Northanger Abbey

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Northanger Abbey
NorthangerPersuasionTitlePage.jpg
Title page of the original 1818 edition
Author Jane Austen
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher John Murray
Publication date
December 1817
Preceded by Emma
Followed by Persuasion

Northanger Abbey (/ˈnɔːrθˌæŋɡər/) was the first of Jane Austen's novels to be completed for publication, in 1803. However, it was not until after her death in 1817 that it was published, along with her other novel, Persuasion.[1] The novel is a satire of Gothic novels, which were quite popular at the time in 1798–99.[2] This "coming of age," story revolves around the main character, Catherine, a young and naïve "heroine," who entertains her reader on her journey of self-knowledge, as she gains a better understanding of the world and those around her.[3] Because of her experiences, reality sets in and she discovers that she is not like other women who crave for wealth or social acceptance, but instead she is a true heroine in that she is an ordinary young woman who wishes to have nothing but happiness and a genuine sense of morality. [4]

Austen first titled Northanger Abbey as Susan, when she sold it in 1803 for £10 to a London bookseller, Crosby & Co., who decided against publishing.[1] Austen reportedly threatened to take her work back from them, to which they responded to by informing her that she would face legal consequences for reclaiming her text.[5] Austen further revised the novel in 1816-1817, with the intention of having it published, and in the spring of 1816, the bookseller sold it back to the novelist's brother, Henry Austen, for the same sum, as the bookseller did not know that the writer was by then the author of four popular novels. Austen had rewritten sections, renaming the main character to Catherine, and using that as her working title.

When Austen died in July 1817, her brother Henry renamed the novel and arranged for publication of Northanger Abbey in late December 1817 (1818 given on the title page), as the first two volumes of a four-volume set, the other two volumes being the more recently completed Austen novel, Persuasion, with a preface for the first time publicly identifying Jane Austen as the author of all her novels. Neither novel was published under the working title Jane Austen used. Aside from first being published together, the two novels are not linked, and later editions were published as separate novels.

The novel is more explicitly comedic than her other works, and contains many literary allusions that her parents and siblings would have enjoyed. This novel served as family entertainment—a piece of lighthearted parody to be read aloud by the fireside.

Plot summary[edit]

Seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is one of ten children of a country clergyman. Although a tomboy in her childhood, by the age of 17 she is "in training for a heroine" and is excessively fond of reading Gothic novels, among which Ann Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho is a favourite.

Catherine is invited by the Allens, her wealthier neighbours in Fullerton, to accompany them to visit the town of Bath and partake in the winter season of balls, theatre and other social delights. She is soon introduced to a clever young gentleman, Henry Tilney, with whom she dances and converses. Through Mrs. Allen's old schoolfriend Mrs. Thorpe, she meets her daughter Isabella, a vivacious and flirtatious young woman, and the two quickly become friends. Mrs. Thorpe's son John is also a friend of Catherine's older brother, James, at Oxford where they are both students.

The Thorpes are not happy about Catherine's friendship with the Tilneys, as they correctly perceive Henry as a rival for Catherine's affections, though Catherine is not at all interested in the crude John Thorpe. Catherine tries to maintain her friendships with both the Thorpes and the Tilneys, though John Thorpe continuously tries to sabotage her relationship with the Tilneys. This leads to several misunderstandings, which put Catherine in the awkward position of having to explain herself to the Tilneys.

Isabella and James become engaged. James' father approves of the match and offers his son a country parson's living of a modest sum, £400 annually, but they must wait until he can obtain the benefice in two and a half years. Isabella is dissatisfied, but to Catherine she misrepresents her distress as being caused solely by the delay, and not by the value of the sum. Isabella immediately begins to flirt with Captain Tilney, Henry's older brother. Innocent Catherine cannot understand her friend's behaviour, but Henry understands all too well, as he knows his brother's character and habits.

The Tilneys invite Catherine to stay with them for a few weeks at their home, Northanger Abbey. Catherine, in accordance with her novel reading, expects the abbey to be exotic and frightening. Henry teases her about this, as it turns out that Northanger Abbey is pleasant and decidedly not Gothic. However, the house includes a mysterious suite of rooms that no one ever enters; Catherine learns that they were the apartments of Mrs. Tilney, who died nine years earlier. As General Tilney no longer appears to be ill affected by her death, Catherine decides that he may have murdered her or even imprisoned her in her chamber.

