Northanger Abbey: Ch. 24-Finale!

At this point you may have finished Northanger Abbey. Or you may not have. No judgement. Everyone is welcome here. That being said, this post contains spoilers for the entire book!

This is the last day of #ReadMorland! You can check out the conversations we’ve been having on Twitter here.

Here’s a quick Gothic reference at the beginning of chapter 24: “Catherine had read too much not to be perfectly aware of the ease with which a waxen figure might be introduced, and a supposititious funeral carried on.” This is an explicit reference to a scene in Udolpho where a character expects to find a dead body and finds a wax figure instead. It’s also an implicit reference to a trend in Gothic novels where characters are mistakenly thought to be dead.

Again due to her extreme amounts of reading, Catherine is convinced that General Tilney is either a murderer or a kidnapper. Although I think she would be terrified of him even if she didn’t; she seems to find him extremely intimidating. When General Tilney interrupts Catherine and Eleanor from exploring other parts of the Abbey, Catherine doesn’t hesitate in abandoning her friend and running away.

This chapter includes a fairly intense showdown between Henry and Catherine, in which he realizes she’s been taking her imagination a tiny bit too far, and she finds out how, underneath his teasing and trolling, he’s a pretty serious and sensible Englishman. His lecture at the end of the chapter is, in spite of the seriousness of the scene, almost comically Anglocentric: “Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians.” He explains further that murders can’t “be perpetrated without being known” but I don’t know if his reasoning really covers all that much. In any case, everyone is distressed.

In the next chapter, on the same note, Catherine has realized Henry is right, and that of course THIS IS ENGLAND and we don’t do that kind of thing, but but she reassures herself that it COULD happen in other countries. OH, CATHERINE. Still so silly and piling on a little casual racism for kicks.

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Henry, of course, knows Catherine well enough that he knows she is well-chastened, and treats her even better than before. I like Henry, and I like Catherine, and I like Henry/Catherine, I just wish he wasn’t quite so superior all the time. He treats her like a student or a kid sometimes, and it’s kinda weird. However, in the same chapter, when he is mockingly describing Isabella as “Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affection strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise,” (chapter 25) is a perfect description of Catherine and really shows that Henry likes Catherine a LOT for all of these reasons. Eleanor shows her sassy sisterly side with her rejoinder: “Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in.”

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At this point, we still don’t know all the details about James and Isabella, only that she was leading him on and is in love (?) with Frederick Tilney. Henry and Eleanor, interestingly, dismiss Isabella entirely as a horrible girl that they don’t want to be related to, but seem protective of their brother Frederick, or at least hopeful that he isn’t going to marry her. What is Frederick’s deal? I always think of him as The Worst because of the 2007 movie, and he probably is The Worst, but we really don’t see much of him except flirting with a girl who everyone considers a mercenary social climber with no heart, and rejecting her in turn. Later in chapter 27, Henry confirms that Frederick interfered with Isabella “for mischief’s sake.” So. Rude, but not necessarily evil. His siblings seem concerned for him at a couple different points in these later chapters, especially in regards to him displeasing their father.

DISCUSS, I guess.

Chapter 26 was a combination of adorable and cringey for me. Like, it was really fun to see Woodston, and Catherine was just so happy about everything, but the General implying All The Things about her marrying Henry was soooo awkward I wanted to protect everyone. Home Improvement With Your To-Be Father-in-Law. Yikes!

Isabella’s letter to Catherine in chapter 27 is a masterpiece of vanity, emotional manipulation, and cunning. If Isabella didn’t use people so obviously, I would admire her a bit. But again, we don’t get Isabella’s point of view at any point, not an honest one. Henry, in response to Catherine’s rebuke of Fred’s behavior, says coldly: “We must first suppose Isabella to have had a heart to lose.” Ouch.

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Henry, probably.

Catherine’s conclusion is that “Frederick could not be unpardonably guilty, while Henry made himself so agreeable” (chapter 27). In other words, Catherine is getting REAL THIRSTY at this point.

Chapter 28 is a bit of an emotional ride. I love the conversation that Catherine and Eleanor have about Catherine’s visit….

CATHERINE:  I guess I should probably go home soon…

ELEANOR: No, why? Do you WANT to go home?

CATHERINE: Do you WANT me to go home?

ELEANOR: No.

CATHERINE: No.

Both together: WHAT A RELIEF.

Of course, then it’s all for nothing because General Tilney returns In A Fury and kicks Catherine to the curb with no explanation. What I am fascinated by in this scene, is that upset as Catherine is, she immediately dismisses the idea that Henry betrayed her to his father – Henry is perfect and therefore would never do such a thing.  I guess the timing is weird, too: why wouldn’t Henry have told him earlier? In any case, Catherine is more bewildered than anything, and while she has complete faith in Henry on the one subject, she doesn’t expect him to protest at her mistreatment or say anything to annoy his father.

“I bring back my heroine to her home in solitude and disgrace; and no sweet elation of spirits can lead me into minuteness. A heroine in a hack post-chaise, is such a blow upon sentiment, as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand. Swiftly therefore shall her post-boy drive through the village, amid the gaze of Sunday groups, and speedy shall be her descent from it” (chapter 29). I’m taking this as a last-ditch effort by the narrator to retain her melodramatic Gothic spin on the story.

Catherine returns to her family, who are pleased to see her and gratifyingly judgmental and dismissive of General Tilney; I like Mrs. Allen better for her repeated refrain of “I really have not patience with the General!” 

