The novel “Northanger Abbey”

Jun 11


Max Weber

Max Weber

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The novel “Northanger Abbey” is one of the earlier works of Jane Austen, which was published only after her death.


The novel “Northanger Abbey” is one of the earlier works of Jane Austen,The novel “Northanger Abbey” Articles which was published only after her death. “Northanger Abbey” is considered to be a satire on the Gothic novels of that time, which were of a high popularity in 18-19th centuries in England. Particularly it’s considered to be a satire on the Gothic style novels as written by  Anne Radcliffe, that describe mysterious castles, scary nights, nightmares, ghosts and other paranormal phenomena.  As Coral Ann Howells marks “…There is great deal of common ground between Austen and Radcliffe in general, and in Northanger Abbey Austen investigates the very area of the irrational that the Gothic novelists always claimed as their own, and employs Radcliffian techniques for registering emotion. Austen has demonstrated the truth of the Gothic novelists’ perceptions into the psychology of feeling and the dimensions of human irrationality.” (p.129 Love, Mystery and Misery)

By the words of Jane Austen the novel was a “ in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of the human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language”.

(Many of the references Austen made in Northanger Abbey were meant to be satirical towards the gothic writing style prevalent in her time. Certain elements of wordplay in her characters’ dialogue will also sound dated to a modern reader. For example, Catherine describes a popular gothic novel as being “Horrible”, which can be taken as “Awful” or that the book was scary, which is a way the word was used in the author’s time.)custom essays

The satire is vividly seen on the example of the 17 year old girl Catherine Morland, infant and impressive character, who is described by such the words of Jane Austen at the very begging of the novel: “no one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine.” buy essay

“The first paragraph of the first chapter, in telling us what Catherine Morland was, tells us, with delicate irony, what she was not; dwelling, in every line, upon the extraordinary beauty and ability of romantic heroines.” (The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.X. Jane Austen.§ 3. Northanger Abbey)

From the first pages we understand that the atmosphere she was raised in could not give any other alternative in the development and forming of her inner emotional world and attitude towards the reality. Catherine’s father was a clergyman with “a considerable independence, besides two good livings--and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters”(p.5). Until the late teenage years she was more involved in games and activities with her brothers, as cricket and other games, than in activities common to the girls of her age. Only since fifteen she began to pay more attention to her appearance, reading novels and succeed in that: “To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.”(p.5) At these age she is developing as a young lady, reads romantic and gothic novels and she basically lives in the world of her imagination, in her own created world, which to the most part has nothing much in common with surrounding routines and hush realities of the real life.  essays in 24 hours

The difference between the inner world of the main heroine and the reality she lives in divides the story into two parts. During the whole story Catherine is trying to somehow find a middle between these two worlds, and may that’s the main problem for her that differs life from reading books. She knew how to read books, she had a success in that, but she nearly always failed in reading life, especially reading life “in between lines, looking through it”, which often put her in not desirable situations. Her inner world was full of romanticism and harmony, but the realities contradicted it.

The story of her trip to Bath and acquaintance with Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor played a role in forming of her maturity. She found that a person of her dream wasn’t a hero of romantic novels, but a young level-head clergyman Henry Tilney. Henry made a lot to her to help her take the reality as it is, not the way she wants it to be.

In the first part of the novel she is introduced to the noble society of Bath, a resort for upper society in England. She spends a lot of time in the parties, meetings, balls and other entertainments, where she gets acquainted with Isabelle Thorpe. The character of Isabelle Thorpe is compared to that of Catherine, in contradiction to Catherine, Isabelle is very pragmatic and prudent young lady, she is more anxious about meeting a rich future husband that will support her and guarantee a position in higher society, than to meet a real love. That’s why she is changing her courtiers during the whole novel, and only at the end of the novel she tries to change something about herself.

As soon as she comes to the Northanger Abbey, she “realizes” that that place had much in common with all the things she read in gothic novels, to the contrast to entertaining city of Bath, was very mysterious and had a lot of mysterious and terrible stories to be discovered. Under the influence of her imagination, based on the gothic novels, she begins to think about general Tilney as about a murder of his wife and she tries to find some evidence to prove that. As a result Henry finds her looking in the papers of their family and everything gets on its places. She feels embarrassed and learns one more lesson from life.

At the end of the story we see her engagement and marriage on Henry Tilney. She is more mature at the end of the novel and we see how character developed. She less and less refers to the world of imagination, formed under the influence of passion for reading novels, and more thinks with her own head. Catherine is not that mature and experienced as characters of other Austen’s novels, but her pure soul, her thoughts, not spoiled by the evil realities and ambitions as well as her education give her enough credit to be a heroine of the novel, and put her infant personality higher than the other characters of the novel.

Even though that Northanger Abbey can not be considered to be a serious novel, still it has a lot of things to present. Showing the difference between Catherine’s inner word and reality, Jane Austen states that the perception of reality is more important than childish fantasies and romantic novels. All Northanger Abbey gives a bright picture of aristocratic society, of all it’s the mood of the aristocratic society, its life, prejudices and social isolation form other classes. It touches the topic of real love and relations between people, shows the triumph of virtue over mercantilism and pragmatism. The satire on gothic novels and vivid realistic narration of Jane Austin is described by Judith Wilt in such words: “Austen’s transformed machinery is activated, energized by dread; turning point of Emma and Northanger Abbey is recognition of dread; idea is not to mock but to raise machinery to its real importance, to make the anxieties of common life serious, high, significant.”