Antonella Caputo and Carlo Vergara; NA is adapted by Trina Robbins and Anne Timmons.

My Gothic Classics review for AustenBlog, 13 June 2007

When looking over various radio, film, or stage productions, I consider the following:

  • How does this adaptation approach the original text (faithfully, or does it offer a different interpretation)?
  • Does it encourage a first-time viewer to read the novel?
  • Will it enhance the enjoyment of those who are already familiar with its source?

The usual caveats apply:


NA theatre quotation from ch. 12

Sense and Sensibility
Mansfield Park
Northanger Abbey

Please direct correspondence to comments (at) solitary elegance (dot) com


Quick index to NA adaptations Luscombe Dorset Corset Theatre Radio Plays Stage Plays TV/Film Screenplays Ross Langdon Holme Constanduros Cox and MacLoughlin Power NA2 Amis Wishbone NA1 Filippi Smith Luscombe Cox Green Holme Caines Turner Williamson Francis Macy Wood North Country Theatre FJohnson

Radio plays

Constanduros, Denis (adapter). Northanger Abbey. BBC Home Service, 12 August- 9 September, 1962. (bibliographic information from

EESE Resources by Rolf Breuer)

Partial Cast List:
Catherine Morland ..... Susan Maudslay
Henry Tilney ..... John Bouney
Isabella Thorpe ..... Sheila Steafel
General Tilney ..... Hedley Goodall

Cox, Constance and Sean MacLoughlin, adapters. Northanger Abbey. BBC Radio 4. Saturday Night Theatre. 23 December 1972. Rebroadcast: Afternoon Theatre, 10 April 1977. (Description from


Cast List:
Catherine Morland ..... Rosalind Shanks
Henry Tilney ..... John Rye
General Tilney ..... Geoffrey Wincott
Eleanor Tilney ..... Jane Knowles
Captain Frederick Tilney ..... Anthony Hall
Isabella Thorpe ..... Frances Jeater
John Thorpe ..... Robin Browne
Mrs. Thorpe ..... Fabia Drake
Mrs. Allen ..... Sheila Mitchell
James Morland ..... Fraser Kerr
Susan, Mrs Allen’s maid ..... Helen Worth

Status: “Lost Broadcast”

Langdon, Sam (adapter). Northanger Abbey. BBC Home Service. Three parts.
19 June — 3 July 1951.

Partial Cast List:
Narrator ..... Frank Duncan
Catherine Morland ..... Jane Barrett
Henry Tilney ..... Alan Cuthbertson
Eleanor Tilney ..... Joan Hart
Isabella Thorpe ..... Diana Maddox
John Thorpe ..... Basil Jones
Mrs. Allen ..... Marjorie Westbury

Power, Dominic (adapter). Northanger Abbey. Dir. Pam Fraser Solomon. Classic Serial.
BBC Radio 4. Three one-hour episodes; Ep. 1: 18 September 2005; Ep. 2: 25 September 2005; Ep. 3: 2 October 2005.

Synopsis: 1/3. Catherine Morland, a naïve country girl, is taken to Bath by Mr and Mrs Allen - rich landowners and friends of her clergyman father. But her arrival in Bath in such noteworthy company leads to a misunderstanding about her fortune, a misunderstanding that grows until she is invited by the wealthy, but avaricious, General Tilney for an indefinite stay at Northanger Abbey.
2/3. Catherine receives an invitation to stay at Northanger Abbey. Delighted to leave Bath in the company of Henry Tilney and his sister, she is nevertheless wary of their father - the terrifying General Tilney.
3/3. Catherine's suspicions about the tyrannical General Tilney grow and she is determined to explore Northanger Abbey and discover its hidden secrets.

Jane Austen ...... Amanda Root
Catherine ...... Emily Wachter
Henry ...... David Harewood
Mrs Allen ...... Julia McKenzie
Isabella ...... Claire Skinner
Eleanor ...... Saskia Reeves
Mrs Thorpe ...... Jenny Agutter
John Thorpe ...... Jonathan Keeble
James ...... Shiv Grewal
Mr Allen ...... John Rowe
Mr Morland ...... Gerard McDermott
Mrs Morland ...... Susan Jameson
General Tilney ...... John Shrapnel

Music by Peter Wiegold.

Ross, Clarice A. (adapter). Northanger Abbey. Dir. Andrew C. Love. NBC University Theatre. One episode: 29:25; 15 October 1950. (bibliographic information from

Radio GOLDINdex by David Goldin)

NBC University Theatre, a scholarly approach to radio drama, based its broadcasts in almost every instance, on American or English novels.  Less purely dramatic (or melodramatic) than The Lux Radio Theatre or its imitators, the series began as a one-hour broadcast, switching to 30 minutes for a brief period in September of 1949 and eventually reverting to that format at the very end of its run.  The earliest shows featured movie stars in the leads, later radio actors were used. (Description from

Synopsis: A portrait of manners and morals in old England.

NBC University Theatre Cast and Crew:
Producer ..... Wade Arnold
Announcer ..... Don Stanley
Isabella Thorpe ..... Constance Cavendish
Henry Tilney ..... John Dodsworth
James Morland ..... Gilbert Fry
General Tilney ..... Crauford Kent
Eleanor Tilney ..... Alma Lawton
Mrs. Morland ..... Doris Lloyd
Catherine Morland ..... Virginia McDowell
Mrs. Allen ..... Norma Varden
John Thorpe ..... Nelson Welch

Stage Plays

Caines, Michael. Northanger. Dir. Laura Baggaley. Jackson's Lane Theatre, London. 2002.

Synopsis: Catherine meets two people who will change her life; Henry, the suave and sardonic clergyman, and Isabelle, beautiful and affectionate.  She is introduced to gothic novels, and a visit to Northanger Abbey fuels a deepening obsession, until Catherine's mind is so dominated by fantasy that the edges of fiction and reality begin to blur.

2002 Jackson's Lane Theatre Partial Cast List:
Mr. Allen/General Tilney ..... Alan Charlesworth
Eleanor Tilney ..... Ellen Collier
John Thorpe ..... Matt Jamie

  • Synopsis of Northanger from UK Theatre Web
  • Synopsis of Northanger from Matt Jamie's web site

Cox, Constance. Northanger Abbey: a comedy in three acts. London: The Fortune Press, 1950.

Constance Cox's Northanger Abbey
  • Available from the Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University (Provo campus) Call Number: PN 6112 .P539x vol.307
  • Available from the Julia Rogers Library, Goucher College,
    Rare Book Room.
    Call Number: Austen 826.6 C877In Winn (library use only)
  • Press cuttings and a program from the Dundee production are stored in the Special Collections, University of Glasgow*
  • Photographs from the Royal Lyceum production are stored in the Special Collections, University of Glasgow*
  • Gallery of photos, press cuttings, and program

* The Glasgow Special Collections links do not show the actual materials, only where the materials are located in the collections.

  • Performed at the Dundee Repertory Theatre, Dundee, 28 August-10 September, 1950.

Dundee Repertory Theatre Cast:
Producer ..... A.R. Whatmore
Mrs. Thorpe ..... Hilary Mason
Mrs. Allen ..... Laurena Dewar
Catherine Morland ..... Virginia McKenna
Isabella Thorpe ..... Gwen Vaughan
Susan ..... Eileen Usher
Henry Tilney ..... John Warner
John Thorpe ..... Antony Oakley
James Morland ..... Miles Rudge
Eleanor Tilney ..... Elizabeth Brush
General Tilney ..... Geoffrey Edwards
Captain Frederick Tilney ..... Peter Wigzell

  • Performed at the Farnham Repertory Theatre, 26 February 1951.

1951 Farnham Theatre Partial Cast List:
Catherine Morland ..... Wendy Gowland
Henry Tilney ..... John Bryans
Isabella Thorpe ..... Ann Merideth
General Tilney ..... John Pett

  • Performed at the at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh by Wilson Barrett Company, 22-27 March, 1954.
  • Another version , co-written with Sean MacLoughlin, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1972 and 1977.

Dorset Corset Theatre. Northanger Abbey. September —November 2008.

Filippi, Rosina. “Literary Tastes” from Duologues and Scenes from the Novels of Jane Austen Arranged and Adapted for Drawing-Room Performance. London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1895.

Rosina Filippi's Duologues and Scenes

Miss Rosina Filippi was a Victorian actress and the first person to adapt Jane Austen's novels for the stage. The article linked below describes her life and approach to adaptation. Her book features seven vignettes from Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice.

Synopsis: Duologue between Catherine Morland and Isabella Thorpe (in the Pump Room, Bath).

Francis, Matthew. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. London: Samuel French Ltd., 1997.

Matthew Francis' Northanger Abbey

Synopsis: This dramatic adaptation of Jane Austen's first novel wryly dramatizes the disparity between the heroine's fantasy world of Gothic romance and mystery and the real world of England in the 1800s. It also captures Austen's incomparable irony and acerbic comment in witty dialogue and narration. “It is impossible not to be caught up in both the romance and the fun of it. Francis's wit and taste are so nicely in tune with Austen's.” London Evening Standard.

1996 Greenwich Theatre Cast:
Mr Morland ...... Richard Lumsden
Mrs Morland ...... Karen Lewis
Mr James Morland ...... Luke Healey
Miss Catherine Morland ...... Sarah-Jane Holm
Mrs Allen ...... Celia Bannerman
Mrs Thorpe ...... Karen Lewis
Mr John Thorpe ...... Richard Lumsden
Miss Isabella Thorpe ...... Rebecca Saire
General Tilney ...... Michael Cronin
Captain Frederick Tilney ...... Charles Middrun
Mr Henry Tilney ...... James Wallace
Miss Eleanor Tilney ...... Karen Lewis
Annette ..... Celia Bannerman

Other parts played by the company
Piano music played by Mia Soteriou

1999 Main Street Theatre Partial Cast List:
Mr James Morland ...... Trey Birkhead
Miss Catherine Morland ...... Kelli Cousins
Mrs Allen ...... Claire Hart-Palumbo
Mr John Thorpe ...... Illych Guardiola
Miss Isabella Thorpe ...... Kaytha Coker
General Tilney ...... Ted Pfister
Mr Henry Tilney ...... Jason Douglas
Annette ..... Claire Hart-Palumbo

Green, Amy (adapter and director). Northanger Abbey. The College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, 8-10 April, 2005.

