Northanger abbey and the limits of parody
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Northanger Abbey and the Limits of Parody. Tara Ghosahal Wallace. Northanger Abbey = Gothic Parody both mocks and uses the forms and conventions of the Gothic novel.

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Northanger Abbey and the Limits of Parody

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Northanger abbey and the limits of parody

Northanger Abbey and the Limits of Parody

Tara Ghosahal Wallace

Northanger abbey and the limits of parody

Northanger Abbey = Gothic Parody

  • both mocks and uses the forms and conventions of the Gothic novel.

  • Austen invites the reader to join her in an effort to debunk the conventions of novels, she mocks and undermines her own chosen method – parodic discourse so that both narrative and reader are kept off balance

  • Austen opens by positioning two kinds of readers and two kinds of texts;

  • The naïve reader or romantic who would expect a heroine to be an orphan and to engage in ‘the more heroic enjoyments of infancy’. This reader is to find that NA disrupts or disorientates their expectations

  • More sophisticated reader who rejects romance and who knows a parody when he sees one . Through NA this reader can enter a comfortable world of shared beliefs

  • Readers are not only a partner in the narrative but a opponent who struggles with the narrator for control of the text

Struggle henry tilney

Struggle = Henry Tilney

  • Austen begins by allowing the reader to feel as though Tilney speaks for her.

  • Henry as the hero/mentor - embodiment of the narrator’s values who will rid the heroine of her romantic, girlish fantasies

  • First conversation between Catherine and Henry = display of parodist techniques;

    - Tilney mocks Bath conventions, he does so by adding new intonations a “set smile”, an “affectedly” soft voice, he assumes surprise at an unsurprising remark etc.

  • Austen’s refusal to stand behind her hero’s parody of Bath is apparent, when Elanor Tilney and Catherine engage in exactly the sort of dialogue he has mocked, “ though in all probability not an observation was made, not an expression used..which had not benn made..a thousand times every bath season..the merit of their being spoken with simplicity and truth..might be something uncommon”

  • Commitment to Pariodic discourse is undermined by the awareness that the reader may not automatically share the cynicism of the parodist

  • Tilney’s targets – social conventions, obsessions with clothing are too trivial to engage the sustained commitment of the narrator , and her resistance to his parody forces the reader to re- evaluate the parodic discourse of the novel

Northanger abbey and the limits of parody

  • Henry as the embodiment of the narrator’s values begin to fade, Catherine is not sure how to respond to his parody– senses that he is mocking conventions but does not know “whether she might venture to laugh”

  • ‘ From the beginning Tilney has been hard at work shaping Catherine’s response to experience, (shapes Catherine’s perspective = gothic heroine) even as the narrator has been trying to manipulate the reader’s expectations.

  • the manipulation leads to doubt, instability and lack of confidence for the reader. Just as Catherine doesn’t know how to respond to mockery the reader is unsure of the intended effect of the narrator

  • While reader struggles to place narrative and narrator, Catherine begins to succumb to Henry’s reading of the world, ready to interpret as Henry dictates

  • As Catherine tries to make sense of Isabella’s inconsistencies, she turns to Henry to provide an authoritative interpretations – obliges but not with the truth – a parental narrator trying to protect her’

  • Against all her own insticts Catherine is convinced his speech ‘carried her captive’ because ‘Henry Tilney must know best’. Language of struggle -- what the authoritative author can do to the insecure reader who may contend and resist but is eventually made captive to the narrators will

  • Throughout NA ‘Tilney chooses whatever rhetoric suits him– parodic, critical, measured, ‘Austen may be providing polarities – explicit commendation of novels vs implied criticism in parody – to alert the reader to the dangers of generalisation’

General tilney

General Tilney

  • ‘Catherine fails to read this text because she choses to see an opposition between all the Tilneys and all the Thorpes, when General = Thrope in his selfish greed and materialistic discourse. Catherine does not see these parallels, she mistrusts her feelings and hold on to her determination that he must be amiable

  • General presented in increasingly unamiable light = Catherine who is unable to see selfishness fabricating a gothic fantasy about a murdered wife

  • Outrageous speculations work not of Mrs Radcliffee but of Henry Tilney – his parodic tale of terror, causes her to fine gothic adventure. When his prescriptions come to nothing the creative energy released by his rhetoric must locate its inventions elsewhere – need to release the creative spirit

  • General Tilney remains a puzzle – Catherine = explanation for darker side Audience = motive for his kindness

  • Austen withholds the crucial point of the General’s gullibility,

  • Austen has created an expectation evoked an atmosphere that it as odds with her ostensibly parodic motif

Northanger abbey and the limits of parody

Parody – Better than romance because it exposes the excesses of Romance

Realistic novel – Better than both because it is a synthesis coming out of the struggle between the two, but also because it takes for its material the events and attitudes of common life, deals with human nature and probabilities

  • But Austen immediatley launches into a subversive attack on the unimaginative and comfortable world of the Morlands .

  • The narrators mocking dismissal of any other interpretations ‘ they never once thought of her heart, which, for parents of a young lady of 17, just returned from her first excursion from home, was odd enough’ does not quite reflect the readers awareness of their dullness

Superiority of the prosaic asserted in the aggressive re-entry of parodic narrator who has Catherine’s shameful return met with a happy family

Northanger abbey and the limits of parody

  • Each stance is trapped within its own self- created limitations .

  • Sentimentalism of Isabella - bends everything to its selfish will

  • Parodic discourse of Henry - distorts in order to amuse but also to assert superiority

  • Prosaic homeliness of the Morlands - excludes the force of feelings

  • At no point in NA can reader confidently assert that this is the author’s final intention, insists upon an awareness the reader's participation in narrative strategy

  • Reader must assume responsibility of making meaning in the text

  • NA contains within it a critique of all the forms it takes, that parody and realism are as vulnerable to the narrator’s irony as is the rhetoric of sentimentalism

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