I love Northanger Abbey and I have mentioned it multiple times before that I think it is really sad it isn’t as widely known as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma.
Some of you might know this but for those who don’t, Northanger Abbey was written to be a play on the Gothic genre, and I personally feel specifically on novel The Female Quixote or The Adventures of Arabella.
When you read Northanger Abbey there is such wit in the words; along with little allusions and digs at other Gothic works-if you know what they refer to they are absolutely hilarious, but even if you aren’t a big fan of Gothic fiction it still remains a fun book to read.
For example, the beginning of Northanger Abbey sets up our protagonist, Catherine Morland as the complete opposite of a gothic heroine as she has no trauma propelling her forward. She comes from a complete family: no broken familial bonds, no separation between her parents, no hatred in the marriage, and unfortunately both her parents are alive and she regrettably was not placed under the household of a horrible relative.
To make matters worse, not only are both of her parents alive but they also treat her and her siblings well! Her father “was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters”, her parents don’t hide her away from society, they feed her proper meals-it is all disheartening.
And her family isn’t even poor, but well off! Oh my goodness, what’s a girl to do with this lot in life?
Now this is all written sarcastically and said in mock fun, (just like how Jane Austen wrote it), but this was a prevalent theme in gothic fiction. Most of the the time our hero or heroine is placed in some type of traumatic situation or surrounded by abusive people that propels them forward into the plot.
Catherine luckily gets her tale, and while going on ups and downs, she has her happy ending with the most well-adjusted man in gothic literature.
Like I’ve said before, if you haven’t read Northanger Abbey you totally should. It is so funny and just plain enjoyable.
This book by Louisa May Alcott is the anti-Northanger Abbey. That is everything that could go wrong. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first some background.
This book was written in 1866. Alcott had just returned from her job as a companion to a wealthy women during her trip abroad and all throughout Europe. When Alcott came home she discovered that her father had run through almost all their money. Eager to do her part in helping out, she started writing stories and attempted to get them published.
Newspapers were the big story publishers, printing them week by week and often paying per word. Now this was before radio and TV, so these weekly publications of stories was their version of soap operas, every week ending on a cliffhanger.
Since the purpose was to get the reader hooked and constantly buying to find what happened next, they really wanted dramatic stories. Alcott did her best to oblige, only problem? She did a little too well.
Her book was not published as it was far too racy for the day. Think of it as the Fifty Shades of Grey of the 19th century. Yep this novel deals with sex, violence, obsession, abuse, hypocrisy in religion, greed, the question of insanity, mistreatment of women, women’s rights, divorce, bigamy, suicide, murder, etc.
While today’s audiences would go for all that, those back in 1866 dropped it like a hot potato. Alcott shelved the book, it not being published until 1995.
How Does It Relate to Northanger Abbey?
Well, first you have to understand how Northanger Abbey came about.
In 1605, Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes, was published. This book told the story of Don Quixote, a Spanish nobleman, who reads so many chivalric and romantic stories (not romance stories as we have today, but the “classical romances”) that he sort of loses his sanity trying to live those values and live in that world, in the modern 17th century. He gets into all kind of crazy antics, battling other “knights”, “monsters”, etc.
In 1752, Charlotte Lennox parodied Don Quixote with her novel, The Adventures of Arabella also known as The Female Quixote. Her story is about a young girl, Arabella, who has been sequestered away in the middle of nowhere with just her father for companionship. Not encountering many people and her mother dying + father ignoring her; she learned all about people and how to interact with them from “classical romances”. This book goes over the problems of having read so many “romance novels”, you expect life to follow, only to be sorely disappointed.
Now Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, published in 1818, was meant to be a parody of The Female Quixote, gothic fiction, societal rules of the day, etc. One of the reasons why a lot of people don’t “get” this novel is that they don’t understand what she is poking fun at or trying to say about these subjects.
In Austen’s story, we have a young girl, Catherine, who has been raised not as sequestered as Arabella, but definitely in the country resulting in some naivety. She loves romance novels and gothic fiction, giving her an overactive imagination.
She is asked to accompany family friends to Bath for a season and while there finds herself encountering some of the problems of the other before mentioned characters. Her education in romance novels didn’t prepare her for how people act. Her overactive imagination does get the best of her as well. The other thing about this book is that Catherine does go through some events that are right out of a romance novel or gothic tale.