Mrs. Morland’s comments on James manage to evoke Henry’s situation as well, to Catherine’s distress: “for it could not be a desirable thing to have him engaged to  girl whom we had not the smallest acquaintance with, and who was so entirely without fortune; and now, after such behaviour, we cannot think at all well of her. Just at present it comes hard to poor James; but that will not last for ever; and I dare say he will be a discreeter man all his life, for the foolishness of his first choice.” Mrs. Morland is possibly the most sensible and pragmatic character in the story; but at the same time, her words and attitude do Catherine no good at all. Catherine can’t help comparing herself and Henry to Isabella and James; Catherine has no acquaintance and little fortune to give an important family like the Tilneys, and Henry will probably get over her really fast (if he ever cared about her that way at all).

Of course, we know everything will be fine. Because this a novel about a heroine.

Mrs. Morland recommends a book to Catherine in chapter 30 called “The Mirror.” According to my notes, this is a periodical called Mirror, with an article in it called “Consequences to little folks of intimacy with great ones, in a letter from John Homespun.” I refuse to believe “Homespun” is that guy’s real name, no matter what.

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In any case, Catherine doesn’t have to suffer through it because HENRY RETURNS and he is more adorable than ever! In his many explanations of everything that happened and why Catherine is kicked out, all the mysteries are explained, and hilariously, none of the bad stuff that happened hinges on Catherine’s behavior at all, only on John Thorpe and General Tilney. Apparently the heroine had her one moment of weakness, and repented, but everything else was  completely out of her control. Fascinating.

I’m so glad Eleanor gets a happy ending, too! She’s a great character and would have made an excellent heroine of her own Jane Austen novel.

The final lines leave it up to us to decide if Northanger Abbey is supposed to “recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.”

DISCUSS.

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Northanger Abbey: Ch. 17-23

I’ve been posting a lot this weekend, so if you need to catch up:

Chapters 10-16

Gothic Fiction in Northanger Abbey

Catherine’s going to Northanger Abbey! At last we will see the titular architecture, and as usual Catherine is building it up in her mind (pun intended) to be as extraordinary and medieval as she could wish.

Isabella is getting a little too interested in Captain Tilney for Catherine’s comfort. “I am amazingly absent; I believe I am the most absent creature in the world. Tilney says it is always the case with minds of a certain stamp” (chapter 18). I have no idea what this means, but I like that Catherine and Isabella both have their own “Tilney” that refers to completely different people. Imagine if James fell in love with Eleanor and called her “Tilney” and him and Isabella and Catherine got together to talk about their Tilneys and just pretended everyone was talking about the one true Tilney.

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I like how not only does Catherine remember John Thorpe proposing to her (because he didn’t, he vague-tweeted at her about weddings and marriage and visiting and was that incredibly deplorable type of person who leaves himself an out at all times), she doesn’t even remember TALKING to him that day. Cold, Catherine. Ice-cold.

Isabella is like, Well, good thing you don’t want to marry him because neither of you have any money – “I only wonder John could think of it; he could not have received my last.” i.e., Isabella wrote him to tell him James Morland doesn’t have any money after all, and possibly John should save himself. This goes right over Catherine’s head, as she’s super distressed about accidentally/unknowingly leading John on. Isabella is absolutely not bothered by the idea of leading anyone on: “What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next.” Yikes. And one last gem of advice from Captain (not Henry) Tilney: “Tilney says, there is nothing people are so often deceived in, as the state of their own affections, and I believe he is very right.” I mean, I can’t really disagree, and it’s especially hilarious in light of Austen’s novels, but Isabella is searching for a justification, and is trying to get Catherine ready for any future decisions Isabella makes in regard to James. The Thorpes are REALLY good at leaving an escape route open.

In chapter 19, Catherine is doing her best to think well of everyone, but between Captain Tilney pursuing Isabella in spite of knowing she’s engaged, Isabella allowing herself to be pursued, and Henry’s lack of control over his brother, Catherine is a PRETTY DISTRESSED HEROINE. I’m glad she tries to pin Henry down on his brother’s behavior; Henry is flippant about the entire situation. He’s probably seen a lot of ill-fated flirtations, and seems more socially-aware in general, but Catherine is NOT impressed by his apathy. Like Mr. Allen, Henry advises Catherine against interfering – James and Isabella have to sort out their situation by themselves. Catherine’s conclusion is that “Henry Tilney must know best” which, you know, sounds fake, but he’s not wrong that Catherine can’t do anything in this situation.

So, General Tilney terrifies me, and I want his kids to get some therapy. Even Catherine (or maybe especially Catherine) notices his affect on his kids, even if she finds him both charming and alarming (charlarming): “General Tilney, though so charming a man, seemed always a check on his children’s spirits” (chapter 20). Before they leave Bath, General Tilney lectures Frederick on keeping them all waiting, to which Frederick gives absolutely no response, and is relieved to see them all be going. I’m not sure if I like Frederick or not, but all of the kids are quiet, subdued personalities when their dad is around, and I don’t like it.