Jane Austen ..... Meera Fickling
Catherine Morland ..... Amy Green
Henry Tilney ..... Kevin Sapp
Eleanor Tilney ..... Emily Rossow
Capt. Frederick Tilney ..... Will Strollo
General Tilney ..... Derek Bishop
Isabella Thorpe ..... Caroline Bennet
John Thorpe ..... Andrew Miller
Mrs. Thorpe ..... Ariel Baska
James Morland ..... Dean Edwards
Mrs. Allen ..... Stacy Montgomery
Mr. Allen/Mr. Morland ..... Sean Johnson
Mrs. Morland ..... Sarah LaVigne
Sarah Morland ..... Maddy Wolfert
Viscount ..... Kendall Wangsgard
Alice ..... Elizabeth Peterson

Holme, Thea. Northanger Abbey : a play in three acts. London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1950.

Thea Holme's Northanger Abbey

* The Glasgow Special Collections links do not show the actual materials, only where the materials are located in the collections.

  • Broadcast on the BBC Home Service (Raymond Raikes, Producer), 31 January 1949 (one program) and 16-30 August 1953 (three parts).
Thea Holme
Thea Holme
31 January 1949 Cast List:
Voice of Jane Austen ..... Thea Holme
Catherine Morland ...... Louise Hutton
The Revd. Mr. Henry Tilney ...... Michael Hordern
Isabella Thorpe ...... Moira Lister
John Thorpe ..... Alistair Duncan
General Tilney ...... Richard Williams
Eleanor Tilney ..... Hermione Hannen
Captain Frederick Tilney ..... Donald Gray
The Revd. Mr. Richard Morland ..... Charles Lefeaux
Mrs. Morland ..... Ella Milne
James Morland ..... Preston Lockwood
Mr. Allen ..... James Dale
Mrs. Allen ..... Barbara Everest
Mrs. Thorpe ..... Elsa Palmer
Maria Thorpe ..... Denise Bryer
Maid at Northanger Abbey ..... Betty Baskcomb
Mr. King, Master of Ceremonies at the Assembly Rooms, Bath ..... Eric Lugg
William, Manservant at Northanger Abbey ..... Duncan McIntyre


Peter Coke
Peter Coke (Henry Tilney)
16-30 August 1953 Cast List:
Voice of Jane Austen ..... Thea Holme
Catherine Morland ...... Sarah Leigh
The Revd. Mr. Henry Tilney ...... Peter Coke
Isabella Thorpe ...... Brenda Bruce
John Thorpe ..... Rupert Davies
General Tilney ...... James Dale
Eleanor Tilney ..... Hermione Hannen
Captain Frederick Tilney ..... Gavin Doyle
The Revd. Mr. Richard Morland ..... Edward Lexy
Mrs. Morland ..... Louise Hampton
James Morland ..... Wyndham Milligan
Mr. Allen ..... Allan Jeayes
Mrs. Allen ..... Barbara Everest
Mrs. Thorpe ..... Elsa Palmer
Maria Thorpe ..... Audrey Mendes
Ann Thorpe/Maid at Northanger Abbey ..... Molly Lawson
Mr. King, Master of Ceremonies at the Assembly Rooms, Bath/William, Manservant at Northanger Abbey ..... Gerard Green
  • First stage performance at The Theatre Royal, Windsor, October 1949.

1949 Theatre Royal Cast:
The Rev. Richard Morland ...... Malcom Russell
Mrs. Morland ...... Barbara Cochrane
Catherine (their eldest daughter) ...... Geraldine McKeown
James (their eldest son) ...... Anthony Besch
Mr. Allen ...... George S. Wray
Mrs. Allen ...... Gwynne Whitby
Mrs. Thorpe ...... Madoline Thomas
John (her son) ...... John Moffat
Isabella (her eldest daughter) ...... Phoebe Kershaw
General Tilney ...... Charles Cameron
Captain Frederick Tilney (his elder son) ...... Manfred Priestley
The Rev. Henry Tilney (his younger son) ...... Victor Adams
Eleanor (his daughter) ...... Julia Braddock

  • Performed at the Laurel Bank School Assembly Hall, Glasgow, 1954, 1962, and 20-21 June, 1974.

1974 Laurel Bank School Cast:
Mr. Morland ..... Susan Kiernan
Mrs. Morland ..... Mary Gilmour
Catherine Morland ..... Anne Lloyd
Mrs. Allen ..... Susan Williams
Mr. Allen ..... Elspeth Riddell
Lucy ..... Lesley Whitwell
Mrs. Thorpe ..... Louise Cheetham
Isabella Thorpe ..... Jacqueline McCartney
James Morland ..... Helen Horn
John Thorpe ..... Carolyn Beasant
Eleanor Tilney ..... Alison Foulds
Henry Tilney ..... Caroline Johnston
Maria Thorpe ..... Clare Sharp
Ann Thorpe ..... Sarah Weedon
Maria's Partner ..... Janet Campbell
Ann's Partner ..... Lesley Robertson
Charles Hodges ..... Mandy Inglis
Old Gentleman ..... Elspeth Donald
Old Lady ..... Christine Gunn
General Tilney ..... Philippa Harvey
Charlotte Davis ..... Susan Harris
Captain Frederick Tilney ..... Joyce Sim
Butler ..... Pat Ritchie
Guests ..... Jane Brown, Gillian Currie, Henrietta Wilson

Johnson, Fanny. “Life at Bath” from Dramatic Scenes from English Literature. London: Arnold, 1903.

This stage adaptation appears to be one scene, set in the Assembly Rooms, to be played by two men and three women.

(Referred to in Women Writers Dramatized by H. Philip Bolton and The Player's Library and Bibliography of the Theatre, British Drama League.)

Luscombe, Tim. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. London: Nick Hern Books, 2005.

Tim Luscombe's Northanger Abbey
Synopsis:From one of the most famous and treasured writers of all time, Jane Austen, and the director of the critically acclaimed epic, Amadeus, comes a witty and endearing tale. Catherine is a young woman with an overactive imagination and zest for life. Amidst the backdrop of sophisticated society in 18th century Bath, she meets Henry and Eleanor, who invite her to their father's vast and mysterious house, Northanger Abbey. There, avid reader Catherine gets the opportunity to let her mind run wild, as she conjures fantastical stories, and learns the difference between reality and her beloved books. A real delight for all Austen fans!

2004 York Theatre Royal Partial Cast List:
Catherine Morland ..... Jenni Maitland
Eleanor/Emily St. Aubert ..... Charlotte Parry
Mrs. Allen/Mrs. Morland ..... Susan Bovell
Isabella Thorpe ..... Olivia Darnley
Dorothy/Alice/The Maid ..... Lexi Strauss
Henry Tilney/Valancourt ..... Freddie Stevenson
John Thorpe/Count Morano ..... Morgan George
James Morland/Frederick Tilney/Bridegroom ..... Nicholas Atkinson
General Tilney/St. Aubert..... Mark Payton
Crowds and dancers were played by members of local amateur dramatic groups.

Macy, Lynn Marie. Northanger Abbey: A Romantic Gothic Comedy .

Lynn Marie Macy's Northanger Abbey
Synopsis: In this whimsical adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, we find our heroine, Catherine, thirsting for adventure and romance which she satisfies in her obsessive reading of Ann Radcliffe’s extravagant novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho. Playwright Lynn Marie Macy deftly weaves incidents from the novel, as replayed in Catherine's vigorous imagination, with the comparatively placid, but no less eventful, incidents of Catherine's real life. The result is a delicious Wizard of Oz-like journey through Catherine's two worlds, culminating in her unexpected visitation to the mysterious estate, Northanger Abbey.
  • ISBN 09670234-8-3
  • Published October 2006 by the New York Theatre Experience (NYTE) in the anthology Playing with Canons. Purchase from NYTE (via Amazon).
  • Listen to a podcast featuring Lynn Marie Macy and other Playing with Canons playwrights on NYTE's web site. The podcast discussing Northanger Abbey is the first in a series of six authors' roundtables on the new NYTE anthology (Podcast title: Playing with Canons Authors' Roundtable I, Episode #46. MP3; 17:49).
  • Interview with Lynn Marie Macy by Michael Criscuolo for NYTE,
    27 September 2006.
  • Gallery of images from Distilled Spirits, Blue Room and Theater Ten Ten productions
  • My comments (referencing the Theater Ten Ten production)
  • Performed by Distilled Spirits Theatre, Dir. David Scott, New York, NY, Feb. 2000.

2000 Distilled Spirits Theatre Cast:
Catherine/Emily ...... Laura Standley
Amy/Annette/Mary ...... Lynn Marie Macy
Mrs. Allen/Mme Cheron/Signora Montoni ...... Lynn McNutt
John Thorpe/Count Morano ...... Andrew Oswald
James Morland/Ludovico/Captain Frederick Tilney ...... Mark Rimer
General Tilney/Montoni ...... David Winton
Eleanor Tilney ...... Amy Stoller
Mrs. Morland/Mrs. Thorpe ...... Ellen Turkelson
M.Valancourt/Henry Tilney ...... Kevin Connell
Mr. Morland/M.St.Aubert/Mr. Allen ...... Sterling Coyne
Isabella Thorpe/Signora Livona ...... Annalisa Hill
Ensemble Performers ...... Madeline Gomez-Bianchi , Shirley Guest, Dan O'Driscoll, & Greaton Sellers

  • Review by Sheila Mart for the Off-Off-Broadway Review (OOBR)
  • 2000 OOBR Award Winner
  • Review by Martin Denton for
  • Performed by Blue Room Theatre, Dir. Amber Miller, Chico, CA, March 2003

    2003 Blue Room Theatre Partial Cast List:
    Catherine/Emily ...... Alice Wiley Pickett
    Mrs. Allen/Mme Cheron/Signora Montoni ...... Lea McCreary
    John Thorpe/Count Morano ...... Callen Reece
    M.Valancourt/Henry Tilney ...... Erik Pedersen
    Mr. Morland/M.St.Aubert/Mr. Allen ...... Dave Lindstrom
    Isabella Thorpe/Signora Livona ...... Elizabeth Kollings

  • A more detailed description of the Blue Room Theatre production, with photos
  • Review by John W. Young for Chico News and Review, 20 March 2003.
  • Performed by Theater Ten Ten, Dir. David Scott, New York, NY, 20 Oct.— 19 Nov., 2006.
Lynn Marie Macy's Northanger Abbey
Theater Ten Ten Synopsis: Comedy! Adventure! Romance! ... Murder? Lynn Marie Macy’s hilarious adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel follows the adventures of Catherine Morland, a passionate - though impressionable small town girl, who is perhaps too devoted to gothic thrillers. Young Catherine thirsts for adventure and soon finds it in the fashionable resort of Bath, England. Hosted by Mr. & Mrs. Allen, her wealthy neighbors from home, she experiences her first social whirl amidst the Thorpe and Tilney families while obsessively reading her favorite new novel, Radcliffe’s The Mysteries Of Udolpho. Scenes from the novel, experienced in Catherine's vivid imagination, are inter-woven with the comparatively civil but no less eventful, adventures of Catherine's real life. The result is a swashbuckling Wizard of Oz-like journey through Catherine's two worlds, culminating in her unexpected visitation to the Tilney’s mysterious estate, Northanger Abbey.