She meets two handsome strangers, both trying to win her; encounters some dangerous and immoral men; gets caught up in a plot to get money; and has the man of her dreams come after her to tell her he loves her.
And then we have A Long Fatal Love Chase, written in 1866, and follows the same veins as these other books, except taking a much darker twist.
Now I don’t know if Alcott has read any of these authors and set out to copy part of their ideas or what; but the stories are so similar I can’t help but believe that at least one of these authors inspired her.
A Long Fatal Love Chase, begins with our heroine Rosamund or Rose. She has lived on a small island with her grandfather ever since her parents died when she was very young. She has encountered no other people, from the time of her parent’s death, and therefore has a lot of naivete and a lack of propriety as she doesn’t know better.
Just living in my own world
Life with her grandfather is dreary, as he provides for the physical things (shelter, clothes, food, etc) but ignores Rose and doesn’t care for her emotional being.
This makes her wish that she could have someone take her away from it all, just like in the romance novels. In fact she states
“I would give my soul to the devil, for a year of freedom.”
Enter Philip Tempest.
Tall, brooding, handsome, rich, has a swashbuckling scar, sails around the world on his yacht, etc.
He comes to visit Rosamund’s grandfather and is quite taken with Rose’s sweet disposition, naivete, and young, innocent character. Rose falls in love with him, and dreams of the possibility that he might take her away from everything.
Tempest wants Rose and is not a man used to hearing NO. He plays cards with the grandfather, winning Rose.
I’m taking her.
He carries her away in his boat telling her that he is the master and she must serve him. He wants her only as his mistress, but Rose refuses anything until they are married. Tempest reluctantly agrees.
A year later the couple are living in France to attend the gaieties. Besides Rose and Tempest, their party includes Baptiste, Tempest’s right hand man who does everything he says, and Impolito “Lito”, a Greek cabin boy who looks very familiar (aka Tempest’s child, very obvious). All has been great for the couple until Tempest runs into an old friend Willoughby. Willoughby???!!!
He knows something that Tempest is determined to keep hidden, so Tempest kills him.
Unbeknownst to him, a girl from a flower shop delivers a note to Lito, who then runs off to a secret meeting. Rose sees this and comments on it to Tempest. Tempest becomes so furious that Lito would “correspond” with her, that he sends him away.
Later Rose overhears Baptiste telling Tempest that “no one will find him in the grove.” When she goes to investigate she discovers a mound of dirt as in a new grave, and the pin she gave Lito.
She starts to think that Tempest might have killed Lito. She still has her doubts, of which all are dashed when she overhears another conversation. This time she overhears a conversation between Tempest and a woman, a woman who is HIS WIFE.
Yes Lito is their son, of which Tempest took when he left his wife. He has wanted a divorce but she won’t grant him one unless he gives her custody of their son, something Tempest would never do. He has been sailing around the world with many mistresses, content if not fully happy. He met Rose and faked the marriage in order to make her happy, knowing that it was void. Rose becomes distraught at his lies and betrayal of trust and runs away.
So here’s where it gets even more dramatic. We see a man from a romance character ready to make your dreams come true, right? Wrong! Tempest is an abuser and a controller. He tells Rose that her loves her, but in truth having her being subservient gives him power. Where ever she runs, he chases her, intent on making her his. We have the anti-Northanger Abbey as instead of a dreamy, true life romance hero; we have a sociopath.
Now some may wonder why is Tempest evil, but Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre who does a similar thing romantic? Well for two reasons. The first is that Mr. Rochester was tricked into marrying his wife by his family, who wanted a merger with their business and her family, who no longer wanted to take care of her. They hid the illness well, and when Mr. Rochester discovered how crazy she was it was too late, and those who are insane can’t get divorced. He’s stuck with her.
He has to live with a woman who is more animalistic than human and constantly trying to murder him.
Tempest married a beautiful, wealthy, Greek-English girl; become bored and left. He hates being tied down and loves being in power. He stole their child from his wife and covered it up by having her told Lito was dead. She was heartbroken as she believed him, only discovering the lie when Willoughby writes to her.
Mr. Rochester does try to marry Jane as he falls in love with her, but is stopped from committing bigamy by his wife’s brother. Jane leaves, and as much as he doesn’t want her to go, he respects her wishes and leaves her alone.
