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<---More Recent 84. Northanger Abbey and Bath Novels 83. 'First Impressions' and Jane Bennet 82. Northanger Abbey and Gothic Imagery Earlier Answers-->

Name:Anita Christine Hunt
Question 85 Northanger Abbey is a novel written by a woman, for women and about women. Is that the statement you would have intended to be made about your novel?
Reply Dear Anita,

Yes, fine, except it does suggest a sort of ‘programmatic’ idea for the novel which officially has one only about the invasion of the female imagination by The Gothic Perspective, which proved to be ambiguous (Catherine’s intuitions about the General in imagining him to have ‘the air of a Montoni’ were right in that he looks like the modernist version). As an implicit claim that the novel strikes a blow for female emancipation (is that the idea?), this looks better on later, post-Romantic works. The idea that there is something special about ‘being a woman’, and so on, is not altogether a user-friendly idea in the context of my dry-eyed, Anglican+Enlightenment insistence on cleaning one’s mind of cant and one’s premises of anything Gothic. We feel a special solicitude for Catherine, at sea in a world of duplicity and interested motives, but she does come up trumps. But there isn’t a discourse that as it were exempts women for the state they find themselves in, is there? Mrs Allen is very dull indeed and an inadequate chaperone, Isabella, full of cant and with a ‘very indulgent mother’ unites Lydia Bennet and Mrs Elton from later novels. However, Henry Tilney’s patronage of Catherine has often been criticised, and the idea that ‘Henry Tilney must know best’ was not really sustained. (Catherine’s critical perspective on Frederick was truer.)  There are also interesting ‘notes’ which emerge from passages like the one on the desirability of female ignorance in ministering to the vanity of others, contradicted by other currents of irony which find female naivety of Catherine’s sort pretty fair game. I don’t think this question wholly connects with ‘the spirit of Northanger’, but you may find more in this than I have. The trouble with Northanger is that it is rather good at embarrassing its own case(s).

With best wishes,

Jane Austen.

April 24, 2005 04:43:14 (GMT Time)

Name:Fleur                     Top
Question 84 [...] Critics describe Northanger Abbey as a parody of Bath novels and the Gothic. The Gothic I think I understand, and Volume 2 certainly draws out the excesses of them, but were you parodying Bath novels, and if so, could you give me a title of one, so that I can read it? Modern literature has a sort of genre called Mills and Boon. Given that John's proposal comes at the end of Volume 1, I rather assume that the idea of a romance, which takes place in Bath and involves a young, very innocent heroine, and a man of the world like John would fit the description of what I think a Bath novel could have been. However, despite extensive research this term, Bath novel, which a great many academics use in Forwards and essays, is never, ever explained.
Reply You write an entertaining question, always a good sign, and your compliments are also of course, an eloquent tribute to your own literary taste. Thank you. Basically, as no sub-genre has been established here, I take it that what critics refer to as the Bath novels is simply a reference to the earlier and later of my Bath-based works, Northanger Abbey, ready for publication in some form (but rejected) in 1803, and Persuasion, my last completed novel (both books were published together in 1818), which shows Bath in a(n even) more sombre light. Note the awkwardness of the title of Northanger, bestowed after my sad demise, especially for me, by sister Cassandra or brother Henry. My original title was the name of the heroine, originally ‘Susan’, whose personal vicissitudes were the point, and happening as much at Bath as Northanger, which the title now can’t acknowledge. As Henry Tilney points out, Catherine’s point that her up-country existence at Fullerton, which includes the notion of ‘only going to call on Mrs Allen’ is one of ‘intellectual poverty’, and that she falls in love with Henry in a Bath which is more entertaining, if stressful, means that Bath is definitely a positive. But here she meets duplicity, hidden motives, language used to deceive, capitalism rampant, as herself a Candide-like or Swiftian innocent not used to hearing other creatures ‘say the thing which is not’ (step forward John and Isabella Thorpe). It was implied that Henry fell in love with her as she was so obviously in love with him. But he also appreciated that she was as straight as a die, and his recognition of this itself became a moving love-declaration (when she misconstrued elder brother Frederick’s motives in asking Isabella to dance. Bath is by contrast finally a place of deceptions and ‘the wrong kind of sophistication’

With Best Wishes

Jane Austen

April 23, 2005 05:22:33 (GMT Time)

Name:Charli                     Top
Question 83 1. In Pride and Prejudice, almost all the characters have prejudice views so, what about the most trusting character, Jane Bennet. Is she prejudice against someone or something? How? Can you point out a few good quotes?
2. Why did you change the title of the novel from First Impressions to Pride and Prejudice?
Reply Dear Charli,

An interesting point, and of course ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is awash with the ‘judgemental-ism’ the title suggests, and pride and prejudice are very much involved each with the other. Jane Bennet is a bit different, though isn’t she, as a paragon who doesn’t get to say much, and avoids the judgemental-ism by seeing the best in people, or at least hoping that there is a best ‘in there’ somewhere? Elizabeth greatly admires her sister as the embodiment of ‘loveliness and goodness’, but she doesn’t trust her judgements of people, as she explains to the Gardiners at the time of Lydia’s elopement (‘of whom does Jane ever think ill?’) just as she derides Jane’s attempt to save both Darcy and Wickham’s ‘faces’ in the face of contradictory accounts of both men. The truth is that, as Elizabeth intuits, Jane is refraining from judgements in order not to incur the responsibility of ‘misrepresenting’ anyone. Hence she hasn’t reached the stage at which ‘pride and prejudice’ become relevant categories. Like Elizabeth I admired Jane and also thought Elizabeth’s response to Jane (and vice versa) was a most important emotional relationship in the novel. But like Elizabeth I thought it was important to reach some sort of judgement, based on some real perception of what situations are and how they got that way. Jane hopes that a blind rule of ‘putting the best possible construction on things (and people)’ will produce happy results. Jane thus avoids the problems accruing for ‘pride and prejudice’ and the false visions and false consciousness they bear—only not in ‘quite the right way’, at least as Elizabeth sees it. I rather agreed. I hope this helps.

