Northanger Abbey

Contrary to my expectations, I enjoyed Northanger Abbey abbey quite a bit, becoming strangely compelled by the story, and its characters. I think part of what I was so enamoured by was the fact that Jane Austen was able to make so much out of so little, and out of such ‘traditional’ characters. Even though the motivations of marriage, reputation, and so forth seem archaic to me, and maybe were even a bit dull to readers in Austen’s time, she is able to convey the thoughts and personalities of characters with dizzying  depth and complexity. Her writing was intimate enough that even the journey of such a seemingly dainty, foreign psyche as Catherine’s appeared as a jarring emotional roller coaster even to me. I guess what I’m getting at is Northanger Abbey demonstrates that exceptional writing can make something even as foreign to us as Regency era England transcend its own context and feel vivid and high-stakes. Not to mention that the prose was exceptionally easy to read and get through. The writing style Austen adopts may exemplify Wordsworth’s definition of bibliotherapy as writing that is the non-savage, accurate transfer of meaning and emotions through words and thoughts heavily meditated on.

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  1. I was also surprised at how easy it was to read. I read a bit of Pride and Prejudice a few years ago and could not get through it. Perhaps this one was easier to read or I’ve started to like Austen’s style and content, but I agree Northanger Abbey was much more compelling than I had expected.

  2. I can see that in a way, this book follows the usual genre of the “marriage plot,” as Dr. Burgess put it in lecture, and on the face of it that can sound pretty dull. But in this book, I think, Austen is an exceptionally funny writer–the irony is palpable, and her wit quite impressive. The “meta-fictional” elements also discussed in lecture, add an important dimension to the story–one can’t just easily get caught up in the story, but is frequently being pulled out of it to the recognition that this IS a fiction. That makes it even more interesting for me, adding new layers of meaning. Why would it have been important for Austen, in this particular text, to remind us that what we are reading is a fiction? What does that have to do with the themes of reading and being “infected,” as it were, with what one is reading? I’m curious to delve into these questions in seminar!

    I have to admit I was almost disappointed that it had a typical “happy ending,” since it felt like it was just wrapped up far too tidily and quickly. I’m still grappling with the question of whether we might read that as being a kind of purposeful strategy, perhaps saying something about how such novels usually go, and how we have to hasten to a happy conclusion. I’m not sure about that, though.

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