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Catherine is comforted by being able to ride with Henry in the curricle – “To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world” (chapter 20). Cath, you are adorable and it needs to stop. Henry admits that he spends a lot of his time at his actual house in Woodston, which Catherine thinks must be so sad, and Henry says “I am always sorry to leave Eleanor,” not the house, or the general. Henry is very honest and at the same time very good at avoidance. Then again, Catherine just decides what’s true anyway, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Chapter 21 is an exercise in Gothic teasing. Catherine, unable to explore the rest of the abbey, finds plenty to fascinate her in her own room, between the old chest in the corner (pushed aside because it’s heavy and ugly, according to Eleanor) and the “locked” cabinet, which turns out to be almost completely empty. The old abbey, combined with the big storm outside, limited light, and Catherine’s overactive imagination, combine to terrify her over nothing. The only thing she finds are some old papers, revealed in the light of day to be laundry lists. If Northanger Abbey were a proper Gothic novel, she would have found something terrifying in one or either of those places. Is this chapter making fun of the genre, or making fun of Catherine’s determination to put herself into the genre, or something else? DISCUSS.

Chapter 22, subtitled: In Which the Heroine Wants A Freaking Tour But the Villain Puts Every Obstacle in Her Way. General Tilney is one of those people who is unfailingly polite, and yet at the same time never lets anyone else speak or have an opinion, and acts out of his own conviction that he knows what is right and what others want. “What say you, Eleanor?” (chapter 22) the General asks, before immediately giving his own opinion on everything. Catherine is too polite to fight this kind of behavior, and his children are too well-trained.

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Eleanor, understandably, idealizes her dead mother, since she has no other friend or mentor, and only occasional time with Henry to keep her in pleasant company. “A mother would have been always present. A mother would have been a constant friend; her influence would have been beyond all other” (chapter 22). Eleanor’s declaration might be true, as it sounds like Mrs. Tilney was pretty great. On the other hand, there are a lot of terrible or mediocre mothers in the world, and she might have been disappointed. I really, really want an Eleanor Tilney book, can you tell? I want an Eleanor bildungsroman! It would be amazing.

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Between the General’s incomprehensible (to Catherine) behavior, and his aversion to spending any time in his late wife’s favorite places or rooms, Catherine is getting a lot of Shocking Ideas about his relationship with Mrs. Tilney. Catherine doesn’t have any experience with grief, and doesn’t realize that different people deal with it in different ways. Eleanor wants nothing more than to be close to her mother, and so wants to spend time in her favorite walk, etc. Whereas the General either murdered his wife OR MAYBE he just misses her and doesn’t want to be reminded of her.

TO BE CONCLUDED next week!

#ReadMorland 

Northanger Abbey: Gothic Hits

Possible spoilers through chapter 23 of Northanger Abbey.

Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey has a very close relationship to Gothic fiction. However, what is that relationship? The novel has been argued to be a parody or a satire of the genre; it has been argued to be a response to it, or perhaps even an ode to it. I personally think it’s doing some combination of all of these, but I definitely don’t think it hates the genre of Gothic fiction, even if it pokes fun at it.

Regardless, there are a lot of references within Northanger Abbey to other novels it is responding to or spoofing, some of them obvious, some less so. In this post I’m going to list off the major novels that Austen refers to, as well as some of the basic Gothic tropes that we see mentioned in Northanger Abbey.

The Sublime: This is a key concept in Gothic fiction of the time. Edmund Burke wrote a treatise called “Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” (1757), in which he defines it as “The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.” Basically the Sublime is when terror is added to beauty to create a sense of awe, mysterious and powerful and painful all at once. It’s important to Gothic fiction because these stories are all about scaring the crap out of you on the one hand, but in a way where you also appreciate the beauty and aesthetic of the terror as well.

The Novels

The Castle of Otranto: This book by Horace Walpole is generally named as the first Gothic novel (published 1764). This also happens to be the only one I’ve read (as yet. My TBR list is too long to talk about). It starts out with a giant magical helm falling from nowhere and crushing this rich guy’s son. This makes the rich guy, Manfred, decide that he’s under a curse or something and he decides he had better get a new and better wife to give him another son. After that, things get REAL WILD. Plenty of damsels, creepy interiors and exteriors, and dudes making terrible choices.

Mrs. Radcliffe’s works: Catherine Morland is a huge fan of Mrs. Radcliffe’s work. The Mysteries of Udolpho is probably Catherine’s most-mentioned and favorite novel. This story features Emily St. Albert as the heroine, and as typical in many Gothic romances, she is separated from the guy she is in love with and instead forced to live with her aunt and her aunt’s new husband, Montini, who lives in a big scary castle and has probably done a bunch of dark scandalous things. The Italian features another pair of star-crossed lovers, this time in conflict with The Italian’s mom and her monk-confessor who is the sketchiest dude ever. A Sicilian Romance, The Romance of the Forest, and The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne are other novels by Radcliffe with similar themes and terrifying stories.

The Monk: Published in 1796, this is a scandalous tale about a monk who is supposedly really devout but the whole book is about him being scandalous and murdering, seducing, raping, and generally being pretty terrible. It features many damsels who have a really bad time. This book is more in line with the horror genre than many Gothic novels. John Thorpe is a big fan of this book, but it’s implied Catherine probably wouldn’t be as impressed by it as him.

Camilla: This is a Gothic novel by Frances Burney, and is alluded to several times in Northanger Abbey.  This one features the titular Camilla, along with her cousin Indiana and her sister Eugenia. Their uncle is rich and a bit fickle about which of them will inherit his money. It’s got a lot of melodrama, especially in regards to Camilla’s love interest, Edgar. The reference to a “sister author” in chapter 14 of Northanger Abbey is probably in regards to Frances Burney, whose heroine Camilla is beautiful but not very intelligent.

