Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey (p. 1817)

Catherine Morland, great reader of Gothic fiction, goes to Bath with her neigbors Mr. and Mrs. Allen. She meets Isabella Thorpe, who loves her borther James Morland, who is a friend of John Thorpe, a crass soldier who fancies Catherine. Catherine meets the Tilneys, (Henry, Eleanor and the General), who like her. She eventually goes to Northanger Abbey, where she has numerous “Gothic” experiences related to the deceased mother. Isabella goes after Captain Tilney and breaks up with James Morland. The Gneral finds out from Thorpe that Catherine is not so rich and he makes her go home suddenly. Henry follows, proposes and struggles for consent, which is give after Eleanor marries an unmade rich man, thus compensating for Catherine’s relative poverty (which isn’t all that bad after all).

The Gothic – mostly in dialogue with Anne Radcliffe, the Mysteries of Udolpho and the Romance of the Forest. They structure Catherine’s epistemology—sort of a crude experiment that is better expressed in the socially conditioned perspectives of novels like Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

Conventions – Self-conscious about the “heroine,” not so easy to tell when Catherine is fashioning her actions after Camilla, for example, and when the narrator is actively interpreting certain events as appropriate or not to a heroine. Free indirect discourse is incipient but never fully deployed.

Fashion – While in Bath, Mrs. Allen is always pointing out fashion details. Her remarks will become more fully mediated in later works, as the narrator better deploys ironic takes on fashion trends.

Chapter openings and narrative experiments – During the stay in Bath, Austen uses a chapter per day method for five days straight. The effect is monotonous, self-consciously so. One senses here playing with conflicting determining categories – recit and narrative, to use Genette’s terms. What is boring, the story or the way of telling the story?

Space – Northanger Abbey is highly articulated. Every detail is mapped out such that that which is not represented becomes the obvious locus of mystery. Focus on the chest as dark secret, enclosed. Entrapment is explained and motivated. Heidggerean fear but no anxiety. Compare to other locked containers, such as in Wuthering Heights (the weird bedchamber wardrobe) or in Freud’s commentary on the three caskets in the Merchant of Venice (read and expound).

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