Q&A: Diana Birchall and ‘The Bride of Northanger’

Hey Janeites! We are SO excited to bring you an extra special interview today — we got to interview Diana Birchall, the author of the latest Northanger Abbey adaption, The Bride of Northanger.

Now, Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite Austen novels, so I was particularly excited to see this little-recognized novel get some love. And we’re just one of several stops on Diana’s blog tour, so if you’re interested in learning more, I highly suggest heading over to the Silver Petticoat Review to read an excerpt of the book, and tomorrow, a review will be at Jane Austen’s World — along with a whole host of other Austenite sites through Nov. 15.

In case you need reminding, the original novel is about a young heroine, Catherine Morland, who loves dramatic and horrifying novels… aaaaaand sometimes lets them go to her head a little. She is taken on a whirlwind tour of society by a wealthy patroness, where she meets the mysterious Mr. Tilney (he of the vast muslin knowledge) and his lovely sister Eleanor — then is invited to stay at their super spooky (and possibly haunted!) ancestral home, Northanger Abbey.

Birchall’s new novel, The Bride of Northanger, takes a look at what happens after the original novel ends… and what secrets may still lie in wait for the happy couple at Northanger Abbey…

A short summary:

A happier heroine than Catherine Morland does not exist in England, for she is about to marry her beloved, the handsome, witty Henry Tilney. The night before the wedding, Henry reluctantly tells Catherine and her horrified parents a secret he has dreaded to share – that there is a terrible curse on his family and their home, Northanger Abbey. Henry is a clergyman, educated and rational, and after her year’s engagement Catherine is no longer the silly young girl who delighted in reading “horrid novels”; she has improved in both reading and rationality. This sensible young couple cannot believe curses are real…until a murder at the Abbey triggers events as horrid and Gothic as Jane Austen ever parodied — events that shake the young Tilneys’ certainties, but never their love for each
other…

The Bride of Northanger was published just last month by White Soup Press and is a quick read at only 230 pages — perfect for some Halloweentime reading!

Find The Bride of Northanger on your favorite reading platform here:

And without further delay, our interview with the lovely and talented Diana Birchall!


What is your earliest memory of Jane Austen?

It was um, fifty years ago. She wasn’t as widely read then as today. I mean, you knew about her as a “classic author,” but there was not much incentive to read her. You didn’t encounter her in school, and there had been no film adaptations since the Laurence Olivier/Greer Garson one in 1940, which was before even I was born!

What was the first Jane Austen novel that you read, and what were your lasting impressions?

As a teenager I was an avid reader (there was also no internet then to distract anybody from books), and I thought Pride and Prejudice sounded a rather dull and somber title. Still, I picked it up (a literary auntie had it in her library) and what was my surprise! I was choking with laughter when Mr. Collins’ choice landed on Lizzy, of all people. That was the beginning of my life with Austen.

My ‘First Impressions’ were my lasting ones. “Oh, this is good,” thought I. It’s the most delicious thing I have ever read. Yet it isn’t just fluff. I don’t want it ever to end. In fact, I will read it again.

What was your inspiration to write The Bride of Northanger?

After frolicking my way through the Jane Austen canon not dozens of times but (blush) thousands, there was hardly a word of hers that I did not know and love. I admired her wit, humor, satire, elegant style, and her unique re-readability, where you make new discoveries in every paragraph, even when you know the books almost by heart. I plunged into exploring her works further by writing in the Austenesque genre, stories, novels and plays, and had a great time doing it.

Of all Austen’s novels, however, Northanger Abbey was somewhat overlooked by me; I always liked it, thought it refreshing and charming, but the Gothic elements seemed like a one-joke pony and put me off. Until I really began thinking about the Catherine/Henry Tilney relationship, and then I was a lost woman…

Is Mr. Tilney your favorite hero?

You know, I actually think he is, now. I like funny, well-read guys. Don’t know if he’d have liked me though. If he liked the naïve Catherine, who is described as “open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise,” I suspect not. But that’s all right. They can have their happiness and I can have mine, especially as we are two centuries apart and they’re fictional.

Do you think Austen was a fan of the Gothic genre? Where do you think Northanger Abbey fits into traditional gothic canon?

I am sure Austen enjoyed the Gothic genre. She was obviously very familiar with the “horrid novels” that Catherine and Isabella devoured so greedily, and describes Henry as enthusiastically declaring that he read The Mysteries of Udolpho with his hair standing up on end the whole time. And her letters show that she indulged in discussion and satire of Gothic writing with her niece Anna, in a decidedly gleeful spirit. It seems to have been sort of a guilty pleasure with her, as if she pokes fun at such novels but can’t help enjoying them. Northanger Abbey itself isn’t strictly speaking a traditional Gothic novel but a playful satire of the genre.

What do you hope people will take away from reading The Bride of Northanger?

I have provided dollops of Gothic elements to shock and mystify, but my real focus was in understanding and appreciating the marriage of Henry and Catherine and how their relationship developed. Under her husband’s tutelage Catherine does a lot of reading and maturing and becomes a fine mate for this clever man in her own right. In fact, she is now a sensible and shrewd woman, far too much so to believe in silly superstitions. And then these horrific Gothic things start happening – and they’re real. So, I hope my book will provide both entertainment as well as reflection and recognition of Jane Austen’s delightful characters.

What drink pairs best with this book?

Well, it’s not giving too much away to reveal that a character is poisoned by wine in an Italian goblet, but the stuff spills all over the place and there was no chemical analysis in those days, so I am afraid I don’t know what the vintage was! Besides, I only drink iced tea myself…


Sounds like a safe choice!! I think we’ll officially recommend an Apple Cider Long Island Iced Tea to go along with this book — just to give it that touch of autumn, as you snuggle under the covers and dig into The Bride of Northanger!

Thanks for visiting us Diana, and best of luck with the new book!

-R

2 thoughts on “Q&A: Diana Birchall and ‘The Bride of Northanger’

  1. It is interesting to read that Pride and Prejudice was Diana’s first Austen novel. It is the introduction that converts many readers and viewers to a delightful author. The apple cider Long Island Ice Tea sounds yummy too. Thanks, Bianca & Robin

    Like

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