2006 Theater Ten Ten Cast List:
Mr. Morland/ St. Aubert/ Frederick Tilney ..... Greg Oliver Bodine*
Mrs. Allen/ Madame Cheron ..... Esther David*
James Morland/ Ludovico ..... Devin Delliquanti
General Tilney/ Signor Montoni ..... David Fuller*
Catherine Morland/ Emily St. Aubert ..... Tatiana Gomberg*
Isabella Thorpe/ Signora Livona ..... Summer Hagen*
Amy/Annette ..... Sheila Joon
Mary ..... Megan Loomis*
John Thorpe/ Count Morano ..... Timothy McDonough
Mr. Allen ..... Tim Morton*
Mrs. Morland/Mrs. Thorpe ..... Lisa Riegel*
Henry Tilney/Chevalier Valancourt ..... Julian Stetkevych*
Eleanor Tilney ..... Sarah Tillson*
* Appearing courtesy of Actor's Equity Association.

North Country Theatre. Northanger Abbey. Dir. Nobby Dimon. Richmond, North Yorkshire, 1998 and 2001.

North Country Theatre's Northanger Abbey

Synopsis: Her least known, least read, least filmed & funniest novel.

North Country Theatre Partial Cast List:
Henry Tilney ..... David Smith
Christine Brennan
Nobby Dimon
Anna Murphy
Emma Reynolds

Catherine Morland ..... Caroline Giles
Jane Austen ..... Lisa Howard
Isabella Thorpe ..... Susan Jinks (June/July 2001)

Smith, Evelyn. Form-Room PlaysSenior Book. London: Dent/ New York: Dutton, 1921. pp. 131-173.

Evelyn Smith's Northanger Abbey
Synopsis: In Northanger Abbey Jane Austen ridicules a kind of romance sometimes called the “terror novel,” very popular with the young men and women of her time. Mrs. Ann Radcliffe was the chief writer of these blood-curdling stories, of which haunted abbeys, subterranean passages, hidden manuscripts, raging tempests, midnight shrieks, and awful secrets are the regular stock-in-trade. The Mysteries of Udolpho was the best-known of her books, and you will see how completely it has fascinated Catherine, while even Henry Tilney, though he laughs at it, confesses he has been under its spell. Jane herself had probably enjoyed these novels in her early teens, though, before she was twenty, she was writing herself, and doing a very different kind of work. Many people would call her life dull, but she must have found it a delightful entertainment. She watched and she saw, and what amused her in the quiet parlour at home or the fashionable Pump Room at Bath amuses us now, while Mrs. Radcliffe's wild adventures are remembered only because she laughed at them.

General Tilney
Eleanor Tilney
Henry Tilney
Mrs. Morland
James Morland
Catherine Morland
Mrs. Allen
John Thorpe
Isabella Thorpe
Visitors staying in Bath

Tasca, Diane. Northanger Abbey. Dir. Rebecca J. Ennals.The Pear Avenue Theatre, Mountain View, CA, 16 May — 8 June 2008.

Synopsis: A witty social satire meets a hilarious spoof of the Gothic novel, and the results are magic.

Pear Avenue Theatre Cast List:
Michael Barrett Austin* ..... Henry Tilney
William Brown ..... John Thorpe
Michael Champlin ..... James Morland
Martin Gagen ..... Mr. Morland, Mr. Allen, General Tilney
Annamarie MacLeod ..... Catherine Morland
Katie O'Bryon ..... Eleanor Tilney, Mrs. Thorpe
Melissa Quine ..... Isabella Thorpe
Diane Tasca
* Appearing courtesy of Actor's Equity Association.

Turner, Cathy. Northanger Abbey.

Cathy Turner's Northanger Abbey
Synopsis: A delight for all Austen fans! The Northcott brings you the colour, characters and costumes from Jane Austen's most endearing novel.
Our heroine is Catherine Morland, a pretty but naïve young woman addicted to the fashionable Gothic Novel. Amidst the sophisticated society of 18th century Bath, she meets Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who invite her to their father's vast and mysterious house: Northanger Abbey. There, Catherine encounters dangers both real and imaginary, and learns the difference between her beloved books and real life.
From the colourful comic society of Bath to the humourous parody of Gothic horror at Northanger Abbey, Austen's story will be brought vividly to life by the Northcott and its renowned Community Chorus.

Williamson, Paul. Northanger Abbey: A play in two acts, based upon the novel by Jane Austen. Northampton: Jasper Publishing Ltd., 2001

Paul Williamson's Northanger Abbey

Synopsis: Catherine Morland arrives in Bath, bursting with freshness, integrity and a passion for macabre Gothic novels. When the romantic Henry Tilney invites her to his ancestral home, Northanger Abbey, a dark mystery starts to unfold that makes her blood run cold. Are her fantasies coming true? What does the sinister General Tilney want from her and will the truth destroy her chance of love?

(My note: This appears to be an abbreviated synopsis from the BBC TV movie listed below.)

  • ISBN 1 902837 65 7
  • Purchase from Jasper Publishing
  • Performed by the Playhouse Theatre, Preston, 9-12 May, 2001 (link no longer available )
  • My comments

Wood, Kate. Northanger Abbey.

Kate Wood's Northanger Abbey
Synopsis: Young, impressionable Catherine Morland lets her imagination run riot when she is invited to Northanger Abbey, the home of her suitor. The susceptible 18 year old expects dark secrets and dangers lurking in every corner. But the real obstacles lying in her path are more mundane, although just as serious as her imagined horrors.
  • Performed by Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch, Dir. Marina Caldarone, 24 April-17 May, 1997. Colchester, Dir. Pat Trueman, date unknown.

    Queen's Theatre Cast:
    Catherine Morland ..... Finty Williams
    Mrs Allen ..... Sally Sanders
    Henry Tilney ..... Robert Lockwood
    Mrs Thorpe/Mrs Morland ..... Claire Nielsen
    John Thorpe ..... Lincoln Hudson
    James Morland ..... Rod Hallett
    Isabella Thorpe ..... Sarah Alexander
    General Tilney ..... William Maxwell
    Eleanor Tilney ..... Louise Breckon-Richards

Screenplays for Television and Film

Northanger Abbey. Dir. Giles Foster. Screenplay by Maggie Wadey. BBC 2, debut 15 February 1987.

Foster/Wade's Northanger Abbey
Synopsis: A tale of intrigue, adventure and romance, this enchanting, remastered dramatization captures the romance of Jane Austen's classic novel Northanger Abbey.
The setting is eighteenth-century Bath, a society of decadence and deceit, into which Catherine Morland arrives bursting with freshness, integrity and a passion for macabre gothic novels. In a time when materialism, not love, governs marriage, Catherine's head is full of fantasy and fiction, of maidens being abducted to sinister castles and heroes riding to the rescue on white horses. When romantic Henry Tilney invites her to his ancestral home, Northanger Abbey, a dark mystery starts to unfold that makes her blood run cold. Are her fantasies coming true? What does the brooding General Tilney want from her and will the truth destroy her chance for love ...?

Bath (Somerset): Colonnades, Pump-room, Roman Baths, Royal Crescent
Bodiam Castle (E. Sussex) ..... Northanger Abbey
Bowood House and Gardens (Calne) ..... scenic walk, temple, waterfall
Corsham Court (Wiltshire) ..... Morlands' home

Catherine Morland ..... Katharine Schlesinger
Henry Tilney ..... Peter Firth
General Tilney ..... Robert Hardy
Mrs. Allen ..... Googie Withers
Mr. Allen ..... Geoffrey Chater
Isabella Thorpe ..... Cassie Stuart
John Thorpe ..... Jonathan Coy
Eleanor Tilney ..... Ingrid Lacey
Frederick Tilney ..... Greg Hicks
James Morland ..... Philip Bird
Mrs. Thorpe ..... Elvi Hale
Mrs. Morland ..... Helen Fraser
Mr. Morland ..... David Rolfe
Marchioness ..... Elaine Ives-Cameron
Alice ..... Angela Curran
Miss Digby ..... Tricia Morrish
Edward Morland ..... Oliver Hembrough
Thorpe Sister ..... Anne-Marie Mullane
Thorpe Sister ..... Michelle Arthur
Jenny ..... Sarah-Jane Holm
Page Boy ..... Raphael Alleyne
Neighbour ..... Myra Carter
Richard's Wife ..... Catriona Hinds
Passer-by ..... Ciarán O'Reilly
Junkie ..... Caroline Seymour
Indian Woman ..... Teresa Yenque

“Pup Fiction.” Wishbone. Episode 49, Season 2. Big Feats! Entertainment. PBS. First aired 25 May 1998.

WISHBONE is a live-action television series (aired on PBS from 1995-1998) that brings books to life for kids and their families. In each episode, the star — a friendly Jack Russell terrier with an overactive imagination — leaps into another adventure with human owner Joe Talbot and his friends in their hometown of Oakdale.
Of course, these adventures spark Wishbone's imagination, and he's reminded of a favorite classic story in which he is the hero!

Synopsis (from official Wishbone site):Wanda's fears mount as she receives a series of anonymous letters. Wishbone as Henry Tilney is attracted to a young woman whose active imagination leads her to mischief in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.

