Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey Essay
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Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is essentially the “coming of age” story of Catherine Morland, a sympathetic yet naïve young girl who spends some time away from home at the impressionable age of seventeen. As Catherine matures in the town of Bath and at Northanger Abbey, she learns to forgo immature childhood fantasies in favor of the solid realities of adult life, thus separating falsehood from truth. This theme is expressed in a couple of ways, most obviously when Catherine’s infatuation with Gothic novels causes her to nearly ruin her relationship with Henry Tilney: her imagination finally goes too far, and she wrongly suspects General Tilney of murdering his late wife. The theme is less apparent…show more content…
Soon after her own arrival in Bath, Catherine is followed by her brother James and Isabella’s brother John Thorpe. At the initial meeting with the boys, Catherine is mistaken on two different points, still being ignorant in her perceptions of other people. Although slightly thrown off by John’s manners, Catherine is unable to formulate her own negative opinion of him, too affected by the opinions of Isabella and James, and “her judgment was further brought off by Isabella’s assuring her…that John thought her the most charming girl in the world” (Austen 48). For Catherine, it is easier and more natural to accept the opinions of someone like Isabella, a mentor figure. Also, in the same scene, Catherine makes the assumption that her brother James has journeyed “so far on purpose to see me” (49). Catherine hastily jumps to this false conclusion, not having the experience to detect James’ continuous questions and compliments of Isabella as a sign of his true motives for coming to town: to visit the “prettiest girl in Bath” (49).
At this point in the story the intense attachment between Catherine and Isabella begins to slowly deteriorate. Thus far the two girls have been inseparable, but although Isabella promises at that evening’s dance that “nothing…should induce her to join the set before
Compare and contrast the relationship between Henry/Catherine and James/Isabella.
Isabella's monetary concerns leads to the dissolution of her engagement with James, while Cathereine's marriage to Henry is almost hindered by his father's belief that Catherine is too poor to fit into their family. There is an interesting link between economics and desire in both relationships. Whereas Isabella's desire to marry James is stimulated by her belief that he will offer her a financially prosperous future, and later dissolves when she finds out that James will not be wealthy, Catherine's ability to act on her desire for Henry is regulated by her knowledge that he is much wealthier.
What role do Austen’s references to Gothic novels, particularly Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, play in Northanger Abbey?
Gothic stories and storytelling play a fundamental role in Northanger Abbey. Catherine is infatuated with the sensational plot twists she reads in the Mysteries of Udolpho, and she is eager to discuss the book with her friends. When Henry tells her a horror story based on Radcliffe's novels on their way to Northanger Abbey, he puts Catherine in the position of the heroine and prepares her to imagine his family home as a haunted place. In Volume II, Austen embarks on an extended parody of Gothic conventions when Catherine convinces herself that Henry's story could actually manifest itself in reality.
Discuss Austen's depiction of space in Northanger Abbey. How are various locales described, and what function does each setting serve in the novel?
Austen is careful to invest each place with the personality of its owner. For example, Northanger Abbey reflects the General's preoccupation with outdoing his neighbors. The massive house is filled with luxurious furniture, and the General's greenhouses grow exotic fruits that are not widely available in England. In contrast, Henry's Woodston is a modest home that reflects his good taste and wiser judgment.
What is at stake in Austen's depiction of Bath's social milieu?
Drawing on her own experiences in Bath, Austen seeks to portray Bath as a leisure site with several drawbacks. First, its social life is determined by a predictable routine, as evidenced when Catherine recites the weekly schedule of the city's entertainments with Henry. Second, many of Bath's visitors cannot or will not consider anyone outside their own insular circle, as when Catherine and Mrs. Allen join another party's table their first night in town and are ignored. Finally, Bath is a place that catalyzes the development of shallow attractions such as the flirtation between Isabella and Captain Tilney.
How would you characterize the dynamic between Catherine and Henry?
Catherine's inexperience and naivete appeal to Henry because it offers him an occasion to act as a mentor. Most importantly, Henry teaches Catherine how to have a better gauge on others' behavior and to see how people can be driven by selfish motives. At the beginning of the novel, Catherine largely believes that people out of disinterested altruism, but through her conversations with Henry she learns that is not the case. Their affection is solidified by the difference in their ages and levels of experience.
Who is the most scheming character in the novel--Isabella or General Tilney?
Answers will vary. It is important to note that both characters are driven by greed and their desire to advance in high society. One can argue that Isabella is the most scheming character since she betrays her engagement to James in the hopes of allying herself with Captain Tilney, all the while pretending that she is not acting immorally. One can also argue that General Tilney is the most scheming character because his hospitality is a front designed to impress Catherine, whom he believes to be a rich heiress.
Analyze the structure of Northanger Abbey. Why do you think Austen chose to divide her novel into two volumes?
There are striking differences between Volume I and II. Volume I focuses on the social life of Bath, whereas Volume II is set almost entirely at Northanger Abbey. Austen's writing style also changes between Volume I and II. The first volume is punctuated with witty dialogue and depictions of ballroom scenes, whereas the second volume has an extended section that parodies Anne Radcliffe's melodramatic Gothic novels.
Discuss the ending of Northanger Abbey. Did you think the marriage between Catherine and Henry was inevitable? How does Austen describe their marriage?
Although Austen reiterates the happy ending of the marriage plot, a dominant trend in 18th century British novels, she does so self-consciously. This is why she chooses not to dwell on the details of their engagement or wedding ceremony. Austen is hyper aware that her readers expected Catherine and Henry to be married despite the hurdles they face from Henry's father. Thus, she pokes fun at the literary convention of the happy ending even as she utilizes it.
How would you describe General Tilney's relationship with his children?
The Tilney family dynamic is markedly strained. General Tilney is a domineering father, and as a result Henry and Miss Tilney do not fully express themselves in his presence. We are led to believe that General Tilney's temper has worsened over the years, perhaps due to the death of his wife. Above all, General Tilney wants his children to become the models of gentile propriety. This is why he is so amenable after Miss Tilney marries a nobleman.
10. In what ways does Catherine conform or fail to conform to the conventions of a typical literary heroine?
Austen insists that Catherine is different from other fictional heroines from the beginning of her novel. Catherine is not idealized as a beautiful, wealthy, and impeccably virtuous girl. She is a tomboy during her childhood and makes foolish mistakes as a teenager. On the other hand, Catherine is often depicted as more moral than other characters in the novel, especially Isabella.