Northanger Abbey is about a young and quite impressionable young lady, Catherine Morland. She travels to Bath and is swept up in the social circle there, where she meets a clergyman, Henry Tilney, and quickly (obviously) falls for him. She also becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe, a woman who knows what she wants and goes for it, as well as henry’s own sister, Eleanor. later, Catherine receives an invitation to visit Northanger Abbey, the home of the Tilneys.
Catherine Morland is clearly a suggestible reader, but her gullibility extends beyond books into the real world. Is the tendency to think the best of people a trait you admire? Is it a trait you have?
Mathuri: I love this about Catherine Morland. It’s a flaw but it’s also very honest and relatable. I’m not sure if there’s a right word, but I love that this character has that flaw, because it felt very realistic. I know that this trait is a defining characteristic for Catherine, and I like that it is! I’m not sure if I’m gullible, but I know I’m naive, occasionally oblivious to things, but I do try to think the best of people. I think it’s a trait I admire in most people, more so in older, experienced or “worldly” types.
For example (currently listening to the podcast Serial!), the Innocence Project is a group in the US that looks at old cases to help prove innocence to those wrongly charged of crimes. The people that work for groups like have that optimism and that belief in the best of people, and face a lot more darkness while working on these cases. While I apologize for rambling, I’d like to say yes, I do believe that it’s a great characteristic to have, and I’m glad that Catherine Morland does.
Jessica: I do think that thinking the best of people is a really good trait to have, but I do not feel that gullibility is. They are similar traits, but I think that Catherine is one who crosses the line between them. Complete cynicism is never good, but being overly gullible and believing absolutely everything is just as bad. Does that make sense?
Like Mathuri, I do feel that I am somewhat naive. I do try to give people the benefit of the doubt and I keep believing in things even a little past what I probably should. However, I think I stop short of being gullible in the way I think Catherine crosses over.
The one character about whom Catherine is inclined to think the worst is General Tilney. Why is this? She is humiliated when Henry realizes how her imagination has run away with her, but how mistaken is she really regarding his general character? Are her powers of imagination more reliable than her powers of observation?
Mathuri: At that age, whoever is scary or opposing you in any way is a villain. I feel like when I was 17 (and of course an avid reader of fiction), I thought my dad was a villain because he wouldn’t give me permission to do certain things, or be out too late, etc. General Tilney is realistically a regular, strict father, with hopes of marrying his children to those who are well off so he knows they’re looked after.
I think that Catherine’s powers of imagination are another relatable trait, and that for her to imagine him as his wife’s murderer does not come as a surprise. I do agree that those powers of imagination are much more reliable than her powers of observation, and it might have influenced her behaviour in an inappropriate manner when it came to General Tilney. If it were me, I would definitely consider and daydream about the idea of General Tilney being the murderer, but I would never act upon it (especially when I’m staying at their house!).
Jessica: I do agree in that I think many people around that age feel that those they see as scary or those who are acting in opposition to their wishes are villains. I think that most people, including villains, see themselves as heroes. Especially villains. I mean, do you think Lord Voldemort thought he was a villain? Did Sauron? But I bet you they felt those opposing them were villains. And you know what? In their personal stories, the opposing characters were villains.
I think that she is right about his character to a certain extent. She does have it right in that he is an imposing character, but I think her imagination gets the better of her when she creates the story of him murdering his wife. Continuing on this line of thinking, I do not think that her imagination, in this case, is more reliable than her observation skills. However, her imagination is much more powerful than her observational skills, as evidenced by her running with this story. I think it could be more reliable had she not gotten carried away with the idea that General Tilney murdered his wife.
Henry Tilney tells Catherine that his father was attached to his mother and greatly afflicted by her death. Do you believe him?
Mathuri: I think that I personally like to give people, and characters, the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know the full story. I would like to trust Henry, and say that of course his General Tilney was affected by this wife’s death. Even if they weren’t in love, she would have been a life partner and mother of his children, and the loss would have been hard. While I see General Tilney as a disagreeable, wealth-obsessed man, I don’t quite see him as a cold blooded killer.