(from receives a mysterious note in the mail that says only, “You are the one,” and Wishbone goes to the post office to investigate. As he pokes around and begins to suspect that the post office is haunted, his imagination takes him away to 19th-century England and Jane Austen's gothic horror novel Northanger Abbey.

Voice of Wishbone .....

Larry Brantley
Joe Talbot ..... Jordan Wall
Ellen Talbot ..... Mary Chris Wall
Samantha Kepler ..... Christie Abbott
David Barnes ..... Adam Luke Springfield
Emily Barnes ..... Brittany Holmes
Wanda Gilmore ..... Angee Hughes
Damont Jones ..... Joe Duffield
Amanda ..... Elena Hurst
Nathaniel Bobelesky ..... Justin Reese

Catherine Morland ..... Amy Acker
Mrs. Allen ..... Sharon Bunn
John Thorpe ..... Jonathan Brent
General Tilney ..... Robert Graham
Eleanor Tilney ..... Dee Hennigan
Isabella Thorpe ..... Sarah Ann Murphy

Amis, Martin. “Northanger Abbey.” (excerpt from screenplay). Granta 87 (Fall 2004): 53-74.

Amis' Northanger Abbey

Martin Amis adapted Northanger Abbey for Miramax Pictures in 2001. The film has not yet been made.

Northanger Abbey. Dir. Jon Jones. Screenplay by Andrew Davies. ITV Production (Grenada), debut 25 March 2007.

Jones/Davies Northanger Abbey, region 2 DVD
Jones/Davies Northanger Abbey, region 1 DVD

This adaptation aired 25 March 2007 on ITV1 in the UK and 20 January 2008 on Masterpiece Theatre in the USA.

Synopsis: Catherine Moreland (Felicity Jones), a spirited young beauty from the country, enters into the depraved society of Bath with dreams and fantasies sparked by her love of gothic romance novels.
There she meets two men vying for her affection - the dashing and jealous John Thorpe (William Beck) and the gentle and sincere Henry Tilney (JJ Feild). Despite the advice of her mischievous new friend Isabella (Carey Mulligan), Catherine treats neither as more than a dear friend.
That is until Catherine accepts an invitation to Northanger Abbey from Henry's grave and severe father, General Tilney (Liam Cunningham). Her passion for the dark and mysterious feeds her imagination, as tyrannical fathers and diabolical villains work their evil on forelorn heroines trapped in isolated castles, much like Northanger....


Northanger Abbey was filmed entirely in Ireland.
Ardbraccan House (County Meath) ..... Morlands' house, church
Charleville Castle (County Offaly)
Dublin Castle, Glendalough (County Wicklow) ..... scenic walk
King's Inns (Dublin) ..... Bath
Lismore Castle (County Waterford) ..... Northanger Abbey

  • NA2 Cast Page: photos, IMDB page links, and official web site links, if any.

Catherine Morland ..... Felicity Jones
Henry Tilney ..... JJ Feild
Frederick Tilney ..... Mark Dymond
Isabella Thorpe ..... Carey Mulligan
Eleanor Tilney ..... Catherine Walker
Mrs. Allen ..... Sylvestra Le Touzel
Mr. Allen ..... Desmond Barrit
James Morland ..... Hugh O'Conor
General Tilney ..... Liam Cunningham
John Thorpe ..... William Beck
Mrs. Thorpe ..... Bernadette McKenna
Maria Thorpe ..... Shauna Taylor
Anne Thorpe ..... Sophie Vavasseur
Mr. Morland ..... Gerry O'Brien
Mrs. Morland ..... Julia Dearden
Harriet Morland ..... Alana Brennan
Morland Child ..... Ella Clifton
Morland Child ..... Edie Davis
Morland Child ..... Jamie Gogan
Morland Child ..... Megan McLoughlin
Morland Child ..... Charlotte O'Reilly
Morland Child ..... Cian Porteus
Gothic Villain ..... David Brittain
Gothic Villain ..... Patrick Ryan
Brigand ..... Peter Dillon
Brigand ..... Giedrius Nagys
Pastor ..... Michael Judd
Rude Man ..... Mal Whyte
Sedley ..... Liam McMahon
Cheeky Man ..... David Sheehan
Mr. King ..... Myles Breen
Opera Singer ..... Anne Fitzpatrick
Edward ..... Ryan O'Connor
Maid ..... Pauline Cadell
Voice of Jane Austen ..... Geraldine James

Unofficial NA2 Press Room
(most recent news at the top of the list)

For older press releases, news articles, links to photos and more, please refer to: NA2 news articles 1999-2007: The journey from script to screen.


My comments (with spoilers)

Power, Dominic (adapter). Northanger Abbey. Dir. Pam Fraser Solomon. Classic Serial. BBC Radio 4.
Ep. 1: September 18, 2005; Ep. 2: September 25, 2005; Ep. 3: October 2, 2005.

I enjoyed this radio play very much. It stayed close to the plot of the novel and the characters were close to the original characters. Amanda Root's narration was a nice touch — a good way to preserve the strong presence of the narrative voice.

Emily Wachter's Catherine was fantastic — just the right amount of innocence; delightfully girlish without being childish. Sometimes the question arises whether Catherine will grow up to be another silly P&P Mrs. Bennet, but this Catherine isn't in danger of that. A real sweetheart. You can tell she has integrity and is no fool, just naïve.

Jonathan Keeble's John Thorpe was also great — he stole his scenes. The actor's gruff voice made him seem older than I imagine John Thorpe being, but that wasn't too off-putting. It was great the way his voice changed just a little as needed — a shade fawning to Mrs. Allen, and a real “Lester the Molester” to Catherine once they were alone. He made the very innocent lines from the book sound creepy. I wouldn't let him drive me around the block, much less to Blaize Castle. Next time Catherine had better bring some pepper spray.

Julia McKenzie's Mrs. Allen is a harmless dingbat — I admired Catherine for putting up with her as much as she did. Saskia Reeves' Eleanor has just the right amount of polite reserve. I also liked the little exchange between her and Henry when she asks where their father is — nice subtle foreshadowing. Eleanor warms up nicely to Catherine in Episode 2.

I was disappointed with David Harewood's Henry. The right words were there, but the delivery wasn't as arch or lively as I would like. He wasn't nearly playful enough. I did like the line where he told Catherine he would never laugh at her, but he would smile. Awww ... Mrs. Allen certainly seems smitten with Henry, though — her voice is extra “fluttery” when talking to him. Cute. I was especially disappointed with his Gothic story in Episode 2; I imagine him really enjoying telling it, with a “ghost story around the campfire” feel to his delivery, and to his delight, Catherine soaks it all in, perhaps even unconsciously scooting a little closer to him on the curricle seat as she eagerly listens, which only eggs him on. Speaking of which, I know that Henry's growing affection for Catherine is a very subtle process, but I would have liked some indications throughout the episodes (by tone of voice and/or by some of the lines/passages this adaptation left out) that he's slowly moving in that direction.

In Episode 2 we meet John Shrapnel's General Tilney. He surprised me. I wasn't expecting the character to be so gruff and scary all the time – perhaps that's the military, “drill sergeant” aspect to the character. But he grew on me; it would be very easy for Catherine to believe this General is a Montoni, and very easy for the audience to believe that he could evict her from the abbey. I like the way the Tilney siblings interact with their father; he really is a “check on their spirits.”

Other highlights of Episode 2: I like the way the music transitioned us from the very realistic world of Bath to the Gothic potential of Northanger Abbey. I liked poor James' extra little scene with Catherine. Not much for Frederick to do, but he was fine. Almost (almost!) felt sorry for John Thorpe as he awkwardly proposed to propose to Catherine. He was toned down from Ep. 1. The Allens, Mrs. Thorpe, and Isabella were great. Loved Isabella's attempts to vilify the Tilneys - and gossip about Eleanor – good way to introduce Eleanor’s secret love.

Episode 3 took the most liberties with the text and did so to great effect. Especially in bringing the letters to life, this adaptation is a good example of how a writer can stay true to the spirit of the novel while taking advantage of the play/film media. Instead of leaving Eleanor's love story as a parody element of the Gothic novel, the adapter chose to make it a more realistic part of the story, and it was much more satisfying. As much as I like the “parental disobedience” passage, I liked ending the play with the narration about fiction versus reality.

Henry was at his best in this episode, too – I liked how he started to call Catherine by her first name, I liked the scenes at his house interacting with his father and with Catherine, and I loved the apology & proposal scenes. But overall he wasn’t lively or expressive enough for me.

To recap, I was delighted with all the actors' performances except for Henry; I'm sorry that such an important part was the one who came up wanting. The adaptation was very well-written and is one of my favorites.

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Ross, Clarice A. (adapter). Northanger Abbey. Dir. Andrew C. Love. NBC University Theatre. October 15, 1950.

We bring you a story both pleasant and proper, told by one of the most pleasant and proper ladies who ever wrote in the English language: Jane Austen. Jane Austen’s experience with life was narrow, as befitted a gentlewoman. She knew two facets of the lives of her contemporaries: their parlours, and their hearts, and of these she wrote with keen understanding and a pen dipped in wit and kindness.

So begins the NBC University Theatre's Sunday afternoon radio program, intended to introduce American listeners of the 1950s to great literary classics ... and with a flourish of music, today's listener is drawn back into Ye Olde England as seen by the golden age of Hollywood (images from the 1940's P&P came to mind while listening to the program).

Ross structures the play into brief episodes, each introduced by a voice-over from Catherine as she writes in her journal. This technique moves us very quickly through the novel, which is necessary, since this radio play runs a little under thirty minutes. Many plot points have to go as well: the theatre apology and Beechen Cliff walk have been removed, the cotillion ball is mentioned but not depicted, Henry's Gothic story is left out, and the trip to Woodston is omitted. Frederick is mentioned but never appears, and neither Mr. Morland nor Mr. Allen are in this adaptation.

A change in the plot: when Catherine sees the Tilneys on the sidewalk, John Thorpe stops the carriage and lets her leave ... and that's the last we see of John Thorpe.

