Obviously (I hope it's obvious, anyway), when I give Northanger Abbey three stars, I'm talking about this particular edition, not NA itself. I may be alone in thinking that NA is an absolute romp of a read. I don't mean it's *better* than Austen's other novels; I only mean that for me, it's pure pleasure.
This edition is fine: decent annotation (though perhaps only as good as the Penguin edition -- I expect more from Norton Critical Editions!), and very good essays and reviews to give the modern reader context. These run the gamut between deeply academic and accessibly informative.
Robert Hopkins offers an interesting idea about the significance of those "stupid pamphlets" General Tilney is so obsessed with in "General Tilney and Affairs of State." And I found Lee Erickson's dryly named "The Economy of Novel Reading: Jane Austen and the Circulating Library" absolutely fascinating. I had no idea that the lending libraries of the time (which were supported by subscriptions, unlike our free public libraries) also sold all manner of merchandise -- anything from hats and jewelry to tobacco and snuff!
I wouldn't have thought that an essay called "Free Indirect Speech and Jane Austen's 1816 Revision of Northanger Abbey" could do anything but serve as a soporific. But Narelle Shaw has some fascinating things to say about Austen's writing. Free indirect speech is when "a character's idiom is audibly mimicked by the author, who retains ultimate control of the operative passage." I hadn't realized how brilliantly Austen employs this until Shaw pointed out examples:
"Mrs. Allen's opinion [of the weather] was more positive. 'She had no doubt in the world of its being a very fine day, if the clouds would only go off, and the sun keep out.'"
"[Isabella] liked him the better for being a clergyman, 'for she must confess herself very partial to the profession.'"
I hadn't realized there was an official name for that sort of slipping into the character's phrasing while still keeping a third-person narration. It's very effective, to say the least!
Joseph Litvak's "The Most Charming Young Man in the World" was the only serious disappointment. I only slogged through it because after having read the rest of the book, I wasn't going to flip past nine pages and deny myself the credit of actually having *finished.* Queer theory is fine; but when the character Henry Tilney mentions reading a horror novel with his "hair standing on end the whole time," neither he nor Austen are referencing an erect penis. Sorry, but no. Actually, I'm not sorry. Cut it out.
So skim that essay. But if you love Austen and/or you're researching Regency England, don't miss out on this Norton edition of one of Austen's lesser known but terrifically fun novels.