I’ve been thinking about Jane Austen and Halloween – two subjects that don’t really go together in spite of the cute pumpkins we see with her cameo painted or carved on them. Jane Austen didn’t write the kind of Gothic horror novels she both made fun of in Northanger Abbey, and hinted that she might enjoy. When I read that book, I find myself wishing that Catherine Morland might actually find something incriminating in the cabinet in her bedroom in the abbey, or that General Tilney really did murder his wife and then try to cover it up. There’s something delicious about those scary plots that appeal to us, whether we’re downright fans of horror novels or not. Of course, these moments of fright and intrigue in Northanger Abbey end up being nothing more than the result of Catherine Morland’s over-active imagination. As Henry Tilney finally says to her: “Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you. Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”
Poor Catherine. I understand her urge toward the mysterious and the terrifying. As a matter of fact, since Northanger Abbey is one of my very favorites of Austen’s novels, I sometimes like to hint at it in my own JAFF,
Here is a bit of a teaser from The Light in Mr. Darcy’s Eyes, where Aunt Gardiner says to Lizzy: “I know you feel at your wits end at this moment, Lizzy…but I am sure a solution can be found to all of this. I agree with your uncle, though. Mr. Wickham seems to have shown very poor judgment in the very least. If his motives are somehow worse than that, well, I wouldn’t know what to think. However, let’s try not to assume. We are not living in some Gothic novel; men do not kidnap helpless women in our day and age and force them into…God knows what.”
And in my latest, Pemberley Park – The Twelve Days of Christmas (Where Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park Meet, and Continue), which will be released on October 29th, Mr. Darcy remarks to Lizzy, “Our other guests will think it is strange that your sister has come and we have hidden her away like some heroine in a Gothic novel.”
I like to think that Jane herself found plenty to be horrified at in the Gothic novels she so loved to satirize, which makes me want to ask: is there anything extra spookily fun that you do at Halloween? I always like to get a bit of a fright on that evening whether it’s from a movie, or a particularly gruesome costume that I see. I guess I’m like Catherine Morland like that. I want to be scared, but not really.