The Tropes and Jokes

In chapter 1, Catherine is warned to keep good account of her spending. This might be a reference to Frances Burney’s Camilla, who gets her family in big trouble because of overspending.

Later in the same chapter, Catherine and the Allens don’t suffer in their travels by robbers, bandits, or carriage accidents, which is a reference to Udolpho, as the heroine meets her hero in a “lucky overturn” of her carriage.

“It is now expedient to give some description of Mrs. Allen….and how she will, probably, contribute to reduce poor Catherine to all the desperate wretchedness of which a last volume is capable…” In many Gothic novels, there is an older woman who is determined to ruin the young heroine in whatever way possible.

Catherine, as we know, REALLY likes Udolpho and is constantly making references to it. In chapter 6, she’s still reading it and talks a lot about what could possibly be behind “the black veil.” In 11, she wants good weather, like they had in Udolpho on the night that “St. Aubin” died; St. Aubin should be St. Albert, the heroine of Udolpho’s father. On her walk with the Tilneys in chapter 14, Catherine talks about the south of France as it is described in her favorite novel. On the one hand, I understand her obsession with a literary work; on the other, Catherine’s gotta calm down. Henry has clearly read many Gothic novels, as he tells us so himself, and his comment about “Julias and Louisas” in this same chapter alludes to the typical names of Gothic heroines, and his reference to Valancourt, a character in Udolpho, shows his familiarity.

When Catherine is anticipating her trip to Northanger Abbey and imagining what it’s like, her reference to an “injured and ill-fated nun” in chapter 17 is probably a reference to the nun Olivia in The Italian by Ann Radcliffe, who turns out to be another character’s mother.

Henry Tilney spins Catherine a ludicrous Gothic tale on their drive to the Abbey (chapter 20). This, of course, includes many stock tropes of Gothic fiction. The “ponderous chest”  he mentions (and which winds up as a real chest in Catherine’s room, to her distress) is one of these; there’s an important chest in both The Romance in the Forest by Ann Radcliffe, and in Caleb Williams by William Godwin. In both cases, really terrible secrets or evidence is found inside the chests.

In this same passage, Henry mentions “Matilda,” which is also the name of the heroines in The Castle of Otranto, The Recess by Sophia Lee, and The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne by Radcliffe.

“She had nothing to dread from midnight assassins or drunken gallants,” Catherine feels in chapter 21. This is yet another reference to her favorite book, Udolpho. The heroine and her nurse almost fall victim to a couple of this sort of hoodlum, and wind up going to the villain for protection.

In chapter 23, Catherine considers the possibility “that Mrs. Tilney yet lived, shut up for causes unknown, and received from the pitiless hands of her husband a nightly spply of coarse food.” This is a reference to Udolpho and A Sicilian Romance, both by Radcliffe, in which this kind of wife-hiding for villainous purposes occurs.

Other Works

Tom Jones: Another of John Thorpe’s favorites, this novel by Henry Fielding is about a guy named Tom Jones! Tom is raised in a wealthy household and has to seek his own path and sleep with a lot of women and learn how to be a man and such. It’s not a Gothic novel, but a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) and a picaresque novel (a story featuring the scandalous adventures of a lower-class character).

Sir Charles Grandison: This is by Samuel Richardson, the same guy who wrote Pamela, the novel I mentioned in another post about a girl who has to resist all efforts to destroy her virtue. It’s about a Really Nice Guy, Charles, and was written by Richardson as a response to Tom Jones, and also as a male version of Richardson’s virtuous heroines in other books. Apparently Jane Austen liked this book (as does Catherine Morland).

*Sources for this post are in the links or in the Oxford’s World Classics of Northanger Abbey, published 2003.*

 

 

Northanger Abbey: Ch. 10-16

This post is late! If you didn’t notice it was late, take note! It’s so late! I hope you’re all enjoying Northanger Abbey! Or at least hating it energetically.

This post will attempt to cover some of the shenanigans in chapters 10-16.

One thing I love about Jane Austen (and there are a lot of things I love about Jane Austen) is how accessible and universal she still is, hundreds of years later. Take, for example, the dancing scene in chapter 10. Catherine wants to dance with Tilney, and DOES NOT want to dance with Thorpe:

“Every young lady may feel for my heroine in this critical moment, for every young lady has at some time or other known the same agitation. All have been, or at least all have believed themselves to be, in danger from the pursuit of some one whom they wished to avoid; and all have been anxious for the attentions of some one whom they wished to please.”

I mean, that’s super real. It might be real for guys too, I don’t know (girls can get pretty single-minded, after all, especially at dances).

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Catherine, getting ready for the dance and Thorpe-avoidance

I wish we could get more of an insight into Miss Tilney’s thoughts, but I like the hints we get. Catherine and Miss Tilney talk for a little at the dance, and in that space of conversation it is obvious that Catherine is super into Mr. Tilney, and it is also obvious that Miss Tilney is very aware that Catherine is super into her brother: “they parted -on Miss Tilney’s side with some knowledge of her new acquaintance’s feelings, and on Catherine’s, without the smallest consciousness of having explained them.” Catherine, you’re adorable, but also everyone knows everything about you and YOU NEED TO BE CAREFUL.

