I’m going to start this blog post by stressing the fact that I can’t make the lecture on Monday, much to my dismay, because I have class during that time. I read the email and immediately swore at the unfortunate timing.
Anyway, when it comes to the world of Austen there is much to talk about. I read somewhere in passing that her novels are about much more than the female characters and their romantic shenanigans in the society of their time. When you take this sentence as is, without context, this observation would seem obvious. Aren’t all novels about more than their characters and their interactions? But I think that it has been the case that people have taken the romances featured in Austen’s novels under greater consideration and raised them to higher interest rather than the other, equally important components of her stories. From what little I know of Austen it seems that her female characters all seem to have a great sense of independence, or gain one by the end of the novel. This, I think, is potentially more interesting than who gets married by the end of the book.
My initial impression of Catherine is that she is a free spirit with an active imagination. She is described to be “inattentive” as a child but this can also be seen as an insatiable sense of curiosity. Her parents seem to be sensible and do not force a way of life on their daughter, which I find extremely important. I have come across several novels where the main character is born into and forced to conform to a way of life and characterization that they want nothing more to rebel against. It’s nice to see that in her early years her parents are not the people who do this to her. As she grows up I think she uses books because she can no longer roam free and indulge her imagination in the way that childhood allows her.
The first sentence of the novel keeps drawing my attention as I read along: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine.” What does heroine mean in the context of Austen’s time? What does heroine mean as the way Austen describes it? When I think of heroine I think of someone independent and self-sufficient, in charge of her actions and life. Catherine grows as the novel progresses, learns through her experiences that life is not like the novels she reads and slowly sheds her innocence but does not lose what makes her who she is. Sounds like a heroine to me. Perhaps the cliche phrase “Heroes aren’t born, they’re made” fits in here?
I genuinely liked Catherine’s send off because it was so normal. Her mother doesn’t assume the worst, just tells her to wrap up. Her sister doesn’t insist that she write every detail. Her father doesn’t shower her with money and only gives her a small amount, promising more when she asks. Everything is sensible without unnecessarily great ceremony. In some ways it is ideal and in others lacking. It’s human and ordinary and not fanciful. It feels real and really similar to how my family operates. Coincidentally, many of the descriptors that Austen provides for Catherine remind me of my own childhood.
The role of books/novels and their influence comes up in this novel, which is clearly one of the major connections between Northanger Abbey and Lyrical Ballads. Catherine develops her inaccurate view of the abbey and characteristics of strangers like the Tilneys and Mrs Tilney’s death and empty rooms. The view on books is both similar in differing in Austen and Wordsworth’s works and is worth examining what both of them are trying to say.