When Catherine Moreland married Henry Tilney, she was sure the seemingly cosy Woodston parsonage could not harbour any secrets such as she had imagined to lurk at Northanger Abbey.
It is not long, however, before Catherine finds there may be more skeletons in Woodston’s closets than she could ever wish for to occupy her imagination! Meanwhile, determined to become a perfect wife, Catherine gets herself into one scrape after another, and it is not long before she gives up hope of ever gaining Henry’s respect! When temptation visits Woodston in the form of a charismatic drawing instructor, all seems lost and Henry and Catherine seem parted forever. Will Catherine be able to uncover the secrets which haunt Woodston and save her marriage?
Many of Northanger Abbey’s beloved characters, including the rapacious Captain Frederick Tilney, the dour General Tilney, Henry’s much loved sister Eleanor, and the despicable flirt, Isabella Thorpe, make appearances in the novel, bringing to the tale the feel of a real sequel to the stories which were begun in Austen’s novel.
How often do we read novels, both new and classic, and wonder what happened next? What comes after the Happily Ever After? Is it really all smooth sailing, or are there rougher waters ahead for the couples we’ve rooted for through the work?
In Woodston: A Sequel to Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, author Kate Westwood tries her hand at answering this very question. This delightful novel picks up where Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey leaves off. After the trials, tribulations, and nasty surprises of Austen’s beloved spoof of the wildly popular Gothic novels of the time, heroine Catherine Morland and hero Henry Tilney finally marry. But Catherine is all of eighteen years old, and was never the most attentive to her mother’s attempts to teach her all the skills required to manage her own household.
And this is where Ms. Westwood’s story begins. Young, naïve, and very inexperienced, Catherine finds herself quite out of her depths as the new mistress of Woodston, Henry’s estate. She wishes so much to live up to her role as the parson’s wife, but her efforts seem to fail at every attempt. There is an incident with the chickens, a disaster with the laundry, a catastrophe with the soup, and the housekeeper seems to hate her.
But there is more to add to Catherine’s distress. It’s not just the overly friendly art tutor or the unwelcome discovery of Henry’s past. No, more mysterious things might be afoot as well. What lies behind that locked door, where the housekeeper disappears every now and then? What is the meaning behind the items in the hidden chest in the cellar? And what has become of the missing heirlooms that Henry is so upset about?
Undaunted by her misadventures at Northanger Abbey a year before, Catherine cannot help but seek answers to these perplexing questions, but is she prepared for what she might discover? For there might be more amiss at Woodston than Catherine can imagine, putting her very future at risk.
Through this intricately woven plot, Ms. Westwood never abandons the essence of her characters. They are natural extensions of the Catherine and Henry from Austen’s novel, and are true to their original selves. Catherine is sweet and curious, uncertain and willing to be led, but still curious and eager to please. Henry is his original charming and flirtatious self, although now, in his home and needing to discharge his duties as a clergyman, he has a bit more gravitas. Other characters from Austen’s novel enter the narrative as well. General Tilney is as officious and grasping, his son Frederick is as unprincipled, and his daughter Eleanor is as kind and caring.
Ms. Westwood’s original characters are equally well drawn, with their quirks and foibles, some lovable, some not, and some fascinating. They interact with Austen’s characters flawlessly, and fit into the narrative as if Austen had intended them to be there all along.
Likewise, her writing style is a treat to read. She has captured Jane Austen’s style beautifully, immersing the reader in the lyrical flow of highly literate prose, while keeping the language accessible to a modern readership. Her fluid prose follows Catherine’s discoveries of both the mysteries of Woodston and her own inner strength with an elegance of which Ms. Austen would heartily approve.
And, as a treat for the reader, there are interspersed throughout the novel some beautiful illustrations by Anung Prihantoko, so reminiscent of the beautiful and much-loved drawings by the likes of Hugh Thomson and Charles E. Brock. These add so much to the authentic feel of the novel, and are lovely to examine.
I have very little to complain about in Ms. Westwood’s sequel to Austen’s classic. All the elements are there: plot, character, style, and enough whimsey to enchant the reader. Perhaps, at times, the pace is a little slow, leading the reader to make another cup of tea instead of anxiously turning the page to find out what happens next. But this is a book to be sipped slowly, like a fine wine, with each word enjoyed for its own beauty as much as for how it serves the plot.
Along those lines, this is not a deep novel. Charming, yes. Vastly enjoyable, yes. The sort to make you reassess everything you thought about the world? Perhaps not. But neither, then, was Northanger Abbey. Catherine’s world changed in the one, and then the other, and we follow her growth from credulous child to a woman in control of her self and her home, but the reader’s world remains unshaken. And this is fine. Not all literature needs to invert our souls. Some books are there purely to
be enjoyed, and this is one of them.
In short, if you are an Austen lover, whose interests range beyond Pride and Prejudice, and who wishes the venerable English author had written more than what we have of hers, I would recommend this novel. For lovers of Northanger Abbey, reading it is almost imperative.
The loss of her mother and the remarriage of her father have had a sobering effect on Miss Charlotte Milton. Charlotte readily accepts an invitation to spend the summer with her cousin at Delford, the home of her cousin’s guardian, where she hopes to deal with her sorrow and remove herself from a difficult situation at home. But almost as soon as she meets Sir Benedict Markham, sparks fly, and she finds herself wondering if spending the summer in his home is not exchanging one difficult situation for another!
Sir Benedict Markham takes his role as a guardian seriously, but past experience has made him cynical about love. His ward is bright, volatile and somewhat shallow, but when her cousin comes to visit, he discovers that Miss Charlotte Milton is a very different matter! She intrigues him, even as she infuriates him.
When Charlotte’s cousin is led astray, into the arms of a titled fortune hunter, can Charlotte convince Sir Benedict that scandal is imminent? Will Charlotte’s dislike of Sir Benedict prevent her from seeing the truth of her own feelings? And will Sir Benedict resolve his feelings about the past, before he can look to a future with Charlotte?