Northanger Abbey as a Precursor to Pride and Prejudice

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Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is frequently described as a novel about reading—reading novels and reading people—while Pride and Prejudice is said to be a story about love, about two people overcoming their own pride and prejudices to realize their feelings for each other. If Pride and Prejudice is indeed about how two stubborn youth have misjudged each other, then why is it that this novel is so infrequently viewed to be connected to Austen’s original novel about misjudgment and reading one’s fellows, Northanger Abbey? As one of Austen’s first novels, Northanger Abbey is often viewed as a “prototype” to her later novels, but it is most often compared to Persuasion (Brown 50). However, if read discerningly, one can see in Pride and Prejudice many echoes of situations and events first presented in Northanger Abbey. From the very onset of each book, the reader will notice a similarity: Austen’s penchant for interesting and entertaining first lines. Northanger Abbey begins with the words, “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine” (Northanger 5). By saying that nobody would have supposed Catherine to be a heroine, Austen is suggesting to the reader that a heroine is indeed what Catherine will become. This line also presents the first bit of the irony that underlies the entire novel. Similarly, in Pride and Prejudice, Austen begins with the famous line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (Pride 1). This line is also ironic, and the themes if irony and marriage set out by it continue to reverberate throughout the entire novel (Brown 26). Through the similar openings, it is immediately apparent that there is a relationship between Austen’s two novels. At the beginning of Northanger Abbey, Austen makes it clear to the reader that Catherine Morland is no typical heroine- “the Morlands … were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any” (Northanger 15). This sets the tone for the “satire of a Gothic horror tale” (Wright 102) that is such a large part of Northanger Abbey by setting Catherine apart from the heroine of the typical Gothic novel of the time, who was seen as a “young, attractive woman (virginity required)” who “is always terminally helpless and more than a bit screechy” (Berger, sec. 1). In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet is described by her own parents as not being the prettiest or best-humored amongst the five sisters of the rather average, middle-class Bennet family. However, in Elizabeth’s case, her father says of her that, “Lizzie has something more of a quickness than her sisters” (Pride 2). This sets Elizabeth and Catherine apart; where Elizabeth is intelligent and well-read, Catherine is juvenile and naïve, versed mainly in the readings of Gothic novels. This shows that, though Austen cut the two heroines from a similar mold, she went on after creating the “somewhat thin” (Wright 107) character of Catherine to form the more complex and interesting character of Elizabeth. In each novel, before the heroine becomes well acquainted with the man she will fall in love with, she meets and captured the attention of another male character. In the case of Northanger Abbey, Catherine becomes the object of John Thorpe’s unwanted affections. He tries repeatedly to isolate Catherine, which was considered very inappropriate at the time, and by association, this is the first hint the reader receives that his sister, Isabella, is the flirt she later becomes known to be. John is not originally portrayed as a person of bad character, but as one who might perhaps capture Catherine’s naïve attention, which is where he differs from his counterpart in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Collins. Collins is, from the beginning, portrayed as a character who is not wicked, not quite a fool, but who truly lacks sense (Brown 28). This is very well shown in his...
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