This Catherine is an ardent fan of horrid novels, primarily Udolpho, from the start. She seems a little scatterbrained, but mostly very young and exuberant. Henry stammers a little (uhs and ums), especially in comparison to the flowery, foppish John Thorpe. Henry gets to deliver his get-to-know-you banter (minus the muslin dialogue), which is funny, but he doesn't get to say any of his other witty, charming lines. He's reduced to a standard arm-candy hero. Isabella sounds pouty, which might pass for coquettish.

The closing moments of the story feature noises which might be kissing or static ... I leave it to yourselves to determine ... then as Catherine writes a few last lines, she thinks she may not have time to keep a journal once she's married, but she does know she'll be happy forever! (cue rapturous music, fade out)

As mentioned, this radio play covers Northanger Abbey in under half an hour, making it the Reduced Austen version, if you will. But to be fair, it hits the high points of the novel. Listeners get a very basic idea of the plot, but miss out on all the Gothic parody, Henry’s witty lines, the defense of the novel, other major themes, character studies, etc. The “Hollywood treatment” of the story — keeping it pleasant and proper — dilutes much of what makes this and other Austen novels fun and unique, leaving a generic period romance.

I didn’t hear anything in this adaptation that would make someone necessarily want to know more about Northanger Abbey. It's kind of cute (in a 1950s time capsule sort of way) and a really quick way to get to know the book, but probably not of interest to anyone except truly obsessed Austen collectors who can’t stand knowing there exists a US$4 CD of an obscure recording that they haven’t heard yet (looks around innocently). This is the earliest Northanger Abbey radio play I've been able to find thus far. I should also mention that the quality of this recording is nearly perfect. There's a little bit of digital “stuttering” at the beginning of the recording, but after that the program is very distinct and easy to listen to.

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Cox, Constance. Northanger Abbey: a comedy in three acts. London: The Fortune Press, 1950.

If you like the thought of Catherine dropping a flowerpot on Henry's head, and long to see Henry beat up John Thorpe, this is the play for you.

The details included in this stage play are very odd in their specific innacuracy. Why is the story set in June, 1808? Why does John Thorpe, not Henry Tilney, drive a curricle? Why are the Thorpes staying in Milsom Street? Why are the Gothic novels Catherine and Isabella read together made-up titles, and not the books mentioned in the novel? And why make up passages and change all the names in the Mysteries of Udolpho (Emily St. Aubert = Clarissa; Montoni = Montovini; and who is Rudolphe)?

Cox's Catherine is one of the more silly Catherines, dropping items and generally fumbling about, affecting a heroine's dramatic pose on a couch (losing her shoe in the process) when Henry Tilney comes to call, and is often described in the stage notes or in other dialogue as “childish.” During Henry's Gothic story, in a move worthy of Isabella, she pretends to faint so Henry will “revive” her. This Catherine is also very insecure — she's never sure what Henry thinks of her, nobody else thinks he's interested in her, and at the end she fears that he, like his father, has only been polite to her because he believes she's rich. This Henry is one of the wittier Henrys in the stage plays I've read, albeit a little patronizing. The Catherine/Henry relationship resembles a father figure/little girl situation, but Cox's Henry is more condescending than the Henry in the Holme stage play (see review below) featuring a similar dynamic. At one point Henry tells Eleanor that he's “simply amused by her mind — or what passes for it.”

Despite all the innacuracies and a goofy Catherine, it's a very funny read ... perhaps due in part to its deviations from the novel. The Allens host a party wherein John Thorpe sings. Yes, sings. Isabella and John Thorpe bicker, Catherine has several “airhead” lines which make Henry struggle to maintain his composure, Isabella is terribly catty towards Catherine, who misses all of it. Eleanor gets in a sisterly dig at Henry:

HENRY: ... before your true woman's mind moves instinctively towards matrimony, Eleanor, I should like to remind you that we met at a dance where we exchanged a few commonplaces amongst a thousand other people, while at our second meeting she struck me violently over the head. I admit that was an accident, but even you can scarcely say these circumstances are indicative of an excessive partiality.

ELEANOR: All the same, I've seen the female portion of your congregation wearing that [same] ecstatic expression when they looked at you.

That's something I've speculated about. Speaking of which, this stage play makes frequent reference to Henry's occupation as a clergyman, usually to say that he's not behaving as one expects a clergyman to act or speak.

This stage play is a fun adaptation, but it gets so much wrong that it's frustrating, too. Those who have never read Northanger Abbey would enjoy it as a funny play, but if they read the book they will find many differences. Fans of the book may enjoy seeing familiar characters doing and saying some very silly things, but will the silliness outweigh the inaccuracies?

Gallery of images and reviews

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Filippi, Rosina. “Literary Tastes” from Duologues and Scenes from the Novels of Jane Austen Arranged and Adapted for Drawing-Room Performance. London: J.M. Dent & Co., 1895.

The Jane Austen's Regency World article sums up Miss Filippi's career and approach to adapting the novels so well, I don't have anything else to add. I was lucky enough to find a second edition (1904) in a used book store. Her preface is a delightful, spirited read. Delicate, detailed illustrations by Miss Margaret Fletcher bring the costume concepts to life, and the book's title page and other ornaments were created by the artist F.C. Tilney (a magnifying glass yielded that nerdy tidbit).

Miss Filippi's book consists of seven selections: Literary Tastes (Northanger Abbey), The Settlement Question (Sense and Sensibility), The Reading of Jane Fairfax's Letter (Emma), A Strawberry Picnic (Emma), Three Loves (Emma), The Proposal of Mr. Collins (Pride and Prejudice), and Lady Catherine's Visit (Pride and Prejudice). The duologues are taken directly from their original novels, with only occasional additions to clarify the plot for audience members. They have also been relocated indoors as needed to better suit a drawing-room performance. “Literary Tastes,” the duologue in which I was most interested for purposes of this site, depicts Catherine and Isabella's conversation in the Pump-room from Chapter 6.

It's fascinating to look back over more than a century of Austen dramatic adaptations and read the concluding thoughts of the first writer to attempt the task:

How refreshing, then, must these seven scenes be to both artists and audience — they play themselves — the language, sentiments, and personalities are within the reach of every cultivated amateur; and I am convinced that Jane Austen as a play-wright will fascinate her audiences as much as she has her readers as a novelist.

Below are the book's general notes on costumes for ladies and gentlemen. Miss Filippi felt that it was essential for performers to wear the accurate costume of the day, and set her characters in the time frame of 1792-1807.

Filippi ladies' costumes

Click to view larger image.

General notes on costumes for ladies

The prevailing materials for the morning dress of this period were cambrics, India muslins, clear muslins, usually white, and often spotted and sprigged with clear colours. The bodices were usually cut low with short sleeves, the neck being covered with an embroidered habit shirt or chemisette, often cut with very high collars coming up to the ears. The arms were covered with sleeves of rucked muslin or net. The walking dresses were worn to the ankle only, but the more graceful house dress was worn long. “Spencers,” or short bodices, with sleeves made of silk or cloth, were often worn over the muslin dress out of doors; these were sometimes buttoned down the centre, sometimes double-breasted, sometimes left open. “Spanish vests,” a sort of Spencer, with long-pointed ends in front, were often seen. Shawls, and long scarfs with embroidered ends, were almost invariable accompaniments of out-door dress, and were carried over the arm or worn draped over one shoulder, or round the neck, with long ends hanging in front like a boa. The use of muslins, furs, China silks, sarsnets, satins, etc., indiscriminately, was characteristic of the period. A dress made of muslin and a fur muff and boa was not considered incongruous. Small hats and turban-shaped caps were as much worn as large; ostrich and herons' feathers, satins, velvets, velvet flowers, and even jewels were used for these. Gloves were usually of York tan or French kid, but sometimes were of net. Shoes were made of varying materials — coloured kid, often velvet or silk. The colours most in vogue were pinks, lilacs, violets, lavender, pale primrose, pale greens — scarlets often for pelisses — and all clear colours. Browns are described as “cinnamon,” chocolate, nut, “la boue de Paris,” Egyptian brown, etc. All muslin dresses were worn over “slips” of silk or cambric. In making the bodices, it should be borne in mind that of the many ways of cutting them, the least graceful is to have a straight line round the waist. The line should curve upwards from beneath the bosom in front and reach the highest point between the shoulder-blades at the back, as seen in the back view of Emma. A double curve, which rises slightly in front as well, as seen in one of the distant figures in the frontispiece, is very becoming.

General notes on costumes for gentlemen

The men's dress of this period had all the variety of a time of transition — cut-away and swallow-tail coats as well as riding coats and surtouts were worn, differing mainly from the garments of to-day in the height of the waist, and often extravagant height of the collar. The waistcoats were high-waisted, of the gayest colours and most varied materials, being ornamented with fantastic buttons. Pantaloons, either buttoned just above the ankle, or tied with a riband, were in almost universal use; these were supplemented out of doors by top-boots or gaiters. The pantaloons were usually of cloth, though occasionally knitted wool was worn. High stocks and frilled shirt-fronts were usual, but would not have reached an eccentric pitch among Miss Austen's quiet country folks. Hats were high-crowned, with curved brims of varying width, and were made of beaver, felt, or straw. Knee-breeches would be worn by the old-fashioned folk, and by clergymen. The colouring being centred in the waistcoat, the rest of the costume, though perhaps slightly gayer than that of the present day, would on the whole be sober in hue.

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Francis, Matthew. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. London: Samuel French Ltd., 1997.

This play is very consciously “theatrical” which contributes to its overall light, fun mood and it represents the novel’s playful narrative tone very well. For instance, there’s lots of dancing – short interlude-like dances in between scenes. Also, the actors double up (or triple up) playing their characters, playing Gothic counterparts, and offering narration and other asides to the audience. One example – on the drive with John Thorpe, Catherine provides the narration describing John’s boasting and Catherine’s inclination to think he’s boring, while John interrupts her with his boasting.

Almost all the dialogue is taken from the book. A few exceptions are fill-in chatter – the General scolding servants or showing off Northanger Abbey in excruciating detail, John Thorpe boasting, Mrs. Allen discussing clothing. The fill-in chatter fits in well with the “real” dialogue.

There are few departures from the novel’s plot – for instance, General Tilney initiates a picnic at Beechen Cliff to throw Henry and Catherine together, and John Thorpe’s deception is revealed differently from the novel, but these departures work okay.

