Northanger Abbey Chapters 1-3

I desperately want to begin this first post by asking you what you love about Austen and this novel. It is pretty outrageous on my part because maybe you don’t like her and don’t get it.

But if it is OK with you, I am going to start this way.

Here are three things I love (and I need you to know this is difficult for me because there are at least 8 things I want to say!)

This is a clumsy way to say this, but I love how Austen is pitting her novel’s heroine against heroines of romantic literature. In Chapter One, Austen has our heroine’s parents say, in very unromantic fashion: “Catherine grows quite a good looking girl,-she is almost pretty today.”  Heroines are supposed to be uncommonly beautiful!

I will try to tone this down.

I love this opening paragraph to Ch. 2. (I copied and pasted this from The Gutenberg Project, and I would urge anyone who wishes to share a passage to do the same.)

 In addition to what has been already said of Catherine Morland’s personal and mental endowments, when about to be launched into all the difficulties and dangers of a six weeks’ residence in Bath, it may be stated, for the reader’s more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be, that her heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind—her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty—and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is.

Austen gently mocks her protagonist, but somehow, despite the wry humor (a term my colleague Kirsten Komara just used about Austen) there is such a sense of kindness about Austen, a deep humanity.

And finally, I love Tilney. I love his sense of humor. I love his kindness towards Catherine. And, I’ve argued in my past as a graduate student that Austen is a feminist and was influenced by Wollstonecraft (more on that much much later.) I love this phrase by Tilney in Chapter 3 when he and Catherine are arguing about accomplishments and aesthetics. “Excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.”  He is perfect! He’s the one!

OK. I am now being a little silly.

What did you enjoy?

What do you make of her tone?

Did anything throw you off?

Did you read this and wonder once again why it is that everyone loves Austen and she just leaves you cold?

Let us know what you think.

If you can stand a final thought, I realized as I was reading last night that I had a constant smile while reading these chapters. Austen touches and creates such delight in me.

I’m eager to hear what you think.

7 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey Chapters 1-3”

  1. I do think it’s interesting that JA is subverting all the romantic tropes, but I didn’t like how unsubtly she did it. I do love Tilney though, and his and Catherine’s conversation.
    It so happens that I’m currently reading a lot of stuff on Mary Shelley, in which, of course, Mary Wolllstonecraft is often mentioned!

    1. Yay Mary! Thanks for being the first to post!
      I love this comment. I get what you are saying, and you are of course right. She is incredibly unsubtle. I would put that down to this being her first novel (you know she wrote this and it was bought for the princely sum of 10 pounds and then not published for years and years!) On the other hand, I have to say, and you know my sense of humor so no surprise, but I love the very unsubtleness of it. It is a sledgehammer, but as someone who can’t help but use humor constantly, and who often says the thing that isn’t funny, somehow I like this. 😉
      Mary Shelley–have your read How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ? This is where I learned about how when Shelley released Frankenstein, credit was given to the ghost of her dead husband because how could a woman! I choose to believe that Mary wrote it.
      I am so pleased that I like Tilney so much. I’d forgotten that.

  2. I just added Russ’s book to my list of things to read. Thanks!!! 🙂 Now onto Austen and chapters 1-3. I love Tilney and can’t wait to see what happens between Catherine and him. Who is the heroine of this work if Austen is making a bit of fun of Catherine? Or does she rise to the occasion later on, learn a bit about life, etc.? Isabelle cracks me up; everything is about her and how long it takes…”three hours” when it was fifteen minutes, years when it was half a day…for Catherine to arrive, or for some waiting period Isabelle is subjected to. And her brother? Yuk. Any man that much in love with horses and money is nothing but a good-ol-boy who has any heartbreak befalling him coming. I cannot at all relate to the life and times of these people. I think what might turn some people off about Austen are the characters themselves and their privileged lives. That’s just a guess. Beneath that is a fiery observer, though. I want to read more about Austen’s life now.

    1. This is awesome!
      But Marcia! Don’t go past the chapter 3 mark! Tomorrow, you can only comment through chapter 6. But of course, I agree with everything you say. 😉
      I love your use of fiery observer. She really is that–and she doesn’t pull her punches.

      1. I also wanted to comment on the heroine remark. Really good comment. Here’s the thing about Austen: she has a strong belief system and lots of integrity. She is also a pragmtist–I think, ultimately, she’s a realist. She doesn’t let anyone off the hook though she does cut a few people some slack. This is fun.

  3. I love that Caroline “was fond of all boys’ plays” and that she had many “symptoms of profligacy at ten years old.” Wow! I feel shocked that Mrs. Moreland has 10 kids and is still alive. Catherine is from hearty stock. If that doesn’t kill a woman, then what will? I do not like Mrs. Allen, but she is of a type and that fits the Bath setting. I think that I would go nuts in 19th C. England. I like Mr. Tilney, too.
    I don’t remember much at all about NA, so I feel like I am reading the book for the first time. Of course, being older and really hearing JA makes a difference. I like the narrative voice, and I love the observation that JA as a narrator is inviting us into a scene, telling us a story, winking at us, and asking us to really think about these people and their motivations.

    1. The number of kids is amazing!
      And Kirsten, surely 19th century England would have been a blast because of the Mysteries of Udolpho.
      I know, I read it–did you? It was fine. It isn’t my thing. Personally, I don’t really start liking supernatural fiction until some of Poe and then, of course, Dracula, which I adore and doesn’t happen until late 19th century.
      I just had a conversation with Margaret who read Austen in 10th grade at a boarding school. I love that sentence. Anyway, her first thought when reading Austen was “I love how concise her writing is! Her adjectives are amazing!” I don’t think I knew what adjectives were in 10th grade, so I’m especially impressed by this.

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