“Explore the theme of Transformations in “Northanger Abbey” In “Northanger Abbey” Austen crafts from start to finish a perfect paradigm of her own satirical wit and burlesqued humour, which go to all lengths imaginable to disguise and embed her novel’s transformations. These demonstrate her great skill as a satirist in making the reader dig for their own enjoyment.
Her meaning is drenched in multiple interpretations causing even complete opposites like the transformed and unchanged to blur together, leaving as Fuller says, “The joke on everyone except Austen”; whose sophisticated “meta-parody” carries on transforming and confusing the reader (Fuller, Miriam 2010). Craik first contrived how to delve into Austen’s satire, and that was by realising that “The literary burlesque is not incidental, nor integral” (Craik, W A 1965).
In my essay I am therefore going to delve deeply into the satirical, and reveal the true transformations Austen intended to present. The first line of the text identifies Catherine Morland as the novel’s central figure for transformation “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine” (Austen, Jane “Northanger Abbey” 2003 PP. 5). Austen then ironically, and ambiguously, decks her out to be a burlesqued parody of the heroic archetype, thus transforming the perspective of what constitutes a heroine.
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Traditionally they were thought of as intelligent, beautiful and isolated like Eleanor Tilney, but we are told Catherine is “Occasionally stupid…almost pretty…and (her father) was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters” (PP. 5 - 7). Austen reverses the polarity of Catherine’s character transforming her into a more modern heroine, her point being that anyone can be a heroine as long as they evolve as opposed to stagnating like traditional gothic figures such as Emily St Aubert (Radcliffe, Anne 2008).
Already Austen is choosing transformation and change over self-stagnation, while with feminist intentions breaks down the barrier that portrays women as self-reliant on the patriarchal strength of men by encouragement to live life on their own terms like Catherine Morland “Let me go, Mr Thorpe…. do not hold me! ” (PP. 73). Austen introduces the unchanged character of Eleanor Tilney to highlight “Catherine’s subconscious refusal to be helpless and passive” (Fuller, Miriam 2010).
Eleanor unlike Catherine relies on men for support throughout her life first her father, and then through a “man of fortune and consequence”, which shows “her real power (to be) nothing” (PP. 185), in the light of Eleanor’s lack of transformation Catherine’s transformative nature is apparent by direct contrast. By deviating from this generic norm Austen sets up Catherine’s own transformation from innocent, naive girl to blossoming, self-reliant woman. However many critics have debated whether or not Catherine in fact changes at all.
This is the case for her intuition, which is part of what Fuller called “Catherine’s defences” (2010), which according to Schaub: “Catherine’s romantic temperament, her "intuition," is right in all her basic judgments” (2000). Schaub is referencing Catherine’s interpretation of individuals such as General Tilney which all turn out to be correct “in suspecting General Tilney of either murdering or shutting up his wife, she had scarcely sinned against his character, or magnified his cruelty” (PP. 183). A true transformation however does occur in Catherine abandoning her gothic unreality for “objective reality” (Butler, Marilyn 1975).
Her change is illustrated in the fading out of Austen’s free indirect narrative, observed in volume one, for the true direct narrative perspective of Catherine herself, heard strongly in her condemnation of Isabella “she must think me an idiot, or she could not have written so”( PP. 161). This narrative change shows the growth of mind that Austen observes in her own character, and she allows her the freedom to use it which has Catherine; through transformative mistakes; gain a greater perspective on the world “Nothing could shortly be clearer, than that it had been all a voluntary, self-created delusion” (PP. 46). Lastly a final sign of her ultimate growth is a change in her setting of choice after marrying Henry Tilney. Instead of the sublime gothic grandeur of the abbey she chooses the simplistic pastoral setting of the parsonage “In her heart she preferred it to any place she had ever been” (PP. 156). The abbey of Northanger, that Catherine rejects, is traditionally seen as the key location for all gothic goings on. However it is my joint assertion with Fuller, that “the social codes of Bath are as labyrinthine as he passageways of Udolpho are to Emily”, and according to Drabble “like a minefield” (2010) for the young Catherine Morland. Austen uses satire once again to confuse and camouflage the full roles these two settings play, making for a clever and shocking juxtaposition as settings now transform along different lines. This is done through almost frequent and obvious references to the gothic in the anti-gothic setting of Northanger “Darkness impenetrable and immoveable filled the room” (PP. 124) while contrasting it to more subtle and less noticeable gothic in Bath “Mr Thorpe only laughed, smacking his whip” ( PP. 2). If we follow Fuller’s argument that “Northanger abbey” is part of what she terms the “Domestic Gothic” (2010); a genre that highlights the sexual threat to young women; the then humorous misadventures of Catherine in Bath turn into events that closely resemble sexual abuse. Particularly in the character of John Thorpe who transforms from a bawdy, comic figure, stumbling over himself to marry Catherine, into a sadistic sexual predator. This is seen in the simple contrast when he abducts young Catherine on a trip to “Blaize castle! ” (PP. 0), and Austen transform the light comedy of deception into a “gothic abduction scene” (Fuller, Miriam 2010). In which Thorpe “lashes his horse into a brisker trot” and takes her “into the marketplace” (PP. 62) thus turning Catherine into a “commodity” to be owned (Fuller, Miriam 2010). In her sudden character transformations Austen shows how she can rework any of her characters in an instance, making them comic one moment and frightening the next, and it is also a warning to young women of the “powerful and opportunistic members of society” that reside in Victorian resort towns like Bath (Fuller, Miriam 2010).
Austen’s satire, as witnessed, goes to great lengths to confuse and mask her meaning. Her reasoning behind it is simply her own enjoyment, and her desire to praise her medium of choice: the novel. Her complexity and ambiguity are merely part of an elaborate, and in itself satirical complement to novels which she believes display “the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, and the liveliest effusions of wit and humour” (PP. 24). Bibliography: Austen, Jane (2003) Northanger Abbey, Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition (Oxford, Oxford University Press) • Fuller, Miriam (2010) “Let me go, Mr Thorpe; Isabella, do not hold me! : Northanger Abbey at the Domestic Gothic” Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal (Jane Austen Society of North America) • Craik, W A (1965) “Jane Austen The Six Novels” (W & J MacKay & Co ltd, Chatham, Great Britain) • Schaub, Melissa (2000) “Irony and Political Education in “Northanger Abbey” (Jane Austen Society of North America) http://www. asna. org/persuasions/on-line/vol21no1/schaub. html Accessed (27/0/2012) • Butler, Marilyn (1975) “Jane Austen and the War of Ideas: The Juvenilia and “Northanger Abbey” (Clarendon Press, Oxford) • Radcliffe, Anne (2008) “The Mysteries of Udolpho” (Oxford, Oxford University Press) • Keymer, Thomas (2011 ) “Northanger Abbey and Sense and Sensibility” “The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen” (University Press Cambridge, Cambridge) • Bush, Douglas (1978) “Jane Austen” (The Macmillan Press LTD, London)
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