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Northanger Abbey & Emma (Jane Austen)

1. Northanger Abbey demonstrates from its opening sentence that it will provide a critique of received wisdom about a whole range of conventions of social and moral history. There is on one hand a mockery of the myth, or more exactly the stereotype, of the category of individual known to the world as the heroine. On the other hand, there is a mockery of how the stereotype is designated in history (but especially literature). On what might be called a third hand, there is a mockery of readers who may pattern their moral sensibilities, if not the actions of their lives, on the specious realities of melodramatic stereotype, even as they programmatically misinterpret pretty good literary form and content, mistaking ironic intent for actual meaning. Such is the presentation of Catherine Morland's personal history and psychology in the first chapter of the novel.

It is typical of histories to record deeds of what this or that great person has done. Austen mocks this stereotypical presentation by putting an ironic construction on the explanation of her heroine, whom she describes almost exclusively negative terms: "Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her" (367). If the experience of reading about the extraordinarily gifted, beautiful, and exotic heroines of gothic novels is brought to Northanger Abbey, then the description of Catherine as a more or less average kid from a more or less average family, but in terms that appear to have been chosen so as to contrast her agreeable ordinariness with the exquisite, unreachable array of accomplishment of a traditional heroine, has the effect of establishing the novel as a piece of revisionist analysis of heroism. Catherine is darkhaired, not fair; she prefers boys' sports to tending flowers; she rather wishes she could draw and paint but isn't very good at it; she has a large, affectionate family and is ...

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Northanger Abbey & Emma (Jane Austen). (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 14:40, March 18, 2019, from