Catherine discovers that her over-active imagination has led her astray, as nothing is strange or distressing iin the apartments. Unfortunately, Henry questions her; he surmises, and informs her that his father loved his wife in his own way and was truly upset by her death.[6] She leaves, crying, fearing that she has lost Henry's regard entirely. Realizing how foolish she has been, Catherine comes to believe that, though novels may be delightful, their content does not relate to everyday life. Henry does not mention this incident to her again.

James writes to inform her that he has broken off his engagement to Isabella and that she has become engaged instead to Captain Tilney. Henry and Eleanor Tilney are sceptical that their brother has actually become engaged to Isabella Thorpe. Catherine is terribly disappointed, realising what a dishonest person Isabella is. A subsequent letter from Isabella herself confirms the Tilney siblings' doubts, and shows that Frederick Tilney was merely flirting with Isabella. The General goes off to London, and the atmosphere at Northanger Abbey immediately becomes lighter and pleasanter for his absence. Catherine passes several enjoyable days with Henry and Eleanor until, in Henry's absence, the General returns abruptly, in a temper. He forces Catherine to go home early the next morning, in a shocking, inhospitable, and unsafe move that forces Catherine to undertake the 70 miles (110 km) journey alone.

At home, Catherine is listless and unhappy. Henry pays a sudden unexpected visit and explains what happened. General Tilney (on the misinformation of John Thorpe) had believed her to be exceedingly rich as the Allen's prospective heiress, and therefore a proper match for Henry. In London, General Tilney ran into Thorpe again, who, angry and petty at Catherine's refusal of his half-made proposal of marriage, said instead that she was nearly destitute. Enraged, General Tilney, (again on the misinformation of John Thorpe), returned home to evict Catherine. When Henry returned to Northanger, his father informed him of what had occurred and forbade him to think of Catherine again. When Henry learns how she had been treated, he breaks with his father and tells Catherine he still wants to marry her despite his father's disapproval. Catherine is delighted.

Eventually, General Tilney acquiesces, because Eleanor has become engaged to a wealthy and titled man; and he discovers that the Morlands, while not extremely rich, are far from destitute.

Characters[edit]

Catherine Morland in an illustration from an 1833 edition of the novel

Catherine Morland: A 17-year-old girl who lacks in life experience, but always determined to see the best in people.[7] Considered to be somewhat of a tomboy throughout her childhood and having been described by the narrator as "pleasing, and when in good looks, pretty."[8], Catherine spends most of her life in a fantasy land of her own, devoting her time to reading Gothic novels and to other athletic activities that meet her fancy. She is the devoted sister of James Morland, and maintains her sweet and good-natured personality, never seeing the malicious underlying intentions of others until the end of the novel. Observant in nature, she notices the inconsistencies and insincere qualities of those around her, and never hesitates to make insightful comments about it[9]. This becomes evident with her friendship to Henry Tilney (the man that she ends up marrying at the end), to which she shares her love of sarcastic humor with - (He is delighted when she says, "I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.") [10]. Never losing her humble and modest character, and always extremely excited when receiving the smallest compliments, Catherine eventually grows and matures into womanhood. After having been exposed to the outside world in Bath, and having learned from her mistakes in that she cannot apply the fairy tales from her Gothic novels into reality (there's a point in time in which she lets her imagination run wild and suspects that General Tilney played a part in murdering his deceased wife), Catherine learns about the true dimensions of reality and becomes the real "heroine," of the story.[11]

James Morland: Catherine's older brother who spends his time studying at Oxford University in the beginning of the novel,[12] but makes a surprise visit to the city of Bath to see his sister and parents.[13] He is similar to Catherine in that he is humble, sweet, and fun-loving; however, his downfall is that he is not the best judge of character, and he is both naive and innocent when it comes to matters of the heart.[14] This is evident during his stay in Bath when he meets Isabella Thorpe, the sister to his friend, John Thorpe. Assumed to be a man of moderate wealth, he finds himself falling in love with Isabella, to which he makes a marriage offer.[15] He is granted permission, but his proposal comes with stipulations in that he initially receives a small amount of money and must wait at least two years before marrying to obtain the rest of his inheritance.[16] This news does not settle well with Isabella as she starts looking for love elsewhere, breaking John Morland's heart in the end, to which he warns his sister Catherine to be weary of who she falls in love with.[17]