Tempest marries Rose, having a friend pretend to be a preacher and perform the wedding service. Rose finds out and leaves, Tempest refuses to acknowledge her feelings and actions and stalks her.
What a psycho!
Rose starts work with a seamstress in a French village, but Tempest finds her barricaded in her room. He tells her that he will be getting the divorce soon, and then they can be together forever. That night Rose escapes, with help from a friend, and finds refuge with an actress. She spends some happy time there, and even reunites with Lito, who was not killed but sent somewhere. All is not perfect as Tempest finds them again, and the two flee.
Rose to a convent and Lito to his mother. Later Rose discovers a dead body, and she plants evidence so that people would think it was her.
Rose enjoys being in the convent and serving, paying penance for her sins. She befriends the two priests; Father Dominic the elder, and Father Ignatius, young and deeply in love with Rose. Rose seeks help from Father Dominic to overcome her love and temptation to return to Tempest, only to discover that both the Mother Superior and Father Dominic sold her out to Tempest.
She escapes Tempest again, and reunites with the Comté who’s daughter she saved from dying of fever. He takes care of her and falls in love, asking her to marry him. She agrees and gets ready to, when Tempest finds her once again. He convinces the Comté that Rose is his wife and insane.
You’re crazy! Crazy, am I? We’ll see whether I’m crazy or not.
As the Comté deserts her, and Tempest is preparing to carry her off, Rose commits suicide, shooting herself.
Unfortunately the shot to her side wasn’t deadly, but does have her thrown into a mental institution (from yours truly Tempest). There she lives some horrible and demoralizing days. She manages to convince Baptiste to turn to her side and help her escape the asylum, only to discover it is another ploy by Tempest to capture her.
Tempest carries her away to a remote island, intent on being kind and sweet, wooing her. He is divorced now and wants Rose for his wife and forever. She ends up being saved by Father Ignatious, fleeing to the safety of Tempest’s ex-wife, but finds out that getting out of the Tempest is not easy.
Will it ever be over?
Was the Book Good?
I thought this book was very interesting. And had some pros and cons.
First I recommend this book for all Alcott fans as it is so strikingly different from her other works. All the other novels: Little Women, Little Men, Jo’s Boys, The Inheritance, etc.; were dramatic and fun stories; but nowhere near as sensational and traumatic as this book. If it hadn’t said Louisa May Alcott on the cover, I never would have guessed it was something she has written. You won’t understand until you read it and get a shock.
I’m in shock
What also is fascinating is how Alcott brings to light how much power men have over women at this time, and the inequality in relationships. You have to remember this was not done at the time. Women were men’s property and they could not only do as they wished, but held all the power. I don’t know how many of you saw The Duchess, starring Keira Knightly, but look how unfair women are treated. Georgina is a Duke’s wife but is forced to share her home with the Duke’s mistress and the mistress’ children. When she steps out on him, she loses everything; position in society, her children, etc. He gets to do whatever he wants, hit her, embarrass her, rape her; but she has to follow society’s rules.
So not fair!!
This is what happens in this book. Tempest is abusive, a stalker, and a psychopath; but gets to continue in his behavior because he is male. When Father Ignatious helped Rose escape the convent and reach the Comté, he writes the Comté a letter with all that happened and warning him against Tempest. Yet when Tempest comes, the Comté easily believes the woman is crazy, rather than this charismatic man is what Rose and the Priest say he is.
Alcott also brings to light abusive relationships, stalking, what it feels like, etc. This book is sort of the 19th century’s version of Sleeping With the Enemy. Here Alcott is clearly showing that this behavior is wrong and should not be accepted.
It was too dramatic for my taste. I’m not really a soap opera/telanovela type person. The end in which she is in love with the priest and the priest loves her but both resolve to do nothing about it was not only too flowery, but boring.
It has a great main character, Catherine Morland (which my pseudonym comes from) who we can easily connect to. We all feel like Catherine at times in our lives, hoping that we will have an adventure and meet a dashing hero.
And it has a great leading man in Mr. Tilney. I mean it! Once you read about him, he is a real contender for the number one Austen hero.
Yep a great book that I can’t wait to start celebrating and spreading!
Besides going through the book I will be also reviewing things that are referenced in it, inspirational to the book, and those inspired by it.
”Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice” by Rachel M. Brownstein from The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austencompiled by editors Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. 2003 (originally printed in 1997).
The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen compiled by editors Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. 2003 (originally printed in 1997).
I read this book a while back, but am only now able to write a review of it. This volume contains a brief biography of Austen’s life: her as a writer; essays on Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility, and Pride & Prejudice; Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion; Austen’s short stories; the Austen letters; class-consciousness in her works; economy of the culture; religion and politics; her style in the novels; the significance of her juvenile works; and Austen cults/cultures.
The Lovely Jane
I thought this book was…okay. Some of the essays had really interesting points about Jane Austen or her work.
While others seemed to rehashed old concepts that you already knew. Although, in this book’s defense I think that was mostly due to age as it was published almost twenty years ago. At the time of publication I’m sure all the ideas in were new concepts at the time and just have now just seeped into the general knowledge. I do think it is worth a read if you are looking for more information on Jane Austen or a deeper look into her works.
However, the essay that I did not care for was the one on Northanger Abbey, by Rachel M. Brownstein.
In Brownstein‘s essay she writes about how Northanger Abbey is a parody of the romantic genre that was popular at Austen’s time, that I agreed with.
Northanger Abbey in a way is a rewrite of The Female Quixote or The Adventures of Arabella by Charlotte Lennox. In fact, I agreed with a lot of what Browenstein wrote in her essay, such as how Austen made fun of the romantic tropes, and was quite snarky in her writing. Today she would have fit in on Youtube, right next to Nostalgia Critic or someone of a similar tone.
The part I disagreed with was what she wrote about Mr. Tilney.
In her essay she details that how Mr. Tilney is the most “feminine” of the Austen heroes because he is interested in muslin (something only for a woman), novels, and is dominated and intimidated by his manly father. I however, feel he is no less masculine than any other Austen man.
1)Interest in Muslin
Catherine has just met Mr. Henry Tilney who is unlike any man she has met or read in books. Instead of being tall, dark, and brooding; he is jovial, saracastic, witty, hilarious, etc. No reserve for him.
They begin on the subject of muslin by Mrs. Allen who is speaking on her muslin dress and how she would hate for it to be torn. It is a favorite of hers and cost but nine shillings a yard. Henry shares that he would have guessed that as he is a great judge of muslin, as he buys his own cravats and sometimes his sister’s gowns.
Now there are many ways to look at this conversation:
1. Henry is a Down to Earth Man
Henry Tilney is a middle son. He knows that like most middle children, he will not inherit as much as her older brother but instead is expected to make his own fortune or marry rich.
He chose the church as a profession, and while he will live comfortably he won’t be a millionaire, unless he marries a wealthy person. Depending on what living he is granted and who his patron is, he could have several servants or he might have to take care of a few duties himself. Also before he is married and has a wife to run the house, he will need to be in charge and know how best to budget and stay within his means.
He also might want to purchase the time of cravats he likes. Sometimes you can ask another to pick up a specific material or item, but that doesn’t always mean your servants will follow through. Maybe he likes a particular type and would rather pick it up himself?
2. Henry is a Good Brother
Eleanor Tilney is the youngest of the Tilney clan. She is very reserved and quiet; due to her father General Tilney’s tyrannical ways. We know that the father emotionally abused the mother with his attitude and temperament, being a vampire of spirit, and it is easily concluded that he did the same with his daughter. Because of this, Eleanor doesn’t have many friends, the only ones seeming to be her brother Henry, and then later Catherine.
The eldest Tilney, Captain Fredrick Tilney, is a lot like his father. He is no friend of Eleanor; leaving Henry to shoulder the big brother responsibilities and to be the protector of his sister. Like Mr. Darcy, there are probably a ton of different things he does for his sister, buying her clothing the least of it.
3. Henry is Being Sarcastic
This is most likely the real reasoning behind the conversation with Mrs. Allen. We know that Mr. Tilney has a wicked sense of humor. He is sarcastic, funny, and likes going against society (not 100% but a mini rebellion).
Right before this exchange he and Catherine are discussing her time in Bath, with Mr. Tilney sassily and snarkily making fun of how society expects such bland converstion (much of how Elizabeth does when she and Darcy dance in Pride & Prejudice).
“I [Mr. Tilney] have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent-but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly.’
