Northanger Abbey or young ladies and gothic novels.
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“Consider the country we live in.”
Before I write this review, let me elaborate where I got so angry I almost threw this book. I took a Gothic Fictions class in England. So the class consisted of a lecture and then a small group discussion. We read the Castle of Otranto.
Someone mentioned that the book wasn’t scary and everyone in it seemed dumb. Our teacher said “well that’s because they were Italian. People believed Italian people were superstitious and ridiculous. Especially Italian Catholics.”
Me, out loud, “Wait what?” Like our teacher said it so cooly and calmly, like well Italians are dumb. It was a weird taste of what I imagine non-Western students feel in classes where their loved ones are categorized as “other”. True life, my late grandmother was an Italian-American Catholic woman. I was told of the intelligence of Italian people all the time. Ever heard of a dude named Enrico Fermi? Ever heard of something called the Roman Empire? Galileo Galilei? MACHIAVELLI?! *screams into the void* Umberto Eco?!!! It still pisses me off and the fun of Gothic was being taken away because it assumed my ancestors were dumb. Again, I can’t imagine how other people feel and it made me realize my own tone when discussing other cultures. I later told my grandmother about this and she exclaimed: “not Italians from ITALY?!” She was shocked too. I will give us being dramatic or as Tolstoy said “excitable” but we are not idiots. Boo! So when Henry Tilney gives his bullshit speech, which later turns out to be bullshit-yay Jane Austen, I got really mad. He basically says that they are Christians who have a firm foundation of laws and al Continental Europeans are wild, stupid, and it’s basically anarchy. Making me roll up my sleeves and prepare for fisticuffs. Fight me, bro! This humdinger of a quote by Jane Austen made me dislike Henry Tilney:
Sidebar- Team Darcy for LIFE! Darcy loved smart women and this dude is intimidated by them. Again, the author of this blog quoted Cardi B, “ I will walk you like a dog you arrogant fictional character!” I don’t like men who feel like women shouldn’t be as smart as them. Again, raised by two very smart people and would not have tolerated me acting less intelligent than I am. Again, I come from generations of men who were impressed by smart women and didn’t clip their wings. I hated this quote. I also disliked reading women saying “Henry Tilney is dreamy.” No, he’s not. Odd fact about Tilney, so when he and Catherine ride to Northanger Abbey and he tells her the spooky stories. It was a men did that in the nineteenth century as well moment. So when I was in college there was a cemetery in the middle of campus and myself and one of my friends had two separate men (on separate occasions) tell us as we were walking by that we were lucky to be with them in case of a zombie attack. I’ll admit it was charming.
The above quote is another like 22-year-old woman telling a 17-year-old what to think like she knows anything. I think this was written when Jane Austen was younger and it was published posthumously with Persuasion.
That being said, I still remember the first time a boy called me beautiful and it meant so much to me. Like he meant it and he said it so matter of factly that I Iooked in the mirror and was like “I? Me? Beautiful?” I was fourteen. Catherine Morland is 17 in this novel. 3 years older than myself at that time. So she was really naive and lived her life in books. We had that in common. However, it was really hard to relate to her because of her naivety. Was that a nod to gothic novels? Clever, Ms. Austen.
I now work with Coalatree Organics. Call me Mary Ann from the Hammock District because they are known for their hammocks. This one looks ldeal for reading on a sunny day. Tell em Hank Scorpio sent ya.
Basically, the plot is that Catherine gets to go to Bath and stay with some family friends and have adventures outside of her small town. Jane Austen lived in Bath and I spent a few days there when I was in England. It was a lovely place and I recognized some of the landmarks. I listened to Sonic Youth on my iPod walking around the Crescent and I went to the Jane Austen Centre. I also had some of the best food I had in England there. It was really fun. It’s a beautiful place. Jane Austen is a stickler for details so when she writes about a place you really feel like you’ve been there. Understanding the geography of a place is key to understanding the people who live there. Because you get to see the similarities and the differences to what you know. Catherine meets a family called Thorpe and becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe and her brother. Her brother falls for her. Meanwhile, Isabella becomes engaged to Catherine’s brother. While there Catherine goes to several dances and meets Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor. Catherine has a few misadventures in Bath and then gets invited to Northanger Abbey with the Tilney family. While there, she creates a gothic mystery in her head about the Tilney patriarch. She abruptly is asked to leave and sent home with no explanation and Isabella Thorpe breaks her brother’s heart. Henry Tilney follows Catherine home and proposes marriage. They live happily ever after once his sister convinces his dad to get over his anger. Oh and the General Tilney is pretty evil and unscrupulous. He was under the impression that the Morlands had money and when he found out Catherine had none he kicked her out. It was pretty shady. The lesson was that evil people could be found in England too. Also, don’t hang out with grasping social climbers. This seems to be a lesson in her works. Emma and Pride and Prejudice were more girl power oriented than Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.