Henry Tilney: A 26-year-old well-read parson (clergyman) of the church, the sibling to both Eleanor and Frederick Tilney, and a member of the wealthy Tilney family.[18] From the beginning, he is Catherine's love interest and comes to return her feelings throughout the course of the novel, and after a long series of false assumptions, he marries her in the end.[19] Just like Catherine, he is sarcastic, intuitive, fairly handsome, and clever in nature; however, he differs in the fact that he is attuned to the behavior and underlining intentions of others.[20] With his cynical view towards humanity, he finds amusement in the folly of others around him, and takes pleasure in questioning people about their actions and lifestyle, including Catherine.[21] He eventually gives in to Catherine's witty and light flirtations, to which she is unable to detect or reciprocate in kind, but still maintains his sweet and sympathetic attitude, appreciating Catherine's naive straightforward sincerity.[22]

John Thorpe: Just like his sister, Isabella Thorpe, John is an arrogant and boastful young man.[23] A terrible conversationalist as he talks of nothing but of his horses and carriages; he is loud, dimwitted, overbearing, and rude in nature, even to his own mother.[24] John initially takes interest in Catherine Morland, but when he discovers that it is Henry Tilney that she loves, he finds ways to manipulate the situation to suit his liking. Being the troublemaker that he is, he generates a series of lies to General Tilney (Henry Tilney’s father) about Catherine’s family fortune,[25] to which these false assumptions make him view Catherine in such a negative way, that he refuses to let his son marry her.[26] When General Tilney realizes that there is no truth behind the rumors, and that Catherine is not as poor as once thought, he finally grants his son permission to marry. After the truth is revealed, all can see John Thorpe for what he really is, and that is, an aggressive and manipulative liar. [27]

Isabella and Catherine walking arm and arm in an illustration by H. M. Brock from a 1904 edition of the novel

Isabella Thorpe: As mentioned above, Isabella is similar in nature to her brother John Thorpe, in that she is both manipulative and conniving, always finding ways to make others do her bidding.[28] She is a beautiful and charming twenty-one-year old woman, who takes a visit to the city of Bath in search of a wealthy husband.[29] Upon first arrival, she is without acquaintance, but makes fast friends with Catherine Morland and uses their friendship to her advantage.[30] Because Isabella does not originate from wealth, and before she is doomed to become a dependent “spinster,” she understands that marriage is her only way of becoming an “established,” woman upholding to the marriage mentality of the 18th century.[31] As her friendship with Catherine grows stronger, Isabella learns about Catherine’s family fortune and takes an interest in Catherine’s brother, James Morland, to which she is successful in getting a marriage offer.[32] However, when James receives but a small portion of his inheritance and is forced to wait two years before marrying, everyone questions Isabella’s true intentions as she does not take well to these stipulations.[33] Just like her brother John Thorpe, Isabella reveals her true colors when she breaks off her engagement to James, to marry Captain Tilney (Henry Tilney's older brother), a man of larger fortune.[34] After hearing the news from her brother James, Catherine is both devastated and heartbroken for him, and she immediately ends her friendship with Isabella.[35]

