Satire + Critic in Northanger Abbey

“But, my dearest Catherine, what have you been doing with yourself all this morning? Have you gone on with Udolpho?”

“Yes, I have been reading it ever since I woke; and I am got to the black veil.”

“Are you, indeed? How delightful! Oh! I would not tell you what is behind the black veil for the world! Are not you wild to know?”

“Oh! Yes, quite; what can it be? But do not tell me—I would not be told upon any account. I know it must be a skeleton, I am sure it is Laurentina’s skeleton. Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. I assure you, if it had not been to meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the world.”

“Dear creature! How much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

“Have you, indeed! How glad I am! What are they all?”

“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocketbook. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”

“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”

“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.”

Chapter 6, p. 39, Penguin Edition

The gothic novels of the time of the Regency era are discussed here, in particular Ann Radcliffe’s infamously popular The Mysteries of Udolpho. Despite being a gothic genre, the characters and narrator discuss the text in a more sentimental and earnest manner that is meant to be parodic. The gothic genre is traditionally meant to express horror vs terror, yet these examples are all defined as horror. Ann Radcliffe defines the works mentioned as terror, so it is interesting that it is pointed out that Catherine is misunderstanding these works. The humorous tone implies the satire in which Austen indulges, especially through contrastive language/images (“Dear creature” and “Skeleton”). The scene generally serves to establish depth in the friendship as opposed to the relationship of Mrs. Thorpe and Mrs. Allen. And yet, it seems like Austen is making a point of clearly showing the inaccuracy of the conversation and how these girls are misunderstanding the works intended effects. This conversation on the darker genre juxtaposes the lighter romanticized aspects of visiting Bath and meeting the men and looking at hats and dresses, and serves to highlight the darker themes that surface later in the novel.

One thought on “Satire + Critic in Northanger Abbey”

  1. Nice job. How does the depiction of Catherine and Isabella reading together in their comfortable, intimate environment reframe the arguments about the risks of young women reading? How does social reading complicate the conventional didactic model of “young women getting wrong thoughts in her head from romances”?

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