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Northanger Abbey

            Catherine in Northanger Abbey brings us back to Bath. I noticed that the novel seems to be centered on women trying to find a husband and look pretty to the outside world. It reminded me of “A Lady’s Dressing Room,” where the man was horrified when he saw everything that went into making a lady appear to be a lady. Similarly, appearance (particularly that of a woman) is very important in this novel because it determines how men will perceive women and in turn, who will get a husband. Even at a young age, society is very concerned with Catherine’a appearance. She is initially not considered pretty, but eventually grows into herself—she considers looking “almost pretty” “an acquisition of higher delight,” since she has “been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life” (2/176).  Also, it is clear that women are very subordinate in this time. The narrator describes Catherine’s mind as “ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is” (4/176), various skills are constantly gendered (“everybody allows that the talent of writing agreeable letters is peculiarly female” (11/176)), and characters like Isabella are constantly on a search to find a man for his money/financial support. I also noticed that Catherine seems very innocent and naïve. She doesn’t seem to notice the potential manipulation of Isabella who seems to be a little too eager to pair off with Catherine’s brother. Also, I felt Austen tries to portray her that way in her other interactions too, particularly when she describes her as “not been brought up to understand the propensities of a rattle, nor to know how many idle assertions and impudent falsehoods the excess of vanity will lead” (41/176). I understood this quotation as saying that Catherine has not discovered the bad things in the world yet and the negative tendencies of some people. Maybe this speaks to Austen’s point that a “woman,” “if she has the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can” (75/176)?

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2 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey

  1. Austen tends to over-do it sometimes when she tries to poke fun at social conceptions of women, and I do believe you pointed out some good examples of this. Catherine’s excessive naïvety and Isabella’s preoccupation with finding someone who will support her rather than ven so much as consider finding a means to support herself mirror people’s conceptions at the time that women are to remain innocent and pure in order to be considered attractive or wife-material. God forbid a woman ever try to become successful herself, that is the realm of men and women must cower weakly behind the coattails of their husbands and hope he can support them and their families.

    The over-done almost comical way Catherine strives to be someone considered beautiful matches the way women had really only their marriageability to ensure their comfort and success in life. Austen really does do well at highlighting the simply ridiculous perceptions people had about women and their place in society.

  2. I was similarly reminded of “The Lady’s Dressing Room” while reading Northanger Abbey. I didn’t really think of the parallel of appearance and false beauty so much as just the tone of the authors. The whole time I was reading, I was just thinking of how over-the-top Jane Austen’s tone was. Going back and looking for a passage to cite now though, most of them are centered on conceptions of female beauty, and things like Mrs. Allen taking too long in the dressing room.

    Like The Lady’s Dressing Room, Austen’s text provides a commentary on the role of women in society, just in a somewhat less vulgar way.

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