General Tilney: A stern and retired military general, he is the despotic father of his three children: Captain Tilney (Frederick), Henry, and Eleanor.[36] Rigid, overbearing, tyrannical, and materialistic in nature, General Tilney spends the majority of his time taking care of his estate in Northanger Abbey.[37] Strict on punctuality and determined to “keep a tight ship,” within his household, General Tilney has issues with flexibility as he has an absolute distaste for anyone or anything that disrupts his schedule or breaks his sense of order.[38] Some may speculate as to whether or not his difficult personality is due to the fact that he lost his wife years ago (the wife died when Eleanor was a child),[39] leaving him with the burden of raising his children alone; however, what is certain, is that his rude behavior is not only geared towards his children, but it also extends itself to his poor treatment of Catherine as well. Throughout the novel, General Tilney keeps his focus on the advancement and social acceptance of his family,[40] making this his top priority, even in terms of marriage. Essentially, General Tilney is so concerned with his family’s name and fortune, that he tries to control his children in terms of who they can and cannot marry, especially in regards to Henry’s love interest in Catherine.[41] Due to the misguided rumors from John Thorpe, General Tilney’s perception of Catherine changes in that he once held her in high esteem,[42] thinking that she came from a wealthy family; however, because of the gossip, he denies Henry’s marriage proposal to Catherine.[43] Eventually, after his daughter’s marriage to a nobleman,[44] General Tilney’s anger subsides, and when he discovers the truth in that Catherine does in fact descend from wealth as initially thought, he finally consents to Henry and Catherine’s marriage.[45] Upon further analysis, General Tilney's behavior and attitude brings our attention to the social concerns that were common during Jane Austen's time period.[46]

Eleanor Tilney: She is the younger sister of Frederick and Henry Tilney, and the daughter of the tyrannical General Tilney.[47] Making her visit to the city of Bath at a later time, her friendship with Catherine Morland begins midway through the novel;[48] however, despite this delay, she is sweet, kind, and humble like her brother Henry,[49] and proves herself to be a much more loyal friend to Catherine, than Isabella ever was.[50] Unfortunately, her role in Bath is not as significant as she spends the majority of her time acting as a chaperone for Catherine and Henry,[51] but things take a turn for the better when they all make their journey back to Northanger Abbey.[52] Because of Catherine and Eleanor’s friendship, and due to Henry’s love interest, Catherine is invited to stay with them in Northanger Abbey,[53] to which they use this opportunity to get to know each other better on a personal level.[54] This is the point where Eleanor explains the reason for her mother’s absence, to which we discover that Mrs. Tilney had passed away due to a serious illness,[55] leaving Mr. Tilney with three children to raise by himself.[56] Other than her friendship with Catherine and their time spent together in Northanger Abbey, Eleanor plays no other role throughout the novel, except for the fact that she persuades her father to grant Catherine and Henry permission to marry.[57]

Frederick Tilney: Henry's older brother (the presumed heir to the Northanger estate), very handsome and fashionable, an officer in the army who enjoys pursuing flirtations with pretty girls who are willing to offer him some encouragement (though without any ultimate serious intent on his part). He flirts with Isabella Thorpe, to which she breaks off her engagement with James Morland. However, it is revealed afterwards that he "only [flirted] for mischief's sake," establishing him as one of the cads of this novel. Henry and Eleanor Tilney are not surprised by their brother's behavior, though Catherine is shocked by his inconstancy.[58]

Mr. Allen: A kindly man, who allows Catherine to accompany him and his wife to Bath, where he is being treated for gout.[58] He often takes on a paternal role towards Catherine, being noted as "taken pains to know who her partner was" after Catherine and Henry Tilney first met. He approves of the pair, as Tilney's reputation impresses him.[58]

Mrs. Allen: Somewhat vacuous, she sees everything in terms of her obsession with clothing and fashion, and has a tendency to utter repetitions of remarks made by others in place of original conversation. Mrs. Allen originally wanted Catherine to join them in Bath, having taken a liking to her, and for wanting a female companion to join her while her husband is busy.

Major themes[edit]

Much like in all of Austen's novels, the subjects of society, status, behavior, and morality are addressed. Northanger Abbey, however, having been the chronologically first novel completed by Austen (though revised later on in her life), and notably considered a "point of departure" from her other work, as a result of its "boldness with which it flaunts its . . . deceptive air of simplicity with broad, bold humour"[59] includes several major themes that are specific to this text. Such themes include:

The intricacies and tedium of high society, particularly partner selection, and the conflicts of marriage for love. When Catherine enters Bath, she is rather unaware of the societal setting she will encounter. The text notes that her mother, also, knew little of high society,[60] which explains why Austen forces Catherine to pair with the Allens, who are higher ranked in society than she, due to their wealth. Society greatly influences partner selection, especially in Northanger Abbey, as General Tilney, for example, disapproves of Henry and Catherine's love due to their disparity in wealth. General Tilney only accepts Henry and Catherine's marriage after Eleanor Tilney becomes engaged to a wealthy man.[61] Further, Catherine distances herself from John Thorpe, though he is a societally-deemed "good" match for her. Rather, Catherine bravely situates love and companionship as more worthy than standing and rank, unlike Isabella, who ends the novel with two broken engagements.