Jessica: Yes, I do. Like Mathuri, I always try to give people (including fictional characters,) the benefit of the doubt. They are innocent until proven guilty, right? As Mathuri says, we are not aware of the full story. If I were to theorize however, and put myself in General Tilney’s shoes while taking into account Henry’s words, I would guess that General Tilney is the way he is in the novel because of his wife’s death. He could have very well been an agreeable man when she was alive, but her death turned him cold. A popular method of coping with a significant death is to simply shut off your emotions. Well, not literally, but you kind of close yourself off as much as you can. The trouble, I think, is when you carry on for too long that way.
Henry, himself, is a controversial hero. Sylvia Warner Townsend has suggested she thinks he’s one of Austen’s most delightful. Some find him witty and appealingly interested in feminine matters. Others find him condescending and even misogynistic. Ask another reader of Northanger Abbey what s/he thinks of Henry and then argue with whatever position s/he takes.
Mathuri: I think that I’m pro Henry Tilney. I think my favourite scene with Henry was when they were on their way to Northanger Abbey, and Henry teases Catherine on what she expects to see at the Abbey. He also seems to care strongly about his family, and I’m happy he proposed to and wedded Catherine.
Jessica: Funnily enough, I am on the fence about Henry Tilney. I do think he is controversial, and he is not the most delightful to me. However, he is not the worst one either. I think…he is simply human. Yes, he has witty moments like when he teases Catherine about what she expects to see at the Abbey. But he also has moments of condescension, such as when he “explodes” at Catherine after saying his father was greatly upset by his mother’s death. That moment, to be fair, does come with some personal emotion on his part, but I can still see it. I also think that his father is quite condescending, he disapproves of Catherine at one point because he does not think she has money, and a little of that has leaked onto Henry, at least in my opinion.
The romance genre is arguably our own most popular form of fiction. Is the romance genre empowering or damaging to women readers? Do these fictions have real life implications for women? Or would you trace its lineage back to Austen herself?
Mathuri: I definitely cannot tell you whether the genre traces back to Austen, but I can tell you that I think it’s an important and wonderful category at times. I don’t think it damages women readers at all. I see why one would think that, these stories are unique to the characters and extremely fictional. I’m sure these novels have implications and influences on women, but not to the degree of damage to them. My favourite of Austen’s novels is Pride and Prejudice, but I’d rather not have someone confess their love while insulting me at the same time.
Jessica: It is difficult to say if Austen is the “mother” of romance fiction, but I certainly believe she is one of the ones (if not the one) who popularized the genre. I think at times the genre can be damaging or empowering to women and yes, these fictions often have real-life implications for women. However, let me clarify what I mean. Romance fiction is great in that it gives women (and frankly, men) the opportunity to believe that love (and true love) is possible. It is often an outlet for their imagination and they have the ability to place themselves in romance stories, which, in my opinion, is quite empowering. However, I think that romance fiction can be damaging in two instances. One, depending on the specific romance novel and two, if the person lets unhealthy thinking take over their mind.
For instance, think about 50 Shades of Grey. Technically, that would fall under the romance genre. BDSM itself is not the issue. I have read a few articles talking about the portrayal in the books and in real life (if you follow safe practices and always consent, it is perfectly healthy.) The major issue in 50 Shades of Grey is Christian Grey’s abusive behaviour. While the unhealthy nature of that relationship is crystal clear to me, for many readers I know it is not from what I have seen on the Internet. There are other books I could pull with unhealthy relationships that seem to have captured the minds of impressionable readers. It is when this happens that I think the romance genre could be damaging if readers do not keep a clear mind.
I realize that 50 Shades of Grey and Austen’s novels are entirely different within the realm of romantic fiction, but the fact does remain that they both fall under that umbrella. If you eliminate the controversial novels, however, then I do not see much of a damaging component to romantic fiction’s influence.
Thoughts From Jessica
It is so close to the end now, just one more novel and then a post with our final thoughts! About this book though, I have actually read it before as I majored in English (one of my majors anyway) in university. While now I enjoyed the book, I used to not like it. I did say that it was my least favourite Austen novel, however at that point in time I had not read all of Jane Austen’s novels. I guess by the end of this I will be able to definitively say which novel is my favourite. Well, supposedly. Sometimes I cannot decide my favourite book in a series.
Anyways, I hope that you enjoyed this installment of Austen Adventures. As always, feel free to leave comments!
Next on Austen Adventures: Persuasion, on January 22nd
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