Northanger Abbey essay
1. How far does Northanger Abbey fulfil and/or challenge some of the conventions of the gothic?
Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey, is regarded by many as a light-hearted parody of the gothic genre. The term 'gothic' is defined in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary terms “as a story of terror, suspense usually set in a gloomy old castle or monastery [hence gothic, a term applied to medieval architecture and thus associated in the 18th century” (page 106). In addition the inclusion of comedic references attempts to challenge conventions and pokes fun of the gothic. Austen's use of the main character Catherine challenges the stereotypes of the late seventeen hundreds. Women at the time were socialised into traditional gender roles such as cleaning, cooking and sewing, which in essence was 'training' to become a 'Lady'. Catherine breaks the mould by her 'heroic dreams' as unlike other girls she "plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls"(page 1-2). This is indicative of the notion that the book is unique and may diverge into a new unexpected direction. It can be strongly suggested that Austen introduced the gothic theme mainly within the second half of the book, from the time Catherine went to Northanger abbey. Subsequently, this essay will explore the extent to which the novel challenges some of the conventions of the gothic. Through doing so, it will be made evident how far the novel ironically fulfils and challenges these conventions. Catherine, was Austen's attempt at giving her readers a true gothic character. This all began when Isabella gave Catherine many gothic novels such as The mysteries of Udolpho. For example "And if rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together” (page 36). Through this, Catherine grows fond of Isabella and her gothic ideas. It is essential to understand the second half of Austen's novel. Largely it is devoted to describing the atmosphere as mysterious. This can be suggested through the terms such as 'mystery', 'supernatural' and 'strange' which is clearly gothic vocabulary. Furthermore, scenery is depicted through the description of weather, use of pathetic fallacy and overall atmosphere. This undoubtedly sets a gothic tone and mood. For instance “The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals the whole afternoon and by the time the party broke up, it had been raining violently” [page 158] “She had not been used to feel alarm from wind but now every blast seemed fraught with awful intelligence” [page161]. It is evident that Austin used the weather as a tool to launch into the anxiety and uneasiness of the night. This goes hand in hand with a gothic theme as Austin appears to be teasing the usual way a gothic novel introduces an important event. Subsequently, Austin seems to mock the traditional convention of the gothic genre where the weather is always dark and gloomy. On the other hand, Marvin Mudrick argues that Austen confronts her readers with what appears to be at first glance a gothic novel, when in fact she is presenting a different agenda. He explains in the book; Jane Austen: Irony as Defence and Discovery; Jane Austen discards the central technique of 'Love and relationship'. Instead of reproducing the gothic types of character and situation she presents their anti-types in the actual world, and organised these into a domestic narrative.( page 39)
This is an effective interpretation as the novel is a relatable and sensible, yet Austen changes the characters in their domestic situations to suit the style of the gothic. This can be seen as true due to the novel not giving readers a fully traditional gothic story arc alongside its lists of characters. Mudrick describes gothic novels as 'mere...
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