Life lived as if in a Gothic novel (as if life is the same as fiction), filled with danger and intrigue, and the obsession with all things Gothic. Though Austen greatly encourages the reading of novels to her readers, Catherine must learn to separate life from fiction, and reign in her very active imagination. When Catherine accuses General Tilney of murdering or locking up his wife, she is humiliated when it is discovered to be untrue, as Henry chastises her, by saying: "'You has formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to— Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of your suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from?'"[58] Upon this, Catherine is mortified, and distraught at the notion that Henry would think less of her for her wild assumptions. When reflecting, Catherine identifies that she must separate Gothic novels from her judgement of everyday life. This serves as a major progression in the novel, as it is a sign of Catherine's maturation, and ability to appreciate novels without immediately applying them to her behaviors and thoughts.

The development of the young into thoughtful adulthood, the loss of imagination, innocence and good faith. While Catherine controls her imagination, she simultaneously endures the reality of individuals not behaving in the manner they should. Most prominently, Catherine realizes she is not to rely upon others, such as Isabella, who are negatively influential on her, but to be single-minded and independent. Isabella, regardless of her engagement to James Morland, flirts with Frederick Tilney, and ultimately breaks two engagements, and causes herself great shame. Catherine began to realize Isabella's poor influence when The Thorpes cause her to miss her appointment with Henry and Eleanor Tilney early on in the text,[58] but it is not until the shocking wrongdoing against her brother that Catherine entirely separates herself from their friendship, stating that she may never speak to Isabella again, and is not as upset as she thought she would be about it.[58] As this scene takes place almost immediate after Catherine's learned lesson about Gothic novels, it is the novel's clear sign of her increasing maturity.

Reading as a valuable tool for personal growth. In one of Austen's narrator's boldest proclamations, the narrator of Northanger Abbey exclaims upon the significance of reading novels, writing: "I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding—joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it".[58] In this famous moment, Austen's narrator acknowledges the hypocrisy in insulting those who read novels. It is also made clear in this text that those who are considered "good" and well-educated read novels, such as Henry and Eleanor Tilney. John Thorpe, for example, who does not read novels,[58] is the cad of the text. Furthermore, there is a distinction made between Catherine's imagination and childishness that encourages her fantasy of a murderous General Tilney, rather than it being a direct fault of the novel genre.

Literary significance[edit]

Northanger Abbey is fundamentally a parody of Gothic fiction. Austen turns the conventions of eighteenth-century novels on their head, by making her heroine a plain and undistinguished girl from a middle-class family, allowing the heroine to fall in love with the hero before he has a serious thought of her, and exposing the heroine's romantic fears and curiosities as groundless. However, the British critic Robert Irvine wrote that though Catherine's specific fears about General Tilney murdering his wife are false, the book ends with her general fears of him being confirmed as his character is indeed vicious as the book says: "Catherine, at any rate, heard enough to feel, that in suspecting General Tilney of either murdering or shutting up his wife, she had scarcely sinned against his character, or magnified his cruelty".[62] Likewise, the scholar Rachel Brownstein observed that Catherine's fears of General Tilney are in substance correct, though the book notes he turns out be a "villain of common life", not that of romance.[63] Brownstein wrote the conclusion the book invites is: "...our heroine's instincts were good guides to truth-perhaps even that they were good because they were informed by Gothic novels about vulnerable women persecuted by powerful men".[64]