[Catherine Moreland] ‘You need not give yourself that trouble sir.’
[Mr. Tilney] ‘No trouble I assure you, madam.’ Then forming his features in a set smile, and affectedly softening his voice, he added, with a simpering air, ‘Have you been long in Bath, madam?’
‘About a week, sir. ‘ replied Catherine, trying not to laugh.
‘Really!’ [said Mr. Tilney] with affected astonishment.
‘Why should you be surprised. sir?’ [asked Catherine]
‘Why, indeed!’ said he, in his natural tone. ‘But some emotion must appear to be raised by your reply, and surprise is more easily assumed…
This teasing continues for a while, with Catherine trying her best to withold her laughter.
So we know that Mr. Tilney is a kidder. He likes to joke around, and he likes to be sassy; it is easy to believe that his remarks on muslin are all just one big joke. That he actually knows nothing at all, but is just being sarcastic again.
Maybe he decided to play along with what Mrs. Allen is saying as he is in a silly/sarcastic mood, trying to make Catherine laugh once again. We know he likes to tease, and make fun of other’s foibles (eccentricities) so it is easy to conclude that.
Well, whether he knows his muslin, is a good brother, or just making fun. Mrs. Allen believes he knows his stuff, and that is good enough for me.
2) Dominated by His Father
How do I describe General Tilney?
He pretended to be sweet, charming, and kind to win the heart of a wealthy woman, but later revealed his true colors. He was tyrannical and insisted his way was always the right one or else. He held all the power and expected his children to bow to his will or find themselves with nothing.
How is this less than other Austen characters? Mr. Darcy isn’t dominated by a person, per say, but by society. He knows himself to be attracted to Elizabeth, but feels he cannot marry her as she isn’t in his class, nor does he want to be chained to her family. He does all he can to not want to be with her, but ultimately succumbs.
Edward Ferrars is just as dominated by the head of his family, although in this case it is his mother. Just like in the Tilney clan, you must do what Mrs. Ferrars says or risk losing it all. Edward’s mother wants him to follow a more elite career, while Edward wants to be a minister. He almost gives into his mother’s wishes; but luckily stays true to who he is.
And this was something that happened a lot back then. With inheritance being the key to living comfortably, and rich relatives holding the power, more often than not people always had to bend to their will.
3) Reading Novels
In the 18th century there was what historians call the “reading revolution”. With the printing press improvements that occured then and in the early 19th century, books could be printed more easily and cheaply. Reading and owning books became a huge phenomenon as more people had the ability to purchase them.
Everything from science, to books we now call classics, novels, romance, history, to cheap thrills, etc. Such romances like The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk were popular, but thought to be purposely explicit and exploiting, “women’s cheap novels” but were read by all.
While it would be unusual for Mr. Tilney to admit to reading them, it is not unusual for him to actually read them as most men did. But this admittance goes with his character as we have already seen that Tilney doesn’t feel the need to be reserved, or be constructed by societal norms, but is more open in his demeanor.
Besides as this is still a romance, whether parody or remake, and as Catherine is an avid book reader, her hero has to be as much a reader as herself. After all, there is nothing sexier then meeting a man who loves to read.
4) Never Makes a Move or Takes any Action Toward Catherine
In the essay, Brownstein declares that Mr. Tilney never had any romantic interest with Catherine, his relationship with her was all constructed or forced by his father, General Tilney. Yes, while Mr. Tilney is passive in the beginning of the novel and not the one to invite Catherine to his house (his dad does as he is trying to hook her) but what about that final scene? You know the one where he goes after Catherine and asks her to marry him risking everything for her?
Mr. Tilney is gone from the family home when Catherine is given the boot. When he returns and finds out what happened, he could have just let it go. Or he could have gone and apologized to Catherine, returning home and continuing the search for a wealthy bride. But does he do that? NO! He chooses to not only go after her, apologize for his family, but to also propose.
He is willing to throw his entire fortune away for her, not even knowing if she feels the same way about him. Unlike Edward Ferrars who is in a similar situation, Mr. Tilney doesn’t have an understanding with Catherine. He doesn’t even know if she will accept him, but he’s prepared to give it all up for her and even to to end up with nothing, having turned on his father who is not a forgiving man.
Mr. Tilney is the only Austen hero who throws all caution to the wind, and risks everything for the woman he loves.