Northanger Abbey

I’ve tried to read Austen a few times over the years but never had much luck, and I expected Northanger Abbey to be much the same as her other works.

Not so! Although the first few pages were a bit tricky, I got through them and really enjoyed the read. There were a few things about this reading that surprised me right off the bat.

Firstly, I think some of the points Austen is making are really interesting. She chooses to make them as part of a novel, but I think some of the things she is saying would perhaps be better put as some kind of essay? It’s hard to know, though, whether they would have had the same response had they been formatted differently.

For instance, she breaks the fourth wall a lot when writing, especially towards the end. I’m curious as to who the narrator really is in this case – is it Austen herself, or some fictionalized version of her?

Also, the relationship between Catherine and Henry is strange, to say the least. You can’t tell if he likes her for most of the book, and while she’s at Northanger Abbey he pretty much friendzones her. Then, eventually, his sister says, “hey Henry, this girl really likes you so maybe you should like her back?” and he goes “oh yeah, we should get married”. What? This is really confusing.

“I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.” (p. 180)

Then again, Henry seems to understand the details of female friendship more than most guys do! “You feel, I suppose, that, in losing Isabella, you lose half yourself: you feel a void in your heart which nothing else can occupy.” (p. 152) This whole speech pretty much sums up most girls’ feelings when they lose a close female friend, and you can tell that although the speaker at this point is a man, the author is a woman who gets it!

Lastly, I’d just like to comment on the ending of the book. “I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.” (p. 187) This follows a paragraph about whether the General was, in fact, being a good parent by sending Catherine away, etc, and strengthening their knowledge of each other. While I don’t think it was good parenting per se, none of the parenting in this novel seems to be particularly productive. Mrs. Morland tries to console her daughter and fails, so she gives up and starts being critical. Mr. Morland is practically useless. Mrs. Allen only cares about her clothes, and Mr. Allen is also useless. Mrs. Thorpe is just plain annoying and the General seems to order his children around more than he parents them. Is this what parenting was like in Austen’s time?

That’s all for now!

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Who is Antigone?

Antigone’s Claim was a really interesting read for me – I got the impression it might be a bit dry but I actually loved it! Although I didn’t entirely agree with all of Butler’s arguments, Antigone’s Claim raised some interesting questions/ideas for me, so here they are (in some kind of order …)

1. Did she or did she not have an incestuous thing for Polyneices? Butler strongly implies that she did, and Jill suggested in lecture yesterday that she did, but I’m still not 100% sure. I feel like maybe she just wanted all her brothers to be equal in death? This also brings up the question of whether she regarded Oedipus as something like a brother as well, which ties into my next idea.

2. What was her relationship like with Jocasta? She didn’t really have a ‘mother’ figure after she discovered the curse in the same way she didn’t have a ‘father’ figure. (In Antigone’s Claim, Butler says that Antigone means anti-generation, which relates to her having no clear parental figures.)

3. Ethics is discussed heavily here and I know it ties into Antigone’s whole decision making process and even more into that of Ismene. Having said that, I feel like it’s a bit of a different issue than the one we’re dealing with here – I think the term ‘ethics’ is very general and the problem here is more to do with morals. Then again, aren’t ethics and morals more or less the same thing?

4. I liked the idea of Antigone being ‘dead’ in life – it’s interesting. Just because she lived a life free of love and motherhood, does that mean she lived a life in which she was symbolically dead? I would argue that by defying Kreon and burying Polyneices, she made a name for herself and therefore will never truly be ‘dead’.

5. Homosexuality is discussed in the last chapter and I don’t know what it’s doing in this book. Can anyone shed some light on this for me?

 

That’s all for now – I’m looking forward to discussing some of these things (among others) in seminar tomorrow and Friday!

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