Irvine also points out that though parts of the book do satirize the Gothic novels popular in the 18th century, the interpretation of the novel as a complete satire of the Gothic genre is problematic.[65] Irvine points out that in except in book II, the problems faced by Catherine are not caused by her reading Gothic novels, nor is Catherine's rejection of romantic love following Henry's outburst the climax, but instead is followed by Catherine being summarily expelled from Northanger Abbey after General Tilney discovers that she is not rich as he had been led to believe.[66] Irvine observed that for Catherine her expulsion is quite a traumatic event that is equal in its emotional impact to the horrors that she had imagined General Tilney committing.[67] Irvine also notes that the first chapters in the novel satirize the novels of Maria Edgeworth and Frances Burney, whom the novel ostensibly praises, as it does the Gothic novels.[68] An early sign that Henry Tilney is the hero while John Thorpe is not can be seen in the former likes to read books while the latter does not.[69]

The book begins with the narrator remarking that the heroine is not really a heroine, with the narrator saying Catherine was not especially clever, nor a great beauty, and good without being virtuous.[70] The narrator goes to say the reader was expecting the heroine to be very virtuous, clever, and striking beautiful, which makes Catherine a "strange, unaccountable character!"[71] Only with the second chapter does the narrator have anything positive to say about Catherine, which are even then still qualified by attaching the adjectives "remarkable" and extraordinary", which is only meant ironically as what the narrator calls the "extraordinary" traits of Catherine are in fact quite ordinary, which seems to be Austen's way of satirizing how women were portrayed in contemporary literature.[72] Austen's point appears to be what there is a gulf between how women really are and how they are portrayed in novels.[73] The point is further emphasized by satirizing Richardson's rule laid out in The Rambler "that no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman's love is declared", which Catherine breaks without suffering.[74] Later, when Catherine is feeling depressed, her mother tries unsuccessfully to cheer her up by having her read The Mirror (a popular journal in the late 18th century), which seems to be Austen's way of saying that what the moralising journals have to say is not applicable in real life.[75]

At one point when Catherine uses the word "nice" in a way that Henry disapproves of, she is warned: "The word 'nicest', as you use it, did not suit him; and you had better change it as soon as you can, or you shall be overpowered with Johnson and Blair all the rest of the way".[76] The popular 18th century arbiters of style and taste such as Johnson, Richardson, Blair and Addison are presented as a cannon of masculine power, which the novel is competition with at least as much as the Gothic novels, that were so popular with young women at the time.[77] Irvine wrote that the way in which Henry frequently quotes these authors show he is just as much trapped in the world of the essays laying out rules of conduct and style as Catherine is influenced by the Gothic novels she loves to read.[78] When Henry tries to dissuade Catherine of her Gothic-inspired notions that General Tilney is a murderer, he cites the (male) authors of the essays that were so influential in establishing rules of proper conduct, in short, is trying to dismiss one genre that was popular with women, with another genre that was popular with men.[79] Irvine wrote that: "The fact that the Gothic (and perhaps the novel in general) provides a means whereby young women can think for themselves is perhaps the real threat that Henry is countering here. After all, as we have seen, Catherine's fantasy proves to be a way of imagining as evil a truth about the General that Henry never criticises: the absolute nature of patriarchal power. The type of language that Henry uses does not originate with him: it is borrowed from the essays of Johnson, Blair and company, and gets its authority, its power over Catherine, from that masculine source".[80] Irvine contended that the discourse of the essays was a "linguistic version of the patriarchal power of the General", as a way of imposing power over women, not by locking them up in a room, but imposing a type of language that limits what one may think or not.[81] In this sense, Henry speaks either with his "natural tone" when he is being himself and his "affected" tone, where he uses the discourse of a Johnsonian essay, which mirrors the description at the beginning of the book between the narrator's ideal heroine and Catherine.[82]