The play has a light, teasing attitude toward its Gothic elements. A few examples:

  • Catherine reads Udolpho aloud while walking around on a Gothic set. She approaches the black veil, pulls it down to reveal that she’s actually in the Morlands’ house … and her mother scolds her for pulling a curtain off the window.
  • Catherine, at a ball without a partner, is bored. She imagines a romantic count, cloaked and masked. As the count removes his mask and cloak, she “snaps out of it” to find herself being introduced to Henry Tilney.
  • When Catherine is in her bedroom the first night at the Abbey, Henry’s ghost story is repeated as a voice-over as she tries not to be frightened.
  • Gothic characters (primarily a maid; I was reminded of the maid in the BBC TV movie) appear and disappear like ghosts, encouraging Catherine to think the worst of General Tilney and the Abbey. Finally when Catherine has been rebuked by Henry, she refuses to listen to the Gothic characters any more and they vanish for good.

My only criticism, if that – the plot and lines from the book are presented, but there aren’t any new insights, in-depth interpretations of the characters, or emphasis of themes. I didn’t think it was a thought- or discussion-provoking play, but it looks like it would be very enjoyable and entertaining.

This is a charming, lighthearted adaptation. It would be ideal for a school, church or community group to put on around Halloween. I also think that this play would be a good way to introduce Northanger Abbey to someone who hasn’t read it. The play booklet is full of how-to details for lighting, music, obtaining the legal permission/licenses, and other related information.

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Holme, Thea. Northanger Abbey: a play in three acts. London: Evans Brothers Limited, 1950.

This stage play is notable for its extensive information about the original novel, character descriptions, costume, staging and music. Ms. Holme is clearly an enthusiastic Northanger Abbey fan. Much of the dialogue is taken straight from the novel as well. Some plot elements are rearranged.

As mentioned in the title, the play takes place over the course of three acts, plus a prologue and epilogue set at Fullerton Parsonage. In the prologue we meet the Morland parents, who establish the setting by delivering many of the narrator's lines from Chapter 1. We also learn that they are concerned about Catherine's reading habits. Near the end of the prologue Catherine bursts into the room to announce the Allens' invitation to Bath.

Act One is set in the Allens' Bath lodgings, on the rainy day appointed for Catherine's walk with the Tilneys. We are told about Catherine's previous meetings with the Tilneys, and then meet James and the Thorpes, who urge Catherine to go for a drive with them instead. After everyone leaves for their drive, Eleanor and Henry make a brief appearance, then the young Morlands and Thorpes return, James' gig having broken down. Isabella puts on quite a show of injury, and Catherine leaves to apologize to the Tilneys. The scene ends with Catherine's dejected return, sure that the Tilneys despise her. Interestingly, Mr. Allen is smitten with Isabella, which makes Mrs. Allen jealous, and Isabella uses Mr. Allen's admiration to her best advantage.

Act Two takes place during a ball at the Lower Assembly Rooms. Of interest — this play features appearances by the younger Thorpe sisters, Charlotte Davis, and Charles Hodges. In fact, Mr. Hodges and Miss Davis' shy, awkward attempts at conversation inspire Henry Tilney's satirical get-to-know-you banter with Catherine. John Thorpe ends up dancing with Eleanor (poor girl), and James awkwardly proposes to Isabella. Almost immediately after the proposal, Frederick Tilney arrives on the scene and captures Isabella's interest. At the end of Act Two, the General (dutifully deceived by John Thorpe) invites Catherine to Northanger Abbey, and Henry, Eleanor, and John join in teasing Catherine about the horrors she will encounter there.

Act Three is in the great hall at Northanger Abbey. We learn that Catherine has been taken on an extensive tour of the grounds immediately after arriving at the Abbey. The scene opens as Eleanor shows Catherine a portfolio of her mother's drawings, including a sketch of Henry as a child. Before Henry leaves for Woodston, he teases Catherine with his Udolpho pastiche. Eleanor warns him to stop, as Catherine is overtired, but he persists. Later that evening, Catherine sneaks out of her bedroom to peek into Mrs. Tilney's room, and is caught by Henry, who has unexpectedly returned. With mock sternness, Henry chides a tearful Catherine, then sends her back to bed.
One week later, Catherine receives James' letter just as the Thorpes arrive at the Abbey. Isabella hopes that Catherine will help her reconcile with James; meanwhile John tells the General that Catherine is a scheming money-grubber. The act closes once the General has ordered Catherine's dismissal from the Abbey.

The epilogue finds us back in Fullerton, with the Morlands and Mrs. Allen discussing Catherine (similar to the BBC TV movie). Catherine runs out of the room in tears, after which Henry arrives, apologizes to Mrs. Morland, and asks to see Catherine. Mr. Morland walks in on their reunion, Henry asks his permission to marry Catherine ... and then asks Catherine if she'll marry him.

Nit-picky details which annoyed me: James stutters, which the younger Thorpe sisters imitate to tease him. The Henry/Catherine relationship had a sort of father figure/little girl dynamic which I didn't much care for. Otherwise, this adaptation had a lot of details usually left out of the stage plays, especially about Bath, and it was enjoyable.

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Luscombe, Tim. Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. London: Nick Hern Books, 2005.

Luscombe's production notes include ideas for set design and staging, suggestions for the actors, how to double or triple up the cast, and a section on the process of adaptation. This play could be performed on a small or large budget, with a cast as small as eight, or a large cast with several extras. Unlike other adaptations, Luscombe pairs up the roles of Eleanor Tilney and Emily St. Aubert, thus recognizing Eleanor as the true Gothic heroine of Northanger Abbey ... although, surprisingly, there is no Montoni character.

As with the Francis adaptation, this play uses Udolpho to illustrate Catherine's thoughts. Catherine imagines Valancourt, and Henry Tilney appears; Catherine tries to get away from John Thorpe, and imagines Count Morano. Luscombe notes that in the melodramatic world of Udolpho, Catherine can speak and behave in ways she can't in Bath. Henry's Gothic story, meant to be told with great expression and animated by a tottering Dorothy, was fun.

The dialogue has been altered quite a bit from the original novel, but nicely retains its spirit and meaning. The Udolpho characters' lines are more flowery and extravagant, in contrast to the ordinary, practical delivery of the “real life” characters. The characterizations are faithful to the novel. Catherine may have her fantasies, but she is mostly practical and determined to do the right thing. Henry is very witty and playful, and without any of the condescension seen in Cox's Henry. In a nice touch for Eleanor fans, we get to see Eleanor triumphantly stand up to her father at the play's end. In another pleasing nod to details, this play offers a Woodston scene where Catherine plays with Henry's Newfoundland puppy ... although Luscombe admits that puppies are not the best actors, and acting companies can omit the scene if they'd rather not bother.

This thoughtful look at Northanger Abbey is another very enjoyable play, both faithful to the original and very entertaining in its own right. I would highly recommend it.

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Macy, Lynn Marie. “Northanger Abbey: A Romantic Gothic Comedy.” Playing with Canons. Ed. Martin Denton. New York: New York Theatre Experience Inc., 2006. 449-500.

I’m happy to report that Northanger Abbey: A Romantic Gothic Comedy, dramatized by Lynn Marie Macy and directed by David Scott, provides a faithful yet innovative interpretation which can be enjoyed by all viewers. Their attention was well spent on a close reading of both Northanger Abbey and The Mysteries of Udolpho, careful depiction of the characters, and witty interpretation of Jane Austen’s original dialogue. While very few scenes from Northanger Abbey have been left out, so many favorites have remained that the inevitable omissions are forgivable. New scenes honor the spirit of the novel; for example, the charming conclusion brings to mind that “to begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well.”

Because the narrator of Northanger Abbey establishes Catherine and her adventures as a parody of Gothic novels, all Northanger Abbey adapters face the challenge of incorporating Gothic elements and themes into an Austenian comedy of manners. In this play, several brief scenes from Udolpho are interspersed with Northanger Abbey’s plot, so by the end the viewer has been exposed to an abbreviated version of Udolpho – two plays for the price of one. As seen in a few other stage plays, this cast features several double roles: Catherine sees herself as Udolpho’s heroine, Emily St. Aubert; her real-life love interest, Henry Tilney, appears as Valancourt; the mysterious General Tilney becomes the villainous Montoni, and so on.

The combination of Udolpho with the main story worked very well. The episodes were enjoyable and the cast seemed to have fun with them too. Even though the play was packed with information, the time flew by, thanks in part to the bursts of over-the-top action and comedy provided by Udolpho. The Gothic elements never overshadowed the main story, but rather enhanced it, especially through its use of double roles. The success of this play proves that if an adapter decides to include Gothic fantasies or daydreams, it’s best to use those Jane Austen intended. Unlike the often discordant or inappropriate imagery employed by some other adaptations, it shouldn’t be surprising that Udolpho scenes integrate smoothly with Northanger Abbey.

Theater Ten Ten’s set (designed by Joseph Egan) consisted of larger-than-life spines of books ringing the stage like a bookshelf, with an additional book or two on the side serving for a platform as needed. Best of all, all the book titles are mentioned in Northanger Abbey – and not only the Gothic novels, but other popular works such as Camilla and Tom Jones – just the sort of detail to delight a close reader of the original. Center stage featured a book with pages to be turned by the cast as needed, each page describing a setting (Fullerton, the Pump Room, the Abbey, Udolpho, and so on).

Moving on to the cast, I can’t gush enough over Tatiana Gomberg’s performance as an energetic, endearing, and overall outstanding Catherine. She was on stage for almost the entire two-and-a-half-hour performance, both addressing the audience and interacting with the other characters, and set an exhilarating pace and tone for the entire production. The audience couldn’t help but be drawn into her enthusiasm. While her Catherine was different from how she is depicted in other adaptations, there's plenty of support in the original novel for a lively, spirited Catherine. It was a pleasure to discover such a fresh, positive approach to a beloved character and then see her so skillfully and charmingly portrayed.

Equal praise is due to Julian Stetkevych for his delightful performance as Henry (and Valancourt). Henry Tilney is frequently misunderstood in both literary criticism and adaptations; thankfully, not only did the play itself expertly capture Henry’s character, but Stetkevych was the figure of fun Jane Austen intended her wittiest, most playful hero to be. He used a pair of motifs to great effect, creating a running joke as Valancourt and infusing Henry’s courtesy with meaning. Then, working as a team, Gomberg and Stetkevych brought Jane Austen’s “ballet of glances” to life with subtle chemistry that was a joy to watch.

