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Ya know what they say about big parlors…..

After reading through Northanger Abby I could not keep my mind off the way that Jane Austen portrays the sexes. The men, specifically John and the General both seem pretty selfish and so consumed in themselves that they rarely acknowledge the feelings of others. As it can pretty much be assumed, money plays a large part in this. I channeled some Sigmund Freud in the later chapters when Catherine travels to the Abby with the Tinslys. Catherine expresses some disappointment that everything had been made modern. I took this as a testament to the General’s obsession with money and wealth. I couldn’t help but laugh when he took so much pleasure in having a bigger parlor than the Allens. Had Henry not been included in this novel, it would not have given a very favorable depiction of men in this time period.

As for the women….I truly wanted to like the characters, however I felt like Austen continued to feed the readers with reasons to dislike them. Isabella is basically portrayed as a fake friend and “gold digger”. I felt so bad for James when she abandoned him for hopes of a more wealthy lifestyle with Frederick. I would also get very frustrated at how often Catherine would scold herself, the worst of all when she blamed her misperceptions on the books that she read. Obviously women were not first in line for good educations in the 18th century, and this passage definitely affirmed this. I paraphrased this section as “This is what happens when women try to read. They get too many silly thoughts in their head and lose sight on reality.”

Having said that, I did enjoy the story. I can definitely see the “heroic” qualities in Catherine that may not be quite as obvious. First of all, she is a hero because she ultimately gets the guy and lives happily ever after. But I admired her ability to stay herself throughout the novel even more. She was always surrounded by people who didn’t always have her best interests in mind, yet she still managed to get what she wanted. She didn’t change for them.

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3 thoughts on “Ya know what they say about big parlors…..

  1. I think your comments on Isabella and Catherine are both amusing and insightful. Isabella in particular grows more and more transparent as the novel progresses, and though Catherine is unaware of her manipulations throughout the story, I respected her when she finally sees through Isabella’s charade and refuses to help her win James back (because if she had any hand in getting her brother back together with a shallow cheater, I would have put the book down.)

    My discussion post focused on Catherine’s split between the world her gothic novels allow her to escape to and her struggles with real life (the first often affecting the latter) and I think it is interesting that Catherine’s frustrations with herself frustrated you as the reader. I am not sure if it is because I was once a naive young girl, but as I read this book I felt that I could relate to the struggles Catherine faced on a daily basis. The things Catherine juggled in her mind (trying to fit in, meeting her first crush, dealing with fake friends, getting carried away in fantasies) are all stones on everyone’s road to growing up. Catherine’s insecurities and worry about how she is coming off to those around her is very representative of a struggle I think everyone has experienced at some point in their lives, and for me, that made her character likable.

  2. I think Isabella is a representation of sorts for how Austen views society’s expectations of women. By exaggerating her prescription to the feminine roll of finding and entrapping a husband, Austen comments on the ridiculousness of the perception that women ought to marry if they want to make anything of themselves. Catherine’s later renouncement of their friendship really shows how Austen renounces the frivolity of women’s expected gold-digging tendencies.

  3. Going back over Northanger Abbey last night, I echoed some of your sentiments about the characters and Austen’s sarcastic tone over all.

    I was relieved at the end that Catherine turned out to be a heroine, being married to Henry and getting the materialistic General’s consent on the matter. I was confused though about what Austen actually thinks of Catherine. She uses terms like “hero” and “courageous” with such frequency, that it makes it hard for me to take those descriptions of Catherine seriously. How sarcastic is she trying to be? A lot? Just a little? The satire of the General, and the closing line about parental tyranny is a clear criticism of the General. Filial disobedience though, and Austen’s intent with Catherine, still remain a mystery to me.

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