However, even when Henry is speaking with his natural tone, his speech is that expected of a polite society in Britain at the time.[83] The ingenue Catherine, who has just arrived in Bath, is unfamiliar with the ways of a polite society, and is vaguely aware that Henry's "affected" tone is meant to be satirical, but is uncertain about what is the joke here.[84] As a Bildungsroman, Catherine has to learn the ways of polite society in order to fit in.[85] Of her possible guides, Mrs. Allen is too dim to provide the necessary knowledge while John Thorpe comes from the gentry, but only interested in gambling and horses.[86] With Thorpe, Austen makes the point that mere ownership of land does not make for a gentleman, as Thorpe is simply too vulgar to be a gentleman despite being of the gentry, which is further emphasised that when pays Catherine a compliment, she says it "gives me no pleasure" to receive a compliment from someone like him.[87] Isabella Thorpe initially appears as Catherine's friend, but she proves herself an unworthy friend when she mentions to Catherine's brother James, much to the latter's mortification, that she is too fond of both the Tilneys.[88] The way in which Isabella embarrasses Catherine is a violation of the major unwritten rules of polite society, namely the reciprocity principle that one should always think of the feelings of others.[89] By contrast, Eleanor just herself as a friend, albeit one who speaks in the same sort of language her brother mocks.[90] Henry establishes himself as worthy of being Catherine's husband in his role as a "lover mentor" who teaches Catherine the ways of polite society to allow her to eventually fit in.[91]

As part of the novel's satire of the literature of the day, the American scholar Rachel Brownstein noted that Henry Tilney is described as "not quite handsome though very near it", it is implied to be not quite entirely manly owing to his love of literature and fabrics, and is explicitly shown to be dominated by his father.[92] It is General Tilney rather than his son who openly admires the attractions of Catherine's body, praising her for the elasticity of her walking, which in turn causing her to with great elasticity, though she had never thought of it before".[93] However, Brownstein wrote that Henry is the hero of the book as he constantly ridicules cliched language, is able to understand the type of books read by women because he also reads them, and is able to rise above the crowd as notes the lazy language used by others who overuse words like "amazingly and "nice".[94] Another trope of the fiction of the day is satirized when Catherine first meets Henry at a dance and likes him right away, which in its turn causes him to pay attention to her for the first time..[95] Most notably, it is the Thorpes who have to restrain Catherine from following Henry after the dance by holding her arms, which was the not the sort of behavior that was expected of heroines in romantic novels at the time.[96]

According to Austen biographer Claire Tomalin "there is very little trace of personal allusion the book, although it is written more in the style of a family entertainment than any of the others".[97] Joan Aiken writes: "We can guess that Susan [the original title of Northanger Abbey], in its first outline, was written very much for family entertainment, addressed to a family audience, like all Jane Austen's juvenile works, with their asides to the reader, and absurd dedications; some of the juvenilia, we know, were specifically addressed to her brothers Charles and Frank; all were designed to be circulated and read by a large network of relations."[98]

Austen addresses the reader directly in parts, particularly at the end of Chapter 5, where she gives a lengthy opinion of the value of novels, and the contemporary social prejudice against them in favour of drier historical works and newspapers. In discussions featuring Isabella, the Thorpe sisters, Eleanor, and Henry, and by Catherine perusing the library of the General, and her mother's books on instructions on behaviours, the reader gains further insights into Austen's various perspectives on novels in contrast with other popular literature of the time (especially the Gothic novel). Eleanor even praises history books, and while Catherine points out the obvious fiction of the speeches given to important historical characters, Eleanor enjoys them for what they are.

The directness with which Austen addresses the reader, especially at the end of the story, gives a unique insight into Austen's thoughts at the time, which is particularly important due to the fact that a large portion of her letters were burned, at her request, by her sister upon her death.

A reviewer in 2016 said "Austen’s Northanger Abbey was in part a playful response to what she considered “unnatural” in the novels of her day: Instead of perfect heroes, heroines and villains, she offers flawed, rounded characters who behave naturally and not just according to the demands of the plot."[99]

Allusions to other works[edit]

Isabella: Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished The Mysteries of Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.

[...]

Catherine: ...but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?

