Northanger Abbey – Random thoughts

  • This book feels like two novels in one.  The first half is set in Bath and revolves around a young woman’s entrance into the world, much like Fanny Burney’s Evelina.  The second half continues the theme but with a focus on Gothic style and the transition from the innocence and delusion of youth to the clear sight and understanding of adulthood.
  • Why does Catherine appeal to me when she is typically the kind of character that gets on my nerves?  Catherine is not witty or clever.  She certainly isn’t worldly or sophisticated, yet we love her anyway.  I think I can love her for the same reasons I love Emma – her unwavering loyalty to those she loves and her absolute honesty with herself and others.  She is also refreshingly unaffected and artless in a world full of people like Isabella and Captain Tilney.
  • Is Henry Tilney a representation of Austen herself?  To my mind, this is undoubtedly the case.  Even if it weren’t for Henry’s constant common sense that ties him to Austen, I would still argue that he and Austen have a great deal in common.  Jane Austen definitely had some “father issues,” and I can see much of her own frustration in the Tilney siblings’ relationship with their father.  The general is demanding and blustery; he is also machinating and superficial.  Is this a commentary on Austen’s own father? I think so.
  • What is it with Austen’s employing the “useless woman” in all her novels?  She gives us Mrs. Allen, with her passivity and milquetoast personality.  She is only helpful after Catherine takes an “inappropriate” ride alone with a single man in an open carriage.  The fact that it was inappropriate was a bit of knowledge that Catherine could have used ahead of time, and it would have helped her avoid dissing the Tilneys.  Mrs. Allen is the same character as Lady Bertram, Mrs. Dashwood, and even Mr. Woodhouse (both mother and father in Emma).  I’m interested to see if I find another such character in Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.
  • One of the key ideas that I pulled from Northanger Abbey is that real life SNAFUS are just as important and affecting as the wild goings on in Gothic novels.  Catherine endures some real drama as she traverses the dangers of entering adulthood – the misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and disappointments in those we believe we know are all part of growing.  In Catherine’s case, they are all mild and temporary (even her abrupt departure from Northanger Abbey is remedied in the end), but to her, those incidents in real life overshadow anything she encounters in her Gothic fantasy world.   While the wild happenings in a novel hold value as entertainment, they cannot replace or diminish the incidents of everyday life that create or destroy the happiness of an ordinary individual.
  • Finally, what is the message Austen is sending us about the value of the novel?  Is she suggesting that novels are dangerous to our perceptions and ability to tolerate and manage real life as evidenced by Catherine’s struggles at Northanger Abbey?  Or, is it a statement that novels can give us a knowledge of our fellow human beings that goes beyond any understanding that real life can provide?  I think the answer is both… the novel provides opportunities to escape having to manage real life AND it provides us the opportunity to know and understand those in our own sphere by examining the fictional struggles of characters in a novel.
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2 Comments

Filed under Northanger Abbey

2 responses to “Northanger Abbey – Random thoughts

  1. NA does feel like two different novels. Almost like a Shakespeare play with a time gap in between the events at Bath and Northanger Abbey. Of course, maybe just a 5 year time gap at most instead of Shakespeare’s infamous 15 or 20 year gap.

    I do love the innocence of Catherine. And I believe that while Henry can be a representation of Austen, I also think Henry could be the man whom she longs to be with. She created him..

  2. I, too, enjoyed Catherine for reasons that I could not exactly put my finger on. Probably, because of her honesty – similar to Emma, but I do wish she had a bit more wit.

    And, the structure of this novel (the parts) feels like two different worlds like you said. The time gap and changes between the end of part i and and the beginning of part ii make me a little less approving of the book.

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