Northanger Abbey is a story about stories. Catherine, the central character, imagines herself as the romantic heroine in a story, who'll have adventures, fall in love with a handsome young man, then get married and live happily ever after. But real life isn't as simple as that. It isn't now, and it certainly wasn't when Jane Austen was alive. For most people then, marriage was as much about money as it was about love. If you met somebody and fell in love, you'd need your father's permission before you could marry, and that permission would usually depend on how much money each family had.
But this didn’t stop people from dreaming, and wishing things were different. When Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey in 1798, readers had recently discovered a new form of fiction. It was usually romantic, sometimes scary and always exciting, and because the stories were often set in spooky Gothic castles, it became known as Gothic fiction. The book Catherine reads in Northanger Abbey - The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe - was one of the most popular of these novels, selling far more copies than any of Jane Austen's books at the time.
Gothic novels were incredibly popular - especially among young women and girls - but not everyone approved of them, thinking them overdramatic and somehow 'improper' . Jane Austen makes fun of them in Northanger Abbey - though I think she secretly liked them!
I wonder what Jane Austen would think if she knew that her 'little work' (as she called Northanger Abbey), would be so well-loved all over the world and would sell so many more copies than The Mysteries of Udolpho itself!