Jane Austen was in 1775, in a small town, in Hampshire England. She was a composer that was well established in the Georgian era. She was the seventh child and second daughter of the reverend George Austen and his wife Cassandra. (Jane Austen) Austen’s parents were well- respected community members. Her father served as the Oxford- educated rector for a nearby Anglican. Her personal life story has been a big influence in her literary works (Jane Austen). During her lifetime , Jane Austen began writing novels, one of her notable work was Northanger Abbey. In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Austen questioned the typical genres that were favored at the time, by woman such as love stories . Instead, she used the theme of Gothic in which was prominent in the 19th century. Northanger Abbey tells the tale of a teenage girl named Catherine Morland, from Fullerton who grows a soft mania for Gothic novels. She even goes as far as envisioning herself as a Gothic heroine and how she aims to become one. Austen gives the lectors discernment on Catherine Morland views on how she perceives the world and the people surrounding her. As I will debate in this research essay, Jane Austen successfully depicts Catherine’s growth from her gothic imagination to the real world and how her fantasies affected her maturation.
In our modern world, the Gothic theme is often misinterpreted and perceived as a topic that horrifies lectors. Nonetheless, they are often put in to the same category as supernatural and thrillers. Gothic novels first emerged in the late eighteenth century ( Tracy, Ann B ). During that era , many changes were under going in the social , economic, and political branch (Parker, J) . Many scientific achievements had spawned such as the creation of electricity, telegraphs, rail roads, etc. The improvement of the middle-income beliefs was also marked (Mathias, Peter). During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, there was hope that human could essentially do whatever they put their mind to. The prosperous idea of optimism and individualistic growth had also transpired ( Mathias, Peter). Traditional gender roles were challenged, as women were displayed beside their men counterparts in the forefront of many departments (Wellenreuther, M. and Otto, S). During early-nineteenth century, many women grew interest in this new literary genre known as Gothic, which was the complete opposite of previous literary genre many women were interested to such as romantic and sentimental tales (Dodworth, Cameron). In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey , from the opening of the book, Austen lets the readers know that Catherine Morland is a typical young girl, who has no heroic features about her. In the following quote , Jane Austen gives a short description of Catherine Morland to demonstrate how unconventional and ordinary she really is :
” The Morlands had little other right to the world, for they were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features ; so much for her person ; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind ” (11) . This quote shortly gives an insight on Catherine Morland and on how ordinary she is. Furthermore, in this following passage, Austen goes even further and explain how from a period of her teenage years , Catherine has the ambition to become a Gothic heroine(43) :
“But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine ; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives” ( 13). This passage demonstrate how Catherine aspires to be an heroine and how she instructs herself through Gothic novels . There is many passage in the book, that demonstrates how obsessed Catherine is in regards of her Gothic fantasy world. For instance, when she was in Bath, right before the ball, Catherine isolated herself to read a book The Mysteries of Udolpho right before the ball. The author successfully, introduce the main character Catherine and demonstrate her mania for the Gothic theme. Throughout Catherine Morland’s journey, Austen also hints how Catherine’s flamboyant gothic fantasy world can be used against her, if she fails to discern her imaginary world from her reality that she has to face daily. Jane Austen clearly shows how Catherine incorporate her Gothic fanatics into her reality, for example, when Catherine meets Henry’s brother Captain Tilney in Northanger Abbey. In this citation, the author shows how Catherine incorporates her delusions into her day to day basis :
“Captain Tilney… From the latter circumstances it may be presumed, that whatever might be our heroine’s opinion of him, his admiration of her was not of a very dangerous kind; not likely to produce animosities between the brothers, nor prosecution to the lady. He cannot be the instigator of the three villains in horsemen’s great coats, by whom she will hereafter be forced into a travelling-chaise and four, which will drive off with incredible speed”. ( 114)
In this citation, the author lets the lectors know that Captain Tilney will not be portrayed in the way Catherine do in her gothic fantasies. Moreover, a similar event happened when Catherine arrived at the Tilney’s estate :
” A moment’s glance was enough to satisfy Catherine that her apartment was very unlike the one which Henry had endeavoured to alarm her by the description of. It was by no means unreasonably large,and contained neither tapestry nor velvet. The walls were papered, the floor was carpeted ; the windows were neither less perfect, nor more dime than those of the drawing-room.”(Austen, 141).