One thing I’m noticing this time around is how much we really don’t know about Mr. Tilney, and how easy it would have been for him to be a MAJOR JERK to Catherine. He is clearly more intelligent than her in some ways, and wittier. When he’s talking to her about marriage and dancing and how it’s the same kind of contract between a gentleman and lady, he seems to be faux-serious, whereas Catherine is really confused about his weirdness, and I’m flailing in the background because he is BEING SCANDALOUSLY FLIRTATIOUS. Calm down, Tilney, calm down.

In Chapter 10 we are also introduced to General Tilney, the patriarch. He seems intimidating. STAY TUNED.

Chapter 11 is one of the most frustrating chapters for me. I hate misunderstandings, whether fictional or in real life, and I hate misunderstandings even more when they are purposely instigated by people who just want to get their own way. *looks pointedly at John, Isabella, and James* Catherine, wisely or not, trusts her friends to not lead her astray. I admire that even while I’m exasperated at the results. Besides being very trusting, Catherine is very emotionally invested in her gothic fiction and horrid stories, and the idea of exploring a real castle is too good to pass up. As I mentioned in my previous post on Bath, Blaize Castle isn’t a castle at all, but a folly. So even if they had made it there, Catherine would most likely have been disappointed in any case.

Do you think Catherine learns much from this experience? To me she just seems upset at Thorpe’s lies and intervention. Isabella blames the whole thing on the Tilneys’ lack of punctuality. I think Catherine should be making use of her own agency a bit more.  But we will give her some time. She just needs to level up!

I like the little conversation about Thorpe’s complaint that James doesn’t have his own horse and gig:

CATHERINE: “I am sure he could not afford it.”

JOHN: “And why cannot he afford it?”

CATHERINE: “Because he has not money enough.”

YEAH, IDIOT.

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The card game that they play at the end of chapter 11 is called “commerce,” which is a nice bit of foreshadowing toward the more mercenary personalities in the room.

Henry Tilney sure gets sulky about Catherine missing their date, doesn’t he? I like how, in her reaction to Henry’s coldness at the theatre, Catherine continues to behave unlike a more traditional, melodramatic heroine:

“Feelings rather natural than heroic possessed her; instead of considering her own dignity injured by this ready condemnation-instead of proudly resolving, in conscious innocence, to shew her resentment toward him who could harbour a doubt of it, to leave to him all the trouble of seeking an explanation, and to enlighten him on the past only by avoiding his sight, or flirting with somebody else, she took to herself all the shame of misconduct, or at least of its appearance, and was only eager for an opportunity of explaining its cause” (chapter 12).

Catherine has no chill and no dignity, but in her honesty, her straightforwardness, and her transparent feelings, she unconsciously wraps Henry around her finger. “Is there a Henry in the world who could be insensible to such a declaration? Henry Tilney at least was not.” Henry annoys me sometimes, but I like that he appreciates Catherine. Even though he teases her a lot, he at least listens to her, unlike Mrs. Allen, James, Thorpe, and, in some ways, Isabella.

Chapter 13 is full of the kind of melodrama I really loathe in real life, and like I mentioned above, Jane Austen knows what’s up! The peer pressure, the attempted manipulations, Catherine trying to decide A. what she wants to do B. How far she will go to do it C. Whether what she wants is also Right, is all very timeless and universal.

This chapter has great Mr. Allen content! I wish we got more with him. He’s very low-key and wise and I love him a lot. After all of the peer pressure, his advice to Catherine is like a breath of fresh air. He also is the only person who gives her straightforward advice on how to deal with Isabella, who, everything else aside, is very strong-minded and difficult to disagree with:

“You had better leave her alone, my dear, she is old enough to know what she is about; and if not, has a mother to advise her. Mrs. Thorpe is too indulgent beyond a doubt; but however you had better not interfere. She and your brother chuse to go, and you will be only getting ill-will.”

Everyone else, when Isabella comes up in conversation, seem to think she can either do no wrong (e.g. James) or that Catherine probably knows her friend best, after all.

We get more novel-chats in chapter 14! The commentary and discussion of novels as a form of entertainment and/or art is one of my favorite parts of Northanger Abbey. As Henry Tilney claims, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Granted, he is probably teasing Catherine a little here (when is he NOT?), but he has clearly read many novels and enjoys them, regardless of what intrinsic or intellectual value he places on them.

I enjoyed Henry’s dumb, pedantic rants about different words, such as “nice,” that are so over-used as to be abused. I have a hard time in my own writing to use words that do their proper amount of work, rather than “nice” or “interesting.” But I also sympathize with Eleanor, who after Henry has ranted a while, tells Catherine: “let us leave him to meditate over our faults in the utmost propriety of diction, while we praise Udolpho in whatever terms we like best.” Sometimes you just want to yell about your feels, you know? Who do you side with, in this argument?

Setting sidebar: They have this conversation while Catherine and the Tilneys are going on their long-awaited walk, up Beechen Cliff. It apparently has the best view of Bath. I found this fun video tour of the view here.

After they discuss fiction and history, they enter a subject wherein Henry once again knows a lot about something that Catherine doesn’t: the picturesque. Henry likes the fact that Catherine doesn’t know anything and is open-minded, because he can tell her whatever he wants. I mean, on the one hand, that’s nice of him to educate her, and on the other, his superiority kind of annoys me? “But Catherine did not know her own advantages–did not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward.” This seems unkind to both girls and guys. Do you agree or disagree? Am I oversensitive? DISCUSS.

