Satire of Romance Novels Oct 11, 2009
I had not thought of Austen as a satirist prior to reading Northanger Abbey. Within the first chapter the author addresses what the book is not ? a gothic romance, thought it is fashioned similarly, and named similarly. Austen points out the heroine?s father did not lock up his daughters, there was no lover of unknown origin, (something Emily Bronte uses years later in Wuthering Heights), and the heroine?s mother does not warn her of the seduction of barons. Rather, when the teenage heroine, Catherine Morland, leaves for a resort town to stay with neighbors, everything is done ?with a degree of moderation and composure, which seemed rather consistent with the common feelings of common life...? 6. With the contrasts Austen makes to the typical gothic romance she conveys the message that life is not like the popular novel.
Austen makes some straight forward comments in Northanger Abbey, without irony. Throughout the book she comments on novels, a rather new and popular form in the late 18th century. The novel, evidently, was looked down on, but was also a guilty pleasure. A person would suggest reading Milton or Pope or Addison, but would condemn books by Anne Radcliffe. Even novelists would do this. But Austen, as narrator, would not. She does, however, illustrate problems for those who read such novels, as the character Catherine experiences. Catherine is disappointed that Northanger Abbey isn?t ancient nor dark nor in ruins. She is terribly mistaken in her perception of General Tilney, suspecting he has imprisoned his wife in the Abbey, based on what she had read in novels. I?m not sure if all statements of judgment are ironic or not.
The satire is strong only in a few chapters of the book. Otherwise it is something of the standard Austen work, with characters pairing up according to society?s expectations, then finding out they are mismatched. Though no one may expect Catherine to be a heroine, she is a very good character, practical, sociable, yet refraining from coquetry, earnest. The book tells of her maturation through the age of courtship.