Timothy McDonough and Summer Hagen were funny and enjoyable as John and Isabella Thorpe, deftly handling roles which could have easily been overdone. Sarah Tillson as Eleanor was perfectly elegant with a hint of wit or sadness as needed. Devin Delliquanti (James Morland/Ludovico) and David Fuller (General Tilney/Montoni) very capably supported the leads with the right amount of energy and comedy. The maids (Sheila Joon and Megan Loomis) were entertaining and useful additions to this adaptation. Esther David as Mrs. Allen played an unexpected and very funny role in the most memorable Udolpho duelling scene, and credit must be paid to the choreography and fight direction by Judith Jarosz and Ricki Ravitts. Greg Oliver Bodine, Tim Morton, and Lisa Riegel rounded out the outstanding cast, filling several roles in both worlds of Northanger Abbey and Udolpho.

Northanger Abbey: A Romantic Gothic Comedy is a thoughtful, detailed, and lively interpretation of its two source novels and the Theater Ten Ten cast delivered a fresh, energetic performance. It entertains the seasoned fan and welcomes new readers of Jane Austen and Ann Radcliffe. I highly recommend it.

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Smith, Evelyn. Form-Room PlaysSenior Book. London: Dent/ New York: Dutton, 1921.

This 1921 stage play, the earliest complete Northanger Abbey adaptation I have been able to find, is part of a collection of plays designed to be peformed by Sixth Form students. (FYI, the other plays in this book are: The Mill on the Floss, Quentin Durward, Nicholas Nickleby, The Vicar of Wakefield, Comus, A Tragedy Rehearsed, and The Alchemist.) The plays are designed to be performed in the classroom; accordingly, the brief production notes deal mostly with interpreting the characters and less with sets, props, and costumes — although I was delighted to read, “The drawings of Mr. Hugh Thomson and Mr. C.E. Brock give a charming idea of the dress worn at the time.” Indeed they do! Most of the dialogue comes verbatim from the novel, although sometimes rearranged, and the lines offer several acting directions, specific words to emphasize, etc.

Act One, set in the Lower Rooms, begins with Catherine and Henry's get-to-know-you banter. After the muslin conversation, Henry exits the scene and Mrs. Allen falls asleep. Isabella arrives and she and Catherine discuss Gothic novels until James and John show up. John rattles on to Catherine for a while. The scene closes as James tells Catherine how wonderful Isabella is ... but Catherine can see Isabella flirting behind James' back.

In Act Two, Catherine and John enter the Pump Room after their drive. Catherine is worried because Isabella and James haven't returned yet, so she sends John away to find them. Meanwhile, Isabella shows up alone, announces her engagement, and tells Catherine that John is in love with her (using a combination of John's proposal from the novel and her own words). When Catherine turns down the proposal, Isabella leaves and the Tilneys enter. The novels and “nice” dialogues are delivered while the trio promenade around the Pump Room and General Tilney speaks with Mrs. Allen. At the end of the walk, General Tilney invites Catherine to Northanger Abbey. Catherine is delighted, Henry tells his Gothic story, and the Tilneys exit, leaving Catherine in raptures.

Act Three is set in Mrs. Tilney's room. Catherine takes it in, disappointed in the overall modernity of the Abbey. She sees the chest with its paper roll contents, but before she can examine the papers, Eleanor enters. Eleanor explains that this was her mother's favorite room (using the “favorite walk” lines). The General calls Eleanor away sharply, leaving Catherine to decide that the General must be a villain who has imprisoned his wife. Eleanor reappears, announcing the invitation to Woodston, and the General enters the room as well, directing the ladies to go to bed. The stage is momentarily darkened, then Catherine appears in her nightgown. She talks about the terror of the storm, reads the laundry list, and to her shock, Henry arrives from Woodston. He lectures her, and she tearfully runs away.

The next day, Catherine is still in tears as she reads James' letter. Henry has left again for Woodston (Why did he come to Northanger just to spend the night? Weird.), and Catherine and Eleanor are just about to follow him when the General's off-stage summons arrives to evict Catherine from the abbey.

Act Four takes place in Fullerton. Catherine mopes, her mother leaves to fetch The Mirror, and Henry arrives to apologize, propose, and explain. Mrs. Morland re-enters, insisting on the General's consent, and Eleanor conveniently arrives with a note, reading: “Be a fool if you like it” which Henry hastily stuffs into his pocket and announces to Mrs. Morland that he has his father's “unqualified consent.” Cute. In this adaptation, Eleanor is paired up with Lord Longtown's nephew. Henry tells Eleanor to “prepare for your sister-in-law” — in this version of the story, he clearly refers to Catherine and realizes what he's saying. Another nice touch, and a good example of rearranging the text, but retaining its original meaning.

There was one jarring moment near the end of this otherwise enjoyable play. Award yourself a Smug Point if you recognize what's wrong with this lovely proposal scene:

TILNEY (taking her hand): Miss Morland, I do not know how to express my indignation at the way in which you have been treated. Some explanation on my father's account I must give, but my first purpose is to explain myself. Dear Miss Morland, dearest Catherine, God knows I have been a very indifferent lover — I have teased you and lectured you, but you have always borne with me, and your kindness gives me confidence to believe that you will bear with me now, and be willing to give me your affection and your heart, as I give you mine.

CATHERINE (quite overcome): Yes, oh, yes. (remembering the part she should play) That is ... I do not know.

TILNEY (with much pleasure): I do. At present I ask no more. I cannot make speeches, Catherine — if I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more.

Meanwhile, back at the (Donwell) Abbey, Mr. Knightley is wondering why a clever Gloucestershire clergyman known for his way with words felt the need to poach his marriage proposal.

I admit I had low expectations for a school play, and was happy to discover that this stage play is as charming and faithful to the novel as its professional counterparts. While many scenes from the book have been removed to keep the play short and simple, the remaining scenes are well-crafted and bring Jane Austen's original language to life.

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Williamson, Paul. Northanger Abbey: A play in two acts, based upon the novel by Jane Austen. Northampton: Jasper Publishing Ltd., 2001

The production notes are very brief, mostly suggesting prop substitutions as needed. The character descriptions are interesting but I disagree with some of them (Mrs. Allen is “spoilt by an ineffectual husband”, Eleanor has an “appearance of passivity”). Are these descriptions supported by the play text? I didn't think so. I agree with some of the descriptions — Catherine as tomboy, Henry as “gentle” – but I don’t see their application in this adaptation. Are they just suggestions on which the actors should build their character?

Long, long lines. It seems like this play would be slow-paced, dragging. Catherine has a long monologue while writing in her journal where all the Gothic elements are thrown in.

This adaptation plays fast and loose with the story structure. Several of the passages from the novel have been retained, but rearranged. For example, Henry’s line about “what are you thinking about?” from his pick-up line is moved to the part where Catherine watches Frederick and Isabella dancing. Yes, the line “works” there, but now it means something very different than was originally intended. This substitution or change of context happens several times.

Much more emphasis placed on the Isabella/James/Frederick triangle, which is an interesting, different approach, but their story arc now deviates from the book too much for my taste. Isabella and Frederick are old acquaintances; Frederick seems to have a long-standing flirtation with her. Finally in a move worthy of S&S’s Willoughby, Frederick abandons Isabella for Miss Gray and her £40,000. It will depend very much on how the actress delivers her lines whether Isabella comes off as a sympathetic, jilted “poor Marianne” –type girl or as a flirting schemer who gets what she deserves. She seems like some sort of early feminist (she has several lines standing up for women), but does she really mean it? Her lines could be delivered as a poor girl trying to protect her reputation … although she’s described as kissing Frederick back, which could suggest that she doesn’t mean what she’s saying when she fights him off.

General and Captain Tilney have very prominent roles in this adaptation. They’re on the make!

Tying into this, the theme of this adaptation seems to be predatory gentlemen in the marriage market. The Gothic element seems unnecessary in this adaptation because it’s not linked to this theme as best as I can tell – one time Catherine monologues with some mention of heroines, but it’s not followed up. We’re building towards the climax of the love triangle story, and then Catherine snooping around the Abbey is thrown in almost as an afterthought – “It’s in the novel, so we have to put it in.” Instead of connecting Gothic villainy with modern-day evils, its inclusion disrupts the main action – at least, what’s been established as the main action in this play.

This could be argued as a problem with the novel, too, but the journey of Henry’s affection/love for Catherine is not easy to see. All of a sudden he’s proposing to her when he catches her snooping in his mother’s room. Weird.

Catherine comes across as very scatterbrained. She frequently says how confused she is; there’s too much going on for her to process. She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl Henry would be interested in, although in another interesting rearrangement of the original text:

CATHERINE: I am ashamed to say I was lamenting my ignorance in history, General Tilney.

GENERAL TILNEY: Ah! Then you do not know your own advantages, Miss Morland. I know the world, and I tell you truly that to come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person will always wish to avoid. For you, as a woman, it is vitally important to remember that unless circumstances are particularly untoward a healthy portion of ignorance cannot fail to attract a man of sense. Eh, Henry?

Embarrassed silence. CATHERINE breaks it.

CATHERINE: What elegant china! ...

Some other plot changes: General Tilney appears to be courting Mrs. Allen (in anticipation of her becoming a widow), he also seems to be fixing up Eleanor with John Thorpe – this is shown to be incorrect later (the General is just using Eleanor to get John away from Catherine), but John thinks he’s being set up with Eleanor, too, so it’s not too far-fetched for the viewer to come to this conclusion. Frederick’s wedding to Ms. Gray softens up the General to permit Henry and Catherine’s marriage. Eleanor accompanies Henry to Fullerton. At the end, Catherine archly tells Henry that her time with Isabella has “taught her something” and makes him beg just a little in his marriage proposal.

This play has what was lacking in the Francis adaptation – complex characters (or are they just inconsistent?), and it's thought provoking – but I don’t like it very much! The Gothic elements could have been tied in better, and I didn’t like the rearranging of the plot points. Isabella's motivation is hard to understand, but this could be fixed by the actress. To me, this play lacks the liveliness and humor of the novel, as well as the Gothic satire. Nevertheless, it is a different and interesting interpretation for those who are familiar with the novel. A viewer who hadn’t read the novel could enjoy the play, but would be surprised at how much the book differs.