Isabella: Yes, quite sure, for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, chapter VI

Several Gothic novels and authors are mentioned in the book, including Fanny Burney and The Monk.[100] Isabella Thorpe gives Catherine a list of seven books that are commonly referred to as the "Northanger 'horrid' novels";[101] these works were initially thought to be of Austen's own invention until the British writers Montague Summers and Michael Sadleir found in the 1920s that they actually did exist.[102] The list is as follows:

All seven of these were republished by the Folio Society in London in the 1960s, and since 2005 Valancourt Books has released new editions of the 'horrids', the seventh and final being released in 2015.[103]

The most significant allusion, however, is to Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, as it is the Gothic novel most frequently mentioned within this text. Notably, Jane Austen sold the manuscript of Northanger Abbey to the same firm that published Radcliffe's novel in 1794.[58]

This outside text is first mentioned in Chapter Six, when Isabella and Catherine discuss the mystery "behind the black veil," and further establish their friendship based on their similar interests in novel genre, and their plans to continue reading other Gothic novels together. Austen further satirizes the novel through Catherine's stay at Northanger Abbey, believing that General Tilney has taken the role of Gothic novel villain.[6]

Austen's discussion of Udolpho is also used to clearly separate Catherine from John Thorpe, as when Catherine talks about the the novel with him, he crudely responds that he "never reads novels," but qualifies his statement by arguing he would only read a novel by Anne Radcliffe, who, as Catherine then points out, is the author of Udolpho.[58] Here, Austen humorously categorizes Northanger Abbey's characters into two spheres: those who read novels, and those who do not. When Catherine and Henry Tilney later discuss reading novels, and Henry earnestly responds that he enjoys reading novels, and was especially titillated by Udolpho, the match between Catherine and Henry is implied as both smart and fitting.[58]

References to, and within, Northanger Abbey[edit]

A passage from the novel appears as the preface of Ian McEwan's Atonement, thus likening the naive mistakes of Austen's Catherine Morland to those of his own character Briony Tallis, who is in a similar position: both characters have very over-active imaginations, which lead to misconceptions that cause distress in the lives of people around them. Both treat their own lives like those of heroines in fantastical works of fiction, with Miss Morland likening herself to a character in a Gothic novel and young Briony Tallis writing her own melodramatic stories and plays with central characters such as "spontaneous Arabella" based on herself.

Richard Adams quotes a portion of the novel's last sentence for the epigraph to Chapter 50 in his Watership Down; the reference to the General is felicitous, as the villain in Watership Down is also a General.[104]

The book, also, contains an early historical reference to baseball.[105] It is found in the first chapter of the novel, describing the interest of the heroine : "...Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country...".[106] It is not the earliest reference to the term, which is presently believed to be in a 1744 British publication, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, by John Newbery, as described in Origins of baseball. The modern game is not described, but the term is used.

Northanger Abbey takes place in several settings, some of which are fictionalized, but many are actual locations in England, including London and Bath. The Jane Austen Society of Australia created a map of the characters's whereabouts, designating the several real, and fake, locations traveled to or mentioned within the novel.[107]

Adaptations[edit]

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

Radio[edit]

  • In 2016, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an adaptation by Hattie Naylor with Georgia Groome as Catherine. An adaptation of The Mysteries of Udolpho was broadcast at the same time, also adapted by Naylor, with the same cast.

Web series[edit]

  • In 2015, the modern web series adaptation Northbound, by Anya Steiner, was released on YouTube.
  • In 2016, the modern web series adaptation The Cate Morland Chronicles was released on YouTube.

Literature[edit]

HarperCollins hired Scottish crime writer Val McDermid in 2012 to adapt Northanger Abbey for a modern audience, as a suspenseful teen thriller, the second rewrite in The Austen Project.[109][110] McDermid said of the project, "At its heart it's a teen novel, and a satire – that's something which fits really well with contemporary fiction. And you can really feel a shiver of fear moving through it. I will be keeping the suspense – I know how to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. I think Jane Austen builds suspense well in a couple of places, but she squanders it, and she gets to the endgame too quickly. So I will be working on those things." The novel was published in 2014.[99][111][112]

In 2011, Marvel published a comics version of Northanger Abbey, adapted by Nancy Butler (writer), Janet K. Lee (artist) and Nick Filardi (color artist). This book, originally is the last of the Jane Austen adaptations made by Marvel, and contrarily to the other books of the series is the only one to be released only in paperback, not in hardback.[113]

The same year, author Jenni James published a modern teen version entitled "Northanger Alibi", published by Inkpress, in which the main character's obsession for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga replaces Catherine's love for Regency gothic novels.[114]

See also[edit]

Reception history of Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Gothic fiction

The Mysteries of Udolpho

Regency era

References[edit]

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External links[edit]