Think, Think, Think…
I never really liked Northanger Abbey. To be honest, I didn’t get it. I failed to understand and appreciate Austen’s voice, perspective, satire, clever twists… And then I did. I started to understand the genius of the work – it was a lesson for me, wrapped in a lesson for her heroine, Catherine Moreland.
Wake up! Learn from what’s around you and… Think, think, think.
Northanger Abbey starts with a heroine who isn’t very promising.
No one who had ever seen Catherine Moreland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence, besides two good livings – and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters…
We start off right away with satire for no good Gothic heroine can come from such mundane stability. But, despite this inauspicious beginning, Austen puts adventure in Catherine’s way, along with danger and romance – and we have a heroine!
Adventure comes when she takes Catherine from sleepy Fullerton and drops her in daring Bath. Danger comes in the form of friends — Isabella and, her brother, John Thorpe are certainly a dangerous duo for Catherine. They will tell her pretty lies, and teach her social conventions, manipulations and fully train her in the art of meaningless conversation, gossip and dissembling. That’s one type of education – a dangerous one.
Romance comes, but something else comes first – learning to think. Austen provides Catherine a counterpoint to the Thorpes early in the story. Later he becomes a “romance”, but initially, Henry Tilney offers her no guidance, no conventions to follow, no concrete thoughts at all – he offers dancing and questions. Lots and lots of questions.
Henry pushes Catherine to think about things in a new light. And his questions didn’t always have clear answers for he didn’t necessarily want answers. Comparing dancing to marriage? It would be hard to give a serious, solid answer to that one. In many ways, it’s ridiculous and he knew it. But it worked! It started Catherine thinking and voicing opinions. And it got the two of them into a real conversation, a deeper conversation, and that began the connection between them.
Now, Catherine didn’t learn to think for herself all at once – clearly or it would’ve been a short book. She was constantly sparring with the quixotic Henry. Austen didn’t make Catherine’s education too easy for her or for us. Catherine had trouble breaking old patterns and expectations – breaking her thirst for good gothic drama. Yet, like Catherine, we too can see mystery, pain, subterfuge and drama where it’s only a laundry list. We too sometimes don’t pay attention to what’s around us and make discerning judgments. Instead we judge based on what we want to see or what we are told to see.
So now that I’m starting to think, think, think… I adore Northanger Abbey. What I initially dismissed as a light novel, an early novel, a throw away novel, has now become, once I paid attention, one of my favorites.
I “played” around with it a bit in The Austen Escape – and loved working with twists on “seeing” and expectations and all the blunders and truths that come from them.
What do you think of Northanger Abbey? It’s the one novel, I find, that evokes strong and divergent opinions.
Thanks for dropping by!