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Northanger Abbey. Dir. Giles Foster. Screenplay by Maggie Wadey. BBC 2, debut February 15, 1986.

I have a very mixed response to this film, so I'll start with the parts I enjoy.

The supporting cast is good. Ingrid Lacey was a great Eleanor — the right amount of elegance, quiet sadness, and reserve melting to a warm friendship with Catherine. Robert Hardy is a favorite; as General Tilney, he did fine with what he was given to do. The Allens (Googie Withers and Geoffrey Chater) were also portrayed just as I thought they should be. James Morland and Frederick Tilney (Philip Bird and Greg Hicks) didn't have much screen time, but they did a satisfactory job. John and Isabella Thorpe (Jonathan Coy and Cassie Stuart) didn't look like I imagine the Thorpes, but I got used to them and enjoyed their performances. Overall the cast looks more like everyday people rather than glamorous film actors, and I like that more natural approach.

This film is notable as a filmmaking bridge between the BBC adaptations of the 1970s-early 1980s (which resembled stage plays in their sets and blocking), and the Austen movies of the 1990s. In fact, a preview screening of Northanger Abbey inspired Sue Birtwistle to produce the popular 1995 Pride and Prejudice miniseries.1 The various scenes set around Bath and lavish costumes add interest.

Another interesting feature of this adaptation is its efforts to integrate the sociopolitical atmosphere with the story. Robert Hopkins, in his 1978 article, “General Tilney and Affairs of State: The Political Gothic of Northanger Abbey” (Philological Quarterly 57.2 , reprinted in the 2004 Norton Critical Edition of Northanger Abbey) asserts that Northanger Abbey is the most political of Jane Austen's novels, and the film has several references to the unrest of the late eighteenth century (e.g. the presence of the Marchioness, a character not found in the novel, may be a nod to Jane Austen's cousin and sister-in-law, Eliza de Feuillide).

So far, so good. What's not to like? Unfortunately, some elements I consider vital.

When I read Northanger Abbey, I find its spirit in the more traditional Austen themes — the maturation of a lively, likeable heroine, the character studies which apply beyond their 19th-century English villages, the wit, irony, and overall elegance of the storytelling. I don't think Jane Austen meant the Gothic parody to overshadow her story. And yet, this film does just that. Instead of leaving Northanger Abbey a modernized, comfortable estate, it becomes the crumbling ruin of Catherine's fantasies ... and a castle, no less. The final scene plays out like a Gothic romance, as if Catherine has stepped into her own Gothic fantasy, instead of learning how to appropriately place fiction and its lessons in the real world.

Next, I don't think this adaptation is an effective stand-alone story. It omits many plot points which book fans already know (and may unconsciously “fill in” their omission), leaving those unfamiliar with the story confused. We're not provided with a satisfactory explanation for Henry's interest in Catherine; the scenes at the Abbey where he is kind to her, as well as the visit to Woodston, are not present in this film. I find the resolution of the Isabella/James/Frederick story arc unsatisfying (Isabella's attempt to reconcile with James is left out), and the end of the film, from Catherine's eviction onward, is difficult to understand.

I'm unsure whether this film is meant to be good, campy fun, or treated seriously. I found the Gothic scenes and music jarring, rather than drawing me into Catherine's fantasies ... and I think her fantasies receive too much emphasis, as I'll discuss in the next paragraph. The cartwheeling pageboy scene doesn't contribute to the plot, which wouldn't bother me as much if plot points from the novel which are supposed to occur around that time hadn't been omitted. The proposal scene is so out of character for the Henry in the book that I couldn't decide if he were serious or not.

The main characters, Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney (played by Katharine Schlesinger and Peter Firth), lack the development needed to make them likeable. I think this adaptation defines Catherine's character far too much by her interest in Gothic novels at the expense of developing the rest of her personality. Catherine has many scenes where she simply looks around her, wide-eyed; some dialogue or action on her part would help the viewer appreciate her as a well-rounded, appealing heroine. Henry's mannerisms, speech, and dress are very affected — the sort of dandy his counterpart in the novel would be amused by. When the leads interact, Henry often delivers a monologue, cutting off Catherine if she attempts to reply. For instance, during the Beechen Cliff walk and boat ride, I like what Henry's saying, but I don't like that Catherine, our heroine, can't get a word in edgewise. At the cotillion ball, I found his response to Catherine (regarding history) snippy, and again, he silences her. The opportunity to tell her that she is “superior in good-nature” hasn't been included in this film, and as a result the scene has a very different meaning. Likewise, Henry chides Catherine for snooping in his mother's room, then disappears from the story until the very end. The canary scene (which does not appear in the novel) is the only instance where I detected any of the teasing, flirting chemistry that Catherine and Henry share in the novel.

Ultimately I think this film has some good ideas, but for me it falls short of being an enjoyable adaptation. I think I could enjoy this film more as a campy, “what if Catherine's fantasies became real?” version if it were not the only one — and as such, the definitive Northanger Abbey for the time being. It's often lamented that an adaptation doesn't do justice to the original, and this one really doesn't. A quick survey of friends and family who have seen the movie indicated that it did not encourage them to read the book, and I wish there were an NA movie that did.


A MOM watches Northanger Abbey on the TV. Her SON (11) wanders by, sits down to watch.

SON: Who's that?

MOM: Henry Tilney.

A thoughtful pause.

SON: Are you sure?

In closing, overheard from a brother-in-law: “Was this written during Jane Austen's experimental drug phase?”

1. Birtwistle, Sue, and Susie Conklin. The Making of Pride and Prejudice. Penguin Books/BBC Books: London, 1995.

Gallery of images from the film

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“Pup Fiction.” Wishbone. Episode 49, Season 2. Big Feats! Entertainment. PBS. First aired 25 May 1998.

The most unique feature of this adaptation is that the character of Henry Tilney is played by a Jack Russell Terrier. Like the theme of Northanger Abbey, Wishbone the dog compares real-life experiences to those he reads about. The 30-minute episodes shift between Wishbone’s real life with his human companions in Oakdale, USA, and his imaginary adventures in classic novels. Each episode is intended to instruct young viewers; Pup Fiction’s moral advises against the dangers of an overactive imagination. The main story is followed by a brief featurette about costumes: the role they play in bringing Wishbone’s imagination to life, and how the costumes are made.

Understandably, much of the original novel plot is condensed or removed. Since the Wishbone series emphasizes reading, some time is spent showing John Thorpe’s scorn for novels and Henry’s spirited defense of them. Most notably, the Isabella/James/Frederick story arc has been omitted from this adaptation. In a slight change from the novel, John Thorpe deceives all the Tilneys (not just the General) about Catherine’s wealth. This clearly makes Henry doubtful of Catherine’s honesty. Henry stops Catherine just before she is evicted to explain the misunderstanding and assure her of his and Eleanor’s friendship.

The cast does a fine job. Catherine is sweet, enthusiastic, and appealing. Eleanor is just as she should be. John Thorpe is portrayed as a fop rather than a coarse buffoon, but the character is still comic relief. General Tilney doesn’t have much screen time although a stern scene in the Abbey hints at his character. Since we don’t get to see much of the General in action, it seems a bit of a stretch for Catherine to believe he’s a villain. Henry is witty, charming and (most likely) housebroken; everything one could hope for in a Henry.

Unfortunately only a few Wishbone episodes were released on videotape or DVD, and neither of the Jane Austen adaptations (Furst Impressions, an equally entertaining version of Pride and Prejudice, and Pup Fiction) is available for purchase. The series occasionally recirculates on USA public television stations, but one hopes that eventually HIT Entertainment (Wishbone’s distributor) will consider releasing the entire series on DVD.

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Amis, Martin. “Northanger Abbey.” (excerpt from screenplay). Granta 87 (Fall 2004): 53-74.

The mood was dark and creepy around the edges – just a little uncomfortable – though much of that mood probably comes from the author’s choice of descriptive words (he uses “evil” frequently and the Morland children are referred to as “brats”). There’s a possibility that the whole movie could be genuinely Gothic in tone. In particular, I thought Mrs. Allen was more grotesque than benign or comic, especially in the dressmaker’s shop. John Thorpe physically resembles a Gothic rake, but he doesn’t have any lines in this excerpt, so while I suspect he’s being set up as a threat from whom Henry has to rescue Catherine, his dramatic introduction may be a red herring. Perhaps when Catherine gets to know John better, she’ll be less impressed.

I thought Catherine’s imagination was depicted more appropriately than the BBC TV movie's fantasy scenes for her age and innocence while still reflecting her taste in sensational novels. Well done. I liked the scenes depicting Catherine at home rough-housing with her brothers, reading novels, etc. The dressmaker’s shop scene is, as described in the script, “mildly unsettling.” My feelings are mixed. From a film standpoint, I think it’s a memorable way to introduce Catherine to Henry and there’s potential for good tension between the two of them. But as a fan of the book, I don’t like Henry getting a look at Catherine in her petticoat — the vulnerable innocent in need of protection. And when they “officially” meet later, they don't act like people who have shared that sort of uncomfortable moment — so the tension potential is wasted. It will be interesting to see how the actors play that scene and how the Catherine/Henry relationship develops.

Henry was a very sweet guy (I’ll resist the urge to say nice) and fairly funny, but rather ... Colonel Brandon-ish. Not as arch or lively as I imagine him from the book, but a good actor could change my mind, and it’s early yet in the screenplay. According to the notes, he only gradually comes to resemble a romantic hero and he’s motivated by a feeling of protectiveness towards Catherine. He seemed more gentle and paternal to Catherine, rather than teasing her. I didn’t like it when Henry compared Catherine to a muslin too delicate to survive a season in Bath (I’d like it if he were teasing, but the script directions suggested he was serious ... the actor’s delivery of the line will tell); To me such a comparison suggests she might be a genuinely Gothic heroine — again, a vulnerable innocent in need of protection. I hope Catherine will turn out to be tougher than he thinks she is.

This small screenplay selection (probably the infamous “first ten pages”) is an interesting interpretation. I felt a tension in the scenes that I don’t feel when reading the corresponding chapters in the beginning of the book.

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