Thursday, 9 December 2010

Eighteenth Century: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - Part 1

Northanger Abbey

This post will cover chapters 1-5.  Link to previous part: introduction.

Chapter One
In which: we are introduced to our heroine, Catherine Morland, and told of her childhood and adolescence.  We then learn that she is going to Bath to keep Mrs Allen, wife of the wealthiest man in the village, company.

Thoughts: even in the first chapter Austen is setting up what's she about to do, stating all the ways in which Catherine is nothing like a traditional heroine.  Catherine is a normal girl, who somehow manages to have "neither a bad heart nor a bad temper" despite shirking her lessons and being a bit lazy.  That she is not thoroughly beautiful, unable to "learn or understand anything before she was taught", and has no special talents for drawing or music show that she is hardly fitted to be a heroine.  Still, we should be prepared for that from the very first line: "[n]o one who had seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine".

Times Catherine is wrong - 0
Times Catherine is right - 0
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0 (he hasn't shown up yet, yay)
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - 0 (he hasn't shown up yet, boo)

Name checks of other literature - 'The Beggar's Petition' by Thomas Moss; 'The Hare and Many Friends' by John Gay; and excerpts from Pope, Gray, James Thomson, and Shakespeare.

Gothic convention is turned on its head - the whole thing is one big overturning of conventional heroines.  Everything Catherine fails to do, heroines of gothic and sentimental fiction manage easily.  Catherine is much more fun.

Favourite line(s): pretty much the whole thing, it's impossible to pick just one bit out of Austen's ridicule.

Chapter Two
In which: Catherine is sent off to Bath by her sensible parents in the care of an amiable woman who isn't going to lock her in a tower.  She attends her first ball, can hardly move in the crowd, and is considered pretty by two strange young men who have no bearing on the story but do at least make her feel better.

Thoughts: the chapter continues where the other left off, lampooning Gothic and sentimental fiction as the Morlands have no intimation that Catherine is going to be abducted by a "mischievous" baron or believe that giving her unlimited access to a bank account is a good idea.  Once she gets to Bath it falls more firmly into a 'typical' Austen novel, with all the sights of the season and a painful character portrait of Mrs Allen, who is no more help than to repeat "I wish you could dance, my dear - I wish you could get a partner".

Times Catherine is wrong - 0
Times Catherine is right - 1 (she at least has more sense than Mrs Allen)
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - 0 (next chapter for Tilney, huzzah)

Name checks of other literature - nothing specific

Gothic convention is turned on its head - again, most of the chapter deals with this, as Catherine's parents are perfectly sensible and Mrs Allen perfectly amiable.  The ball itself is the time for Catherine the be noticed by all and sundry and declared startlingly beautiful, but all she gets is two men pronouncing her to be "a pretty girl".  Not particularly heroic but at least she hasn't been kidnapped and dragged across country by a ruffian baron.

Favourite line(s): "her mind [was] about as ignorant and unformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is".

Chapter Three
In which: Catherine goes to the Lower Rooms and this time gets a partner - Henry Tilney!  His general awesomeness shows through as he talks utter nonsense at her, talks muslins with Mrs Allen, and is set up as the potential hero of the book.

Thoughts: as is probably pretty obvious, Henry Tilney is my favourite Austen hero (yes, even over Darcy).  I can't help it, he cracks me up, he's clever, and I always imagine him bouncing about like a drugged up Energizer bunny.  What's not to like?  In more serious analysis, the chapter doesn't carry on as might be expected in the first meeting between hero and heroine: there's neither instant love or hatred, they're just pratting about.  And Catherine finds him strange.  Still, there's hope for something more.

Times Catherine is wrong - 0
Times Catherine is right - 0
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0 (think he's about to rock up)
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - about 50

Name checks of other literature - reference to Samuel Richardson's comment that "no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman's love is declared".  

Gothic convention is turned on its head - Henry Tilney isn't a typical hero, as he isn't described as being a marble cupcake adonis, nor does he stick to 'heroic' topics of conversation.  If Catherine was kidnapped he'd probably chatter the kidnappers into submission.  And the notion of the heroine dreaming of the hero is debunked in the last paragraph.

Favourite line(s): too many to choose, pretty much everything Tilney says, though a definite fondness for his description of women's letter writing: "a general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar".

Chapter Four
In which: Catherine, and the reader, are introduced to the Thorpe family, who are going to cause no end of trouble.  The eldest daughter, Isabella, quickly becomes fast friends with Catherine, and knows her older brother.

Thoughts: the Thorpes are here, which means we're about to get Catherine's head being turned by *whispers it* novels and all sorts of shenanigans involving vulgar behaviour, broken engagements, lying, and a fat oaf who needs a kick in the teeth.  For now, though, there is no intimation of what is to follow and Catherine is merely happy to have a friend - and the reader is happy to be spared the full details of Mrs Thorpe's history, which involves lawyers.

Times Catherine is wrong - 1/2 (she completely forgot her brother had been to stay with the Thorpes over Christmas)
Times Catherine is right - 1/2 (she did at least remember without too much prodding)
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0 (he gets nearer)
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - 0 (mentioned but no appearance)

Name checks of other literature - nothing specific (we're getting to the reading list).  

Gothic convention is turned on its head - none.  The problems the Thorpes will introduce aren't even hinted at, and are more mundane even when they do occur.

Favourite line(s): "friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love". 

Chapter Five
In which: Catherine and Isabella's friendship deepens rapidly, Isabella drops hints about her own romance while encouraging Catherine's fancy for Henry Tilney, and Austen defends the novel in a paragraph of awesome.

Thoughts: this chapter is, like the previous one, rather short, but it contains one of my favourite bits of the entire book: Austen's defence of the novel, in which she holds the medium up as being "performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them".  The whole thing is fantastic, and can be read as female novels vs. male quotations/magazines.  That Austen herself sends up a lot of the novels she defends throughout the course of Northanger Abbey doesn't mean she is being insincere here, as she also states that novels "have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world".

Times Catherine is wrong - 1 (ask Isabella why she's sighing, Cathy, go on)
Times Catherine is right - 0
Times want to hit John Thorpe - 0
Times want to pounce Henry Tilney - 0 (still no 'onscreen' appearance, blast it)

Name checks of other literature - Camilla and Cecilia by France Burney; Belinda by Maria Edgeworth; The Spectator; and references to Milton, Pope, Prior and Sterne being included in collections of quotations.   

Gothic convention is turned on its head - nothing in this chapter.

Favourite line(s): "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".

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...