Northanger Abbey

I found the frequent appearance of Gothic novels in Northanger Abbey an interesting theme. Catherine’s fascination with them as well as Henry’s parody (when they are on the way to Northanger Abbey) allow for Northanger Abbey to become a sort of ideal for Catherine. Northanger is expected by Catherine, to be an old decaying mansion filled with mystery and intrigue, a true representation of the Gothic novel. When she arrives of course, it is more dull than anything else, lacking all mysterious qualities, ones which Catherine must invent using her imagination. The novels provide an important insight into the character of Catherine as they become a key in her imaginings. Imagination stands as one of the most important qualities of Catherine’s personality, one which is heightened if not created by her reading Gothic Novels. Perhaps the appearance of such novels is a commentary made by Austen about the Gothic novels and their authors of the time. The extent to which Catherine imagines the events of these novels in her daily life and the influence they seem to have in her mind seem to poke fun at the genre.

Another thing I found interesting was mentioned in lecture which was how Austen refused to have her novels published in the quarto form. The accessibility of the octavo and the duodecimo to the public both for their price and size greatly increased the  number of people both reading and owning books. Even today, novels tend to be roughly the same sizes as either the octavo or the duodecimo which goes to show how the reduction of size from the quarto has remained popular for 200 years.

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  1. I sometimes wish there was more explanation in this book about just what gothic novels are like because it’s not something I’m terribly familiar with, but then I think: well, they were very familiar to Austen’s audience at the time, probably. So it would be like writing a novel now where you go into depth explaining what reality tv or social media is like. But I agree that it feels like Austen is poking fun at gothic novels when the narrator of the novel talks about what the heroine ought to be like and what sorts of things usually happen to the heroine but aren’t happening here. I would guess that the readers of her book at the time would have recognized such tropes as referring to gothic novels right away (I had to rely on the footnotes!).

    And good point about the smaller volumes still being popular. When you go to airports, I’ve noticed that quite often they sell the smallest size versions of novels, those sort of pocket-sized ones, whereas in other bookstores you may have novels that are somewhat larger (though still not quarto sized, usually). This also makes me think of the aptness of the name “coffee table books” for those big ones that people flip through while sitting on the couch–it’s not like one is going to carry those around in one’s bag every day!

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