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Chapter 15 is a wild ride. Isabella and James are engaged! Everyone is talking over Catherine’s head! No one understands each other! Thorpe proposes????

Hilarious quote when Isabella calls James Morland the most handsomest ever: “Here Catherine secretly acknowledged the power of love; for, though exceedingly fond of her brother, and partial to all his endowments, she had never in her life thought him handsome.” This cracks me up. Again, TOO REAL, JANE AUSTEN.

The real mystery is how Catherine, who is a very content and humble person for the most part, finds herself surrounded by so many people who are so obsessed with money. It makes me so angry when Isabella is engaged, and Catherine is hanging out with her fam, and they’re all talking over her head because they know she’s too stupid (STUPIDLY GOOD) to know what they really mean.

And still, no one ever listens to Catherine even when she tells them the straight truth about her family’s situation. For example, when Isabella is concerned about the difference in fortune between her and James:

CATHERINE: “The difference of fortune can be nothing to signify.”

Isabella: “Oh! my sweet Catherine, in your generous heart I know it would signify nothing; but we must not expect such disinterestedness in many.”

No seriously THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN FORTUNE.

Thorpe gives Catherine the vaguest proposal of all time, and while we know what he’s hinting at, it doesn’t occur to straightforward Catherine that he’s referring to anything besides the literal. I wish I could see his face when she declares, “And to marry for money I think the wickedest thing in existence.”

In the next chapter, we get more of General Tilney and meet Captain Frederick Tilney. I dislike the general based entirely on the way Eleanor and Henry act around him; they clearly have to regulate themselves and behave in order to cause the least amount of drama with their dad possible. I’m not saying General Tilney is directly cruel or abusive to them, but there’s clearly something going on, even if it’s just neglect or carelessness, and I don’t like it.

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General Tilney, probably 

I have to say, rereading this, I think I was a bit biased against Captain Tilney by seeing the 2007 movie first. He’s SO gross in that movie. Here, he’s just sort of that ridiculous, schmoozy, good-looking guy at parties that everyone admires but isn’t that threatening. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll change my mind again later on. He dances with Isabella, in spite of being told that she has no intention to; but it looks like she enjoyed having everyone’s attention since she had his. Bleh. Her defense is absurd: “I told him he had taken a very unlikely way to prevail upon me; for, of all things in the world, I hated fine speeches and compliments;–and so–and so then I found there would be no peace if I did not stand up.” IZZY, THAT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. There wasn’t even an attempt at a progression, there!

Of course, then there’s more nonsense about money. I’m surprised Catherine still doesn’t think less of Isabella and John when they’re constantly slurring her family for not spending very much. But. Catherine is a better person than I am.

#ReadMorland 

Northanger Abbey: Bath!

As I mentioned in previous #ReadMorland posts, Bath was a very fashionable resort town in England at the time that Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey. However, by the time the novel was published, Bath had lessened in popularity, but plenty of people would still go there to take advantage of the hot springs and the mineral water, recommended by doctors everywhere for pretty much any malady. If a person was in perfect health but had some money and free time, they could go to Bath and promenade, shop, go to the theatre, the shops, their friends’ houses, etc etc etc. In Northanger Abbey, the only character we’ve met so far who is actually supposed to be in Bath for their health is Mr. Allen; everyone else is just hanging out. One of the reasons that Bath was so popular at this time was because many buildings had been built or remodeled earlier in the century by John Wood the Elder and John Wood the Younger (bets on what the Younger’s son was named???), and many new entertainments were moved in or set up.

Check out the map below for a quick summary of key places in Bath, and see my notes below for the specific Bath locales mentioned so far in the novel and what they are.

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Source

In Bath:

The Upper Rooms/The Lower Rooms: were part of the Assembly Rooms built by the John Woods. You could go here for dances or concerts. These weren’t rooms, but whole buildings.

The Pump-room: was part of the Lower Rooms. This is where you could go and drink mineral water like a hipster.

The Octagon Room: was part of the Lower Rooms and is actually an octagon in shape. You could also play cards here.

“Mr. King”: Mr. Tilney is introduced to Catherine and Mrs. Allen by the master of ceremonies, named as Mr. King by Tilney. James King was master of ceremonies in Bath from 1785-1805.

Tompion Clock: is a really nice, famous clock in Bath. There’s a nice blog post on it here.

“the theatre”: where Catherine sees the play is the Theatre Royal in Bath.

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Theatre Royal

The Crescent: is The Royal Crescent, also designed by the John Woods. It’s a crescent-shaped row of fancy fancy houses. This is where you would go if you wanted to show off your new dress/husband/gig.

Milsom-Street: was a street for fashionable shopping and was full of fancy houses. I guess nowadays it is…also for shopping. But less fancy.

“the book”: is essentially a guest-book for everyone fancy who is staying in Bath. The master of ceremonies tracked who was in town, and where they were staying, and FOR SOME REASON this information was public which is terrifying to me.

Edgar’s Buildings: were located on Milsom-street. So. More fanciness!

Pulteney-street: is a residential street, and a fashionable one at this time. In the novel, the Allens live here while in town. In real life, Jane Austen lived here for a time.

Nearby Bath:

Thorpe threatens taking Catherine to many places, some absurdly far, such as Bristol (another fancy hot springs resort town), and some much closer, such as Claverton Down and Lansdowne Hill, both suburb-areas of Bath. Clifton and Kingsweston are villages a few miles from Bath.

