Sunday, September 4, 2016

A few words about Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey

This was one of the two novels published posthumously, shortly after her death in 1817.  The other was my favorite: Persuasion.  However, the publication date is misleading for Northanger Abbey was actually the first novel she sold to a publisher.  The publisher, Crosby and Co.,  purchased the novel in 1803, but decided against publishing it.   In 1816, Henry Austen, Jane Austen's brother, bought it back from the publisher and then published it in 1817.  It wasn't until 1811, eight years after she sold NA, that Austen finally saw her first novel in print,  Sense and Sensibility.

 As I mentioned in an earlier post, I believe this is really two novels, one being a comedy of manners and the second part a satire on Gothic novels.  What links them is that the satiric look at the Gothic novel was set up in the first half.

I posted, earlier, some thoughts about the Predator and Prey relationships, as I saw them, in Pride and Prejudice.  Naturally I was curious to see if some of the other novels could be looked at in the same way.  Following are some of my impressions of the major characters of NA:

Frederick Tinley:  a Predator.  His prey are vulnerable females, for he's not looking for a rich wife.  He is the eldest son and therefore will inherit his father's estate.  However, he may also be seen as Prey as long as he is unattached and the presumed heir to his father's fortune.

Isabel Thorpe:  a Predator.  She first sets her sights on Catherine's brother, James.  However, she is considerably disappointed when she learns of the small portion James will get upon their marriage.   At this point she discovers Frederick Tinley, a much more lucrative prize.

This is an interesting situation in that Predator Frederick meets Predator Isabel.  Unfortunately, Isabel is handicapped for she is looking for a marriage proposal while Frederick is just interested in a short term conquest, at the end of which he can simply ride off into the sunset.   

John Thorpe:  Predator who sees Catherine as far wealthier than she really is and also as the heiress presumptive of her neighbors, the Allens.

Isabel and John Thorpe are the first attempts at depicting a predatory brother and sister.  They, therefore, are the precursors of a later and more complex predatory brother and sister, Mary and Henry Crawford of Mansfield Park.

General Tinley:  he's looking for a rich wife, but not for himself but for his second son Henry.

Catherine Morland: Prey, as she is the target of John Thorpe who is looking for a rich wife to support him.

James Morland:  Catherine's brother who thinks he is in pursuit of Isabel, but he really is Prey.

Henry and sister Eleanor, do not seem to fit my definition of Predator, and nor is there any suggestion in the novel that they are actively sought after, therefore, they are not Prey either.

 I am just completing my rereading of Austen's works, and as it turned out, the last two novels just happened to be Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, apparently the first and the last of Austen's six novels.  It is interesting? informative? curious? ironic? to read these two back-to-back.  In NA we find Catherine, surely the youngest of Austen's heroines, so innocent and naive that she doesn't even realize at first that she's in love with Henry, while in Persuasion, Anne is not only not in her first love, but has long since lost it through her own actions and now regrets her decision.  The juxtaposition of the two novels reveals the increased depth and complexity of Austen's perception of her characters and the struggles they face in finding their futures, from dealing with First Love to being faced with that rarest of possibilities, a second chance, or as a recent poet once put it, to take "the road not taken.". .

Overall I would rank this as the lightest of the Six.  Catherine is the youngest and most naive of Austen's heroines, and she certainly violates several rules of feminine decorum as set out at that time, but her innocence and earnestness excuse her.  All can see that she means no harm as she is unaware, for the most part, of her errors in decorum.

Simply put, it's a light-hearted and enjoyable tale.


  1. i'm just finishing with Buddenbrooks; the P/P method of analysis could be used here with good effect, i think... there are some characters who would fall outside of the conception, but most of the B's would drop into it... it's a strange "novel", although describing it as a series of excerpts from "Days of our Lives" might be more accurate. Mann has a fixation with hands and red eyes, which is distracting, but there is also a lot of quality description of ocean scenery as well as attempts at psychological analysis. it's marginally worth reading if you haven't read it... tx for the Northanger Abbey precis; i read it once a long time ago but don't remember it very well...

  2. Mudpuddle,

    I read Buddenbrooks many years ago when I decided to read everything by Mann I could find. I remember very little about it, except that it's the story of a wealthy mercantile? family that is in decline, or so I faintly remember.

    A Predator and Prey view of Buddenbrooks? That sounds intriguing.

  3. I have not read this one yet. I hope to do so within the next year or so. Your commentary makes me want to get to it soon.

    I also look to find parallel themes between novels written by the same author.

  4. Brian Joseph,

    I'd be interested in hearing what you think after you have read it.

  5. Fred, I remember NA from school, and I was struck then by its insights into the author's reading experiences, so many of them spotlighted in the novel. It reminds me of the way authors and stories are highlighted in Don Quixote, which I have never been able to finish. I recall that a full appreciation of NA might require immersion in Gothic novels and stories, the core of so many of the ironies in the novel. Yes? No? Perhaps?

    1. R.T.,

      While having read one or two Gothic novels would enhance one's appreciation of the satire, Austen, through her narrator, does provide sufficient information to catch what is going on.

      The Gothic elements in NA provide a background, but they certainly aren't as intrusive as they are in Don Q. The role the Gothic elements play is closer to the role played by romantic novels in Madame Bovary than to Don Q, or so it seems to me.

    2. FYI

      Good reading awaits!

    3. R.T.,

      I'm looking forward to your posts on Austen's novels.

  6. FYI, I did a quick search for "predator" in articles archived at The Jane Austen Society of North America. Here are the results, which you might find interesting.

    1. R.T.,

      Thanks for the link. It's encouraging to see that I'm not too many degrees off True North.