Nest Bedding ® Organic Cotton Luxury Duvet (Cover Only)
from: Nest Bedding
So the first part of the novel is just Catherine’s adventures in Bath where she goes to the pump room and goes to several dances. It talks about the excitement of meeting someone you connect with and then dealing with someone you don’t like falling in love with you. It’s interesting how often they like to go out back in the day. It’s also interesting reading novels where women don’t work. I think that’s why younger women love these books so much. They seem so pure. Also, I guess when I went to Bath I was on holiday and I had nothing to do but wander around for hours. Which I did. When I was in England, we had a month long holiday and I was kicked out of my dorm for a month. So I got to stay with American friends who were in England and the first two weeks of my month off I just explored British cities on my own. Much like, Catherine, I was a fish out of water in England and I loved sight seeing. I also went out a lot (ha!). Jane Austen was an excellent seamstress and points out Isabella has to dress up with accessories as opposed to getting new gowns. So the first part of the book is set in Bath and is a typical Jane Austen book. Then Catherine gets invited to Northanger Abbey after reading a bunch of gothic novels and the story takes a different narrative turn. It gets more dark and has more dark elements. Catherine suspects that General Tilney is holding his wife hostage in a secret room. His wife passed away years ago. It turns out to be just in her mind. Henry Tilney chastises her for thinking that English people would tolerate that kind of behavior. Later Bronte, would write Jane Eyre with this exact plot.
It turns out General Tilney was pretty evil and totally motivated by money. Oh and Henry Tilney has the gall to say that in England they had servants not slaves. Yeah, well in America you had slaves so figure out that cognitive dissonance. Guess who breaks up Isabella Thorpe’s engagement to James Morland? If you guessed Henry Tilney’s suave older brother Captain Tilney you would be right. It’s a joke about how easily Isabella was swayed. I almost wonder if Harriet Smith from Emma was an atonement for these kinds of characters in Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey. Catherine does note the Tilneys have some double standards when it comes to behavior. There seems to be a trope here that there is a suave jerk who has a bookish friend/brother. Meek girl gets the nerd. Which to be real, who doesn’t love intelligence? I mean there’s this kind of fantasy of someone seeing through the flash of women who wear cheap accessories (which I personally love wearing) and going for the modest girl. Which is a whole other conundrum in itself.
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The book seemed disjointed and I was not the only one who thought so. The gothic section had me flipping to the notes constantly so they would explain the plots of several Emily Radcliffe novels. One of the note authors suggested that Austen assumed that the reader would have read all of the contemporary novels that she did. Her references were fresh and I don’t know if she thought her books would be read 200 years later. I wasn’t a huge fan of the book but then I was going over the quotes and there are a lot of really excellent ones. This novel, like Mansfield Park, lacked the shining characters of Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I didn’t love it as much. One of the descriptors was “Catherine Morland is the most optimistic of her heroines.” It’s because she is all of seventeen. Also, I thought the twist in the gothic book would be that Henry Tilney’s father had designs on Catherine. In the introduction, this was noted as well. In a lot of Gothic novels there is a threat of sexual assault or lewdness, that was not the case in this book. I was surprised by the fact that Catherine’s family just let her stay with a friend out in the country and not worry about those things. However, she does get creepy vibes from General Tilney and he was an awful man. Woman’s intuition. Living in a world, where I was told that if I get creeped out by anyone I had a right to get up and leave. Good advice, even if you are wrong if you get a bad vibe from someone just avoid them. The stakes are incredibly high in real life. Again, Catherine is super innocent and the stakes are incredibly low. My husband noted this while we were watching Mansfield Park, he could barely make out the stakes and he didn’t understand people’s reactions to perceived slights. It’s why it’s sometimes important to watch screen adaptations of Austen’s books because as a modern reader, I don’t get why you don’t just out in a barouche with a group of friends. I don’t get why it’s so rude for a woman to dance with more than one man. I don’t read the descriptions of clothes and think “tacky.” It’s interesting.
Stately Satchel (Kaleidoscope)
To be honest, as a 33-year-old woman who is on team cheap accessories, I didn’t love this book. It was light-hearted and I liked being reminded of gothic elements in the books I read. Also, if you have read any of the Harry Potter books you know that JK Rowling uses every single gothic trope there is. Talking pictures, ghosts, castles, hidden chambers, creepy caretakers, etc. The story was well told but it was originally called Susan and then it was changed to Catherine and then Northanger Abbey. So it’s confusing that the title isn’t mentioned until part 2. Would I suggest it? Again, I had my biases because of that class I took. It was a cute book in some respects but I’m reading Persuasion and it seems like it was edited more. It was an interesting story. I keep on coming back to the fact that Mary Shelley had the idea of the horror genre on a dark and stormy night with two poets and a physician. She was a teenage girl and she scared generations. Don’t write off teenage intuition. Yes, teenage girls have odd tastes but they are smarter than people give them credit for. You can see tinges of romanticism going on in Austen’s work but not too much. I’m currently reading Persuasion which was written later in Austen’s life and it has a completely different tone. I hope you’ve been enjoying these recaps. Have you read this book? Do you have opinions? I’d love to hear them. Enjoy the pictures from the British Library Archive.
Susann Round Rattan Earrings
from: Cents of Style