Wick Rocks: Thorpe claims to have heard Tilney say he was going to drive all the way to Wick Rocks. This is part of the River Boyd.

Blaise Castle: is mentioned several times as a possible destination by Thorpe. Turns out it is not a castle at all but a folly. This pleases me greatly. I can only imagine what Catherine would have said if they had actually gone there and Thorpe had tried to pass it off as a real castle ruin.

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Blaise Castle

 

 

Northanger Abbey: Ch. 1-9

According to the schedule we should be through chapter 9. It wasn’t that many pages but BOY there is a lot to cover. So let’s get started.

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“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine” (chapter 1).

As opening sentences go, this is a good one, and very effective for setting up what this book is going to be like. It immediately makes us expect 1. Catherine to be a very ordinary sort of person, and 2. that our pre-existing suppositions about her will be overturned sooner or later. One of the things I like about this book is that even though it warns us up front what it is going to do, it still turns things on their head multiple times throughout the book.

The heroine: What do you all think about Catherine, so far? I know she is annoying to some readers, but while she isn’t my favorite Jane Austen heroine, I also love her to pieces. She’s more realistic than most Young Adult heroines. At the start of the book, she has no idea what she’s doing. She considers her family/close friends as infallible. She’s naive, ignorant, and easily led, but she’s also kind, and she’s not stupid. She won’t knowingly do something wrong or that will hurt someone else (e.g. “quizzing,” pointing out silly things about others in order to mock them). If she admires someone, she has absolute faith in them (obviously this is both a strength and a flaw).

In her relationships, Catherine is pretty passive so far. She’s happy to enjoy others’ company and let them do the thinking (probably because she is too aware of her own ignorance), and she doesn’t make above-average efforts to make plans or force herself into intimacy with others. She wants to be more acquainted with the Tilneys but hasn’t forced herself into their way yet. We will see how she progresses! Obviously she has a long way to go to maturity and being the awesome lady she could be. But I guess that’s why I like her – she’s unformed, but has so much potential: “Her heart was affectionate, her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind-her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty- and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is” (chapter 2). Sorta harsh, but sorta true. Several references have been made about Catherine’s “humble vanity” and how easy it is to satisfy her, because she isn’t vain. What cracks me up about this is that while the narration is trying to tell us that because she’s so humble, she isn’t stuck-up or obsessed about her looks, it doesn’t point out that a side-effect of her humility is that people like the Thorpes can easily lead her to believe they love her by flattering her a little. This is, of course, very intentional on the narrator’s part. It’s good to pay attention to what the narration isn’t taking pains to point out, but by reading between the lines is very obvious. Sneaky, tricksy narration.

Catherine’s abilities or lack of as a “heroine” are mentioned countless times in the novel. Take a look at these and consider whether Catherine’s behavior or characteristics, although they may not be appropriate of a heroine, are laudable or not. For example, in chapter 8, if she was a heroine she would have believed Miss Tilney to be Mr. Tilney’s girlfriend, and if so, then there would be a ton of melodrama before the confusion could be cleared up. Instead, Catherine uses logic to ascertain that she must be his sister, thereby avoiding the melodrama and “conflict” worthy of a heroine. Most of the heroine references are humorous on at least one level, such as the comparison of Catherine’s “fortitude” in that same chapter when she is sitting by herself through no fault of her own, with the fortitude of heroines when they have to endure being “disgraced in the eye of the world, to wear the appearance of infamy while her heart is all purity” etc etc.

Supporting characters: So far the primary supporting characters are the Allens (Mr. and Mrs.), the Tilneys (Mr. and Miss) and the Thorpes (Mrs., Mr., and Miss).

The Allens seem kind but clueless – Mrs. Allen is described several times as having nothing in her heads but clothes and gowns. Mr. Allen often abandons the ladyfolk to their own devices, although I love the bit at the end of chapter 3 where he makes sure to check out Mr. Tilney’s background in case he’s not good enough for Catherine.

The Tilneys are very mysterious figures so far – we haven’t seen much of them but Catherine thinks them perfect in every way.  I really love how much mystery is set up regarding them, not because they’re trying to be mysterious and intriguing, but because Catherine just hasn’t managed to spend much time with them yet, although she wishes to. I’m used to the 2007 Northanger Abbey movie so when Mr. Tilney is described as “not quite handsome” (chapter 3) I want to snort in disbelief. Mrs. Allen knows they come from a good, rich family.  I really like all of the flirting between Catherine and Tilney, especially in chapter 3 – Austen girls don’t get to flirt very much, as a rule, and it’s adorable. The conversation about journal-writing is one of my favorite scenes so far. But then again – Catherine really likes Tilney, and what do we really know about him? He’s not even as exciting as Udolpho: “while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable” (chapter 6).

The Thorpes are all different brands of selfish and make me want to commit defenestration. Mrs. Thorpe is obsessed with her kids and takes it to a ridiculous level (loving your kids is obviously great, but, um, calm down, Mrs. Thorpe, also your kids are animals).

