Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

The BHPL Book Blog will feature a series of posts on Jane Austen’s gothic romance Northanger Abbey as noted in yesterday’s post. I read the first three chapters of the book online, having left the actual (hard-copy) book on my bedside table where it didn’t do me any good at all last night at work. Reading Austen online was kind of exhilarating because I felt that in an emergency one can access this and many other full-text e-books with only an internet connection and the mere tap of keys and not ever risk being bereft of reading material regardless of absent-mindedness. Anyway, here is my quick take (everything in blogs should be quick I understand - which is completely contrary to the Austen style which seems to be catching.)
Our heroine, Catherine Moreland, is introduced as someone who does not in any way seem to be the wilting flower, imprisoned by villains, inward directed, fearful women featured in the gothic novels she likes to read. I understood that Austen was being very tongue-in-cheek about the fashion for a certain style of novels that were popular at the time, so I looked into it and found that she was satirizing Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), an extremely popular book in Austen’s time.
BHPL has a reference book, Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature (Ref 809.3 SNO) which has been very helpful in researching the history of the genre. I also started to read the e-text of Radcliffe’s classic novel and found it extremely wordy, but got the picture pretty quickly about why it would be great fodder for parody. Radcliffe’s heroine, the naïve orphan Emily is exactly what Catherine Moreland is not: imprisoned by a villain in a castle, she experiences one misfortune after another until, and I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler here to say, love triumphs and all ends happily. There are obvious parallels to Catherine’s stay in Bath, but Emily is much more sensitive and accomplished than Catherine and Emily’s misfortunes are real, not imagined.
Here are some more Austen links:

The Republic of Pemberly Northanger Abbey message board, where I posted a plea for comments from the resident Janeites.

The Mysteries of Udolpho full-text from Adelaide University

A video of Bath, UK

A Day in Bath (with Jane Austen) from the same Bath tourist website. You can click on the links to see the sights of Bath which is in many ways unchanged since Austen's day in the central city.


Anonymous said...

I've read Northanger Abbey three times and The Mysteries of Udolpho once. I don't think of Northanger Abbey as a "Gothic Romance." Austen may have been parodying gothic romance, but her book is not itself a gothic romance. Also, it is much more than just The Mysteries of Udolpho that JA parodies/satirizes. She refers to or alludes to many other books in NA. Because of this, it is useful to find an edition with footnotes or endnotes, because then a modern reader can understand what JA was referring to and what she meant by such references. The notes can also be useful with respect to fashion, furniture, and more; this knowledge really enhances the reading experience of this great book!

Anne said...

Thank you so much for your very astute comments re JA and NA. You are right to make the distinction that NA is a parody of a gothic romance rather than being one and that it alludes to other books besides the Mysteries of Udolpho. In my defence, but without getting defensive(it that's possible) I often sacrifice depth of thought for brevity and speed of posting. That's the downside to blogging, so I appreciate your remarks and expertise to make the finer points.