Gender Observations in Northanger Abbey

The self-consciousness and attitude of Catherine are what interested me the most.  Her actions at the first ball were very curious; she seemed acutely aware of her own appearance and standing relative to everyone else.  I get the feeling that Catherine expects to be showered with praise and attention from the line, “Not one, however, started with rapturous wonder on beholding her, no whisper of eager inquiry ran around the room, nor was she once called a divinity by anybody.”  The line could be interpreted as if a narrator was plainly describing the events, but I believe it shows a comparison between how she expects/hopes to be treated and how she is treated.  She put every effort into her appearance and she deserves to be rewarded for it. There is a hint of disappointment in that sentence as well. Catherine also comments on her own appearance and station much more than she does on any other bystanders in the room.  Once she does receive short words of praise from two men, her night is complete and she can retire happily.


The phrase “her humble vanity was contented” strikes me as ironic, because a heroine such as Catherine seems to be anything but humble.    At one point, it is her turn to “be noticed and admired”.  These are not the words of a humble woman.  Perhaps she is outwardly humble, maintains appearances as she should, but we get the unique look at her inner thoughts where she can be vain and self-centered.  Even comparing her contentment from the two compliments to the contentment of a “true-quality heroine” being sung fifteen sonnets is not a humble comparison.  This is another example of how she expects or hopes to be treated vs. how she is treated.  The self-proclaimed heroine deserves to have fifteen sonnets sung in her honor, but she will be content with two measly praises.  I want to think that these comparisons are simply a narrator juxtaposing this young woman with heroic aspirations to a real heroine, but it feels like Catherine is disappointed that she isn’t getting the attention that she deserves.


3 thoughts on “Gender Observations in Northanger Abbey

  1. I thought it was interesting that you caught on to Catherine’s attitude as well. Although I’m not sure that I would agree that her actions are reflecting how she thinks she should be treated. When the narrator explains the ball and the people I think Catherine is merely observing what is going on around her. Up until this point she hadn’t been around people of this social class before and it has to feel a bit unnatural to her. Wanting to have some attention while at the ball might just be a natural human reaction to being in a new place. When I go somewhere new I know I feel a bit awkward until a conversation of sorts happens. You go on to discuss the idea that she seems to be a humble heroine and I would have to agree. But doesn’t a true hero or heroine believe they did what they did for the good of others and without the intention of receiving recognition for their actions? So maybe all heroes are humble it’s just odd to realize this.

  2. You make a great argument regarding Catherine as a humble heroine who craves the satisfaction of praise. As women, the gender role, brings about a very keen aware of what is deemed as valuable praise. You suggest Catherine expects to be treated in a matter that is different than the way she is treated. Austen’s possible goal as writer is to relay the irony of your argument.
    Catherine’s appearance is everything for her disposition even as a heroine.

  3. I believe the words were chosen specifically to elicit the feeling that she felt she deserved more. Why would Austen write “no whisper of eager inquiry…Yet she was in very good looks” if not to suggest that Cathering SHOULD have been receiving attention? She deserved the attention, according to how she looked. Why didn’t people look at her in admiration?

    As for the “humble heroine” comment, I now believe that Austen is writing about how Catherine views herself. Everyone is a hero or heroine in their own eyes, and who would think disparaging thoughts about themselves? Everyone wants to be humble, so maybe that is how Catherine is describing herself, regardless of the truth of the statement.

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