Mr. Thorpe is constantly treating his mother and sisters carelessly, at best, and cruelly, at worst. I hate how Catherine is convinced to think well of him because he’s Isabella’s brother and Catherine’s brother’s friend, and they both think well of him so OF COURSE he must be okay! Get it together, Catherine. It’s not until chapter 8 when she starts to “resist such high authority [of Isabella and James], and to distrust his powers of giving universal power.” Mr. Thorpe also asks some pointed questions about Catherine’s relationship with the Allens, which will come up again later.

Dictionary note: Mr. Thorpe’s “whole scrape” (chapter 7) when meeting Catherine is apparently a clumsy bow. “Tittuppy” (chapter 8) is the funniest word I’ve found this year, and means rickety or unsteady.

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Thorpe’s gig would look something like this. Source

And of course, dear Isabella. I admire her skills of manipulation and social savvy, but she really is the worst. She is constantly claiming how much she loves Catherine, or how much she will or will not do a thing, and then none of her actions back up her words. “My attachment is excessively strong,” Isabella claims in chapter 6, in reference to her friend Miss Andrews, and then in the same breath bad-mouths her. The narration really does a number on friendship on these first chapters, as it is based around Catherine and Isabella’s extremely unbalanced relationship. “Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love” (chapter 4), which is probably true, if a platitude, but it is juxtaposed with the way Isabella never supports Catherine if it is inconvenient to her, especially in social situations. For example, in chapter 8, where Isabella announces she won’t abandon Catherine, and then promptly does so, leaving Catherine without any buddies or boyfriends. For a crowded social party, this SUCKS.

The narration also makes sure that we know that Catherine doesn’t know how a friend should act in many situations. For example, when Isabella drops hints about how much she looooves clergymen, “Perhaps Catherine was wrong in not demanding the cause of that gentle emotion- but she was not experienced enough in the finesse of love, or the duties of friendship, to know when delicate raillery was properly called for, or when a confidence should be forced” (chapter 5). This is a hilarious observation on female (and male??) friendships where all hints must be taken by force and brought out into the open. But it also implies that there’s manipulation going on that Catherine is too ignorant (or honest) to pay attention to.

The Setting: Most of our story so far is set in Bath. Later on I will do a full post on the town and some of the specific town-sites mentioned, but there are few things to note now. As I mentioned in the introductory post to the readalong, Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey about 20 years before it was published. When she wrote Northanger Abbey, everything in it was very hip and current. For example, gothic fiction was very trendy and Bath was a very popular and fashionable resort-town. However, by the time the novel was published, Bath was still a resort-town but not as fashionable or as populated. Keep this in mind as you read. The references to “taking the waters” in Bath was because Bath has natural hot-water springs full of mineral water. So places like the “Pump-room” mentioned are places where the rich vacationers with doctors’ notes would go to drink some nice healthy mineral water, or take a bath in it. There’s a fast-and-furious overview of Bath’s baths here.

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By Thomas Rowlandson, 1798. Source.

Novels and fiction: Chapter 5 ends with a tongue-in-cheek defense of novels. Keep it in mind for later in the book. Is the attitude presented here indicative of Northanger Abbey‘s attitude toward novels as a whole? Does it change? Where and when? etc etc. I’ll do another post on gothic fiction as a whole, and on the specific references to it in this book. There are a lot of them, as you probably noticed!

Sportsball Sidebar: I’ve been reading the Oxford World’s Classics edition this time around, and it has amazing footnotes! One thing I learned was that the reference to “base ball” in chapter 1 is, according to the Oxford English dictionary, the first literary reference to baseball (or rounders) in the English language. Jane Austen just casually manages to make an epic sportsball word-drop and I LOVE IT.

Check out the #ReadMorland conversations on Twitter and Instagram!

 

Northanger Abbey: An Introduction

This post contains no spoilers for Northanger Abbey, for those of you who are reading for the first time (lucky you). Welcome to the first post for our readalong!

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This is a very serious blog where we discuss very serious things.

If you’re unfamiliar with Jane Austen, you can read a brief biography of her here. She’s a pretty big deal, especially when it comes to English novels. But don’t take my word for it.

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Source

Northanger Abbey was one of the first novels Jane Austen wrote: she wrote it during the 1790s and it is set in during that time. In the book, Austen makes a lot of references to current culture, and set much of the action in Bath, which was a very fashionable social resort at the time. As a whole the novel is considered a satire of the Gothic novel genre, which was very popular and trendy at the time – at least for novels, which were considered a lower form of popular entertainment. In other words, everyone was reading them but not everyone was admitting it. I’ll do another post later on centering on Gothic fiction of the time.

Northanger Abbey was first called Susan, and then Catherine, following the convention of many novels of this century which followed the misadventures of a heroine, usually as a way to show young ladies of the time how their virtue would be rewarded or their sins punished. Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson (published 1740) is one of the more famous of these. Gothic novels of the time sometimes followed this trend as well.

Jane Austen sold the manuscript of Northanger Abbey to a publisher in 1803, but they held on to it for a long time. She was able to buy it back from them a year before she died in 1816, but the revised book wasn’t published until 1817 (along with Persuasion).

Some questions to keep in mind while reading:

  • Is it affectionate toward Gothic novels, or is it satirical, or is arguing against them? Or some combination of these?
  • In each scene, which character is exerting the most power? And over whom?
  • How is language and communication being used or abused by each character?

If you haven’t checked out the #ReadMorland tag on Twitter or Instagram, I encourage you to do so! I’ve been posting daily discussion questions. Feel free to participate or just lurk!

Reading schedule: We should have chapters 1-9 read by June 9th!