I will start by admitting that Northanger Abbey is my first Austen novel, and I am enjoying it a lot. I am actually ashamed to admit that this is my first experience with the beloved author of most experienced female literary scholars. So far, one of the dynamics that I enjoy reading in this novel is the relationship between Catherine and Isabella and the way they discuss the men in their lives. Isabella is often overly dramatic, but her lines come across in an amusing tone. In Chapter 10 of Volume One, after Catherine and Isabella reunite, Isabella says, “Oh, heavens! My beloved Catherine, have I got you at last?” (Austen 49). There are many moments like this when Isabella reveals her true nature and excitement for speaking with Catherine. Isabella loves to express her opinions of men and fashion. A little bit later from the moment mentioned above, Catherine appears to be disappointed that she had not met Mr. Tilney yet. Austen writes, “Oh, horrid! Am I never to be acquainted with him? How do you like my gown?” (49). Isabella often goes from men to fashion and somehow it ends up being about her, while still maintaining her friendship with Catherine. Isabella even tells Catherine that “I know you better than you know yourself” (50).While Catherine and Isabella are very different, they both long to become closer to the sisters of men they are attracted to. Catherine longs to get to know Miss Tilney as to better acquaint herself with Mr. Tilney. And, Isabella enjoys her company with Catherine’s brother, James.
I think Austen recognized that she wrote relateable characters especially in the moment when she writes, “Every young lady may feel for my heroine in this critical moment, for every young lady has at some time or other known the same agitation” (52). Catherine longs for the attention of one potential male suitor but is pursued by John Thorpe. Sadly, at times, it seems as if Isabella cares more about the relationship she fosters with Catherine’s brother than Catherine’s dilemmas. Catherine’s position with Isabella shifts throughout the novel because she wants to be close to Henry Tilney instead of Isabella’s brother, John. In the moment when John Thorpe refuses to stop the carriage so that Catherine can join the Tilneys, her weakness becomes clear. Austen writes, “Catherine, angry and vexed as she was, having no power of getting away, was obliged to give up the point and submit” (62). This scene in particular is heart-wrenching because Catherine finds herself complaisant to surrendering potential happiness with Tilney and is instead with Thorpe.
A scene that I particularly liked in the novel in Volume One is when Henry Tilney compares marriage to dancing. In this interesting scene, Tilney dances with Catherine while discussing the similarities and differences in marriage. In a way, the scene serves as an early proposal. In Elsbree’s article “Jane Austen and the Dance of Fidelity and Complaissance” he addresses this scene and writes, “The complex and often ill-managed rituals by which a man selects, the putative advantages or disadvantages upon which a woman accepts or refuses, and the sometimes neglected duties of fidelity and complaisance to which a partner binds himself are primary sources of action and speech in Jane Austen’s fictional world and dramatize the theme of courtship and marriage” (114). In Austen’s fictional world, dancing is important as it is a gender driven ritual and so is marriage. Tilney describes marriage as way for man to persistently seek the approval of a woman but that woman has “only the power of refusal” (Austen 54). Elsbree also writes that in Austen’s novels, she is fascinated by what socially surrounds the dance. Many scenes in Volume One of Northanger Abbey take place in a dance setting. Catherine is able to talk and connect with Tiney thought a dance and when their conversation ends in Chapter 10, Austen writes, “Here their conversation closed; the demands of the dance becoming now too importunate for a divided attention” (57). Austen uses the dances as a way to set up each character and Elsbree points out key differences in characters when he writes:
Mrs. Allen, Catherine’s chaperone, dis-plays only lethargy when Catherine has no partner at the first ball they attend (p. 20); Isabella Thorpe reveals her pretentious-ness and hypocrisy at each ball she attends; John Thorpe exhibits braggadocio, grossness, and grumpiness when he asks Catherine to dance (pp. 75-76); and Henry Tilney shows his good breeding, wit, and growing affection for Catherine whenever he has her for a partner. (116)
As I continue to read the novel, I am interested in making more connections to the parody style of the gothic novel Austen used. As Elsbree also highlights key dancing scenes in novel like Sense and Sensiblity, I am also interested in reading more of Austen to further my knowledge.
Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey: Lady Susan, The Watsons and Sandition. New York: Oxford University Press. 2003. Print.
Elsbree, Langdon. “Jane Austen and the Dance of Fidelity and Complaisance.” Nineteenth Century Fiction. 15.2 (1960): 113-136. Web. JSTOR. 18 April 2012.
Interesting Web Sites:
This source is the Jane Austen Center website that details a special exhibit on Bath. Throughout the novel, Northanger Abbey, characters reference their opinions toward Bath and the kind of place it is as opposed to London.
This is a literary blog site with an article on dancing in Austen novels in particular, highlighting scenes from Austen’s novel, Emma.