Northanger Abbey is a satire of the Gothic novels that were popular at the time. A coming-of-age story, it revolves around Catherine Morland, a fan of Gothic novels. She seems to take what she reads and applies it to her real life. The story is about her coming to realize that, while enjoyable, novels don’t always relate to daily life. Throughout the book, she comes to understand that the world is larger than her own backyard and that while seeing the good in people is a noble endeavor, at one point, one has to admit that people are not always good. Catherine is imaginative and means well, but her naivety lead her into some misunderstandings.
As with all of of Austen’s novels, the themes of society and class are ever-present. Chronologically being the first book she wrote, one can surmise that it helped establish the issues that she would tackle throughout her career as a writer. Some themes, such as the satirization of Gothic novels and the importance of reading as a way to grow, are unique to it. To the last point, reading is used a way of showing who is “good” vs who is not so good.
Some of the books that seemed to directly inspire Jane Austen were The Castle of Wolfenbach by Eliza Parsons, Clermont by Regina Marie Roche, The Mysterious Warning: A German Story by Eliza Parsons, The Necromancer by Karl Friedrich Kahlert, The Orphan of the Rhine by Eleanor Sleath, Horrid Mysteries by Carl Grosse, and The Midnight Bell by Francis Lathom; collectively, they’re sometimes called the “Northanger ‘horrid’ novels”. All of them served as an inspiration to Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.