Once again, her assumptions had let her down. Few pages later, Catherine Morland’s curiosity seemed to be continuous through her journey in Northanger Abbey. Catherine had a theory that General Tilney might have killed his wife, as a result, during her first night in their estate Catherine goes on a witch hunt to find clues that confirms her hypothesis, as claimed by Jane Austen :
” Catherine, for a few moments, was motionless with horror darkness impenetrable and immoveable filled the room. A violent gust of wind, rising with sudden fury,added fresh horror to the moment.Catherine trembled from head to foot. In the pause which succeeded, a sound like receding footsteps and the closing of a distant door struck on her affrighted ear. Human nature could support no more, the manuscript fell from her hand, and groping her way to the bed, she jumped hastily in , and sought some suspension of agony by creeping far underneath the clothes. To close her eye in sleep that night… She now plainly saw that she must not expect a manuscript of equal length. Her greedy eye glanced rapidly over a page. She started at its import. Could it be possible, or did not her sense play her false? Such was the collection of papers, (left perhaps, as she could then suppose, by the negligence of a servant in the place whence she had taken them) which has filled her expectation and alarm, and robbed her of half her night’s rest! She felt humble to the dust.” (148-150)
In this block quotation, in arguing this claim, Austen , once again, established that Miss Morland referring to Catherine is once again the victim of her imagination. By that, she allowed her Gothic devotion get the best of her. She fails to make a distinction between her real world and her imaginary world , she always intertwine both milieus. As a result of her delusions, she was found indulging into false beliefs that made her make absurd claims such as the source of Mrs Tilney death. Furthermore, during Catherine’s journey in Northanger Abbey , even though Henry Tilney would find Catherine’s fantasies quite amusing, he finally comes to a point where he challenges Catherine to have a mind for herself with her own understanding, not delusions but her common sense. In the words of Henry Tilney : “Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you — Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive them?” (173) Jane austen also added: “The vision of romance were over. Catherine was completely awakened.”( Austen,173) Both of these passages, demonstrates how Catherine is faced with her reality and is subjected to growth and maturity and how she should step away from her Gothic delusions. The line “Catherine was completely awakened” shows that Miss Morland is now more aware of her circumstances and that her real journey as a young woman has begun. After that Catherine is dismissed by General Tilney due to the letter sent by John Thorpe. She is forced to find her way back home by herself and that itself already shows development in Catherine’s character when she succeed to do so, and it also shows how she was able to successfully stray away from her Gothic delusions to deal with her real life situations without referring to a Gothic antagonist in one of her books . Towards the ending of the book, when Catherine successfully returned home in Fullerton, a new Catherine has emerged . She was no longer the young naive seventeen year old girl that could not perceive the actions of the people surrounding her, she was now a young adult that was mature and very insightful. In this following passage Catherine’s mother makes a remark on the growth of Catherine through her journey : “And you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad little shatter- brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you”. (206) This quote demonstrates how Catherine’s growth has been noticed by her family and peers and shows how wise Catherine has become. Equally important, when Catherine Morland finally returns home in Fullerton from her lengthy journey. Austen states :
“A heroine returning, at the close of her career, to her native village, in all triumph of recovered reputation, and all the dignity of a countess, with a long train noble relations in the several phaetons, and three waiting-maids in a travelling chaise and-four, behind her, is an event on which the pen of the contriver may well delight to dwell.” (204)
This block passage demonstrate the end of Catherine’s Gothic fantastic world, as she shift to a new beginning. What is even more outstanding is that even though Catherine has little to no Gothic heroic characteristic attributed to her, Austen still refers to Catherine as an heroine, by that, she humanizes Catherine’s previous aspiration to become a Gothic heroine into something more realistic.
Jane Austen successfully projected herself through Catherine Morland. In her book Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen depicts Catherine Morland’s journey as a woman , from her time in Fullerton where her mania for gothic novels grew highly, through her short journey in Bath and Northanger Abbey where she finally strayed away from her obsession and back to Fullerton where her journey as a woman began.