Regarding the ‘First Impressions’ part of the question it’s interesting that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was a second impression of a proper title (and perhaps also that second impressions are not always best)--and other, less kind suggestions have been that ‘Property and Propriety’ might just be another possibility, and there may be others, though the fact that the weren’t ‘sanctioned’ (Mr Collins-like word) by me would always be significant. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a phrase found in previous texts, including one of the Frances Burney’s, where I probably found it. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ obviously has a ring. It also initially suggests personal, ethical issues (our first impression of it), but both words can suggest that class issues, and hence ‘the political’ might also be an issue. Incidentally, ‘prejudice’ sounds bad, but ‘pride’ of a sort seems to be exonerated or cleared, as when Lizzie claims that Mr Darcy has ‘no improper pride’. Is this an issue here?

With best wishes.

Jane Austen

April 15, 2005 14:44:39 (GMT Time)

Name:Andrew Sykes                     Top
Question 82 I have been set a particularly testing assignment. In 1,500 words I have to write on how domestic interiors function in NA with special emphasis on selecting excerpts for close textual analysis paying close attention to patterns of language and imagery.My first choice has been the excerpt from Chapter Twenty where your hero, Henry Tilney, plays on Catherine's unrealistic Gothic expectations of NA with his imaginary narrative drawn from assorted Gothic texts, juxtaposing this with the reality of NA eperienced by the heroine upon first entering the Tilney family home and, subsequently, her own quarters. Any advice you could give would be of enormous help to not only a keen scholar of your works but quite a fan!
Reply Dear Andrew,

You certainly have, dear boy! Henry’s Imaginary invocations of domestic interiors which facilitate narrative developments (Gothic) mask the fact that we are always-already dealing with fictional presentations. Basically, the novel’s ironies are predicated on what we are supposed to take as Catherine’s false or inappropriate expectations, her desire to have things happen as if she were already in a Gothic novel which the props and properties of Northanger will abet. But of course she herself is always-already fictional and always-already ‘in’ a novel herself, supposedly ‘opposed to Gothic’ (with a ‘negative’ description of ‘not being (like) that, or romantic expectations—[cf. the mini-recap of this in the ‘Johnsonian’ description of Barton Cottage in Sense and Sensibility, disappointing Marianne], but in its way, as its name Northanger Abbey doesn’t deny, it is indeed found to secrete ‘Gothic’ truths, just as its interiors are gothic, and, if touched by the hand of modernity and ‘improvement’, not the more reassuring for that.

As with rooms, so with men: if the idea that the General had ‘the air of a Montoni’ (the villain of the popular Anne Radcliffe hit, The Mysteries of Udolpho [1794]),is an absurd presupposition, which it has to be for this novel to work as the sort of satire it is, the novel itself is at once fulfilled and destroyed by the realisation that the General is a modern[ised] version of Montoni, possessed by the spirit of ‘greedy speculation’ and ruffian enough to bring the dark spirit of the Gothic ‘to bear’ when he expels Catherine as not quite the heiress the chump John Thorpe had assured him he was. Hence the summarising sentence in which Catherine feels that, with respect to the General ‘ . . . that, in the light of his thoroughly modern greed, ‘she had scarcely sinned against his character, or magnified his cruelty’ should originally have functioned as a final culminating irony at Catherine’s expense, but has instead become asymptotic with the truth about Henry Tilney’s reassuring modern England, which fails to reassure, fails to sustain the idea of a pure uncontaminated gothic alterity, just as Northanger Abbey cannot be ironised into modernity or exorcised of a certain sinister significance which its interiors mirror, probably in their modernity as much as their ancientness. (Improvements require labour, and all England toils to support such figures as the overweening General Tilney.) Capital gratification and the gratifications of capital keep whole parishes at work, and the General is at once a tyrant to his own children, to his employees, and a slave to his own appetite(s), which include ‘greedy speculation’. His temper inspires the fear which Catherine and Isabella were able to transpose into ‘thrills’, only with unequivocally unpleasant results.

It is not clear that the irony over Catherine’s desire to have the interiors of Northanger conduce to a sense of Gothic narratives is sustained. There is a thirsty evil ‘about the place’ for which ‘the place’ is indeed a sort of ‘objective correlative’. So Catherine becomes, not so much the Augustan female of charming callowness and naivety prone to self-deception and false assumptions about how things are, but a promulgator of ethical truths in a world of skewed discourse and interested motive. Her misinterpretations may bespeak naivety or false expectations, but also result from the duplicities and interpretative forcelosures of others. The Samuel Johnson-like reproval of ‘the dangerous prevalence of imagination’ (Catherine’s), turns out to be about the dangerous deficit of imagination in everybody else. But, for the present, I can no more. I hope this might function as the end of a golden thread at least. Good luck with your hard luck assignment.

With best wishes.

Jane Austen.

April 5, 2005 21:58:59 (GMT Time)