Sunday, December 09, 2007

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I asked my graduate workshop, not too long ago, which one author they would read every word of should they be asked to do such a thing, and they each came up with an answer (I gave them ten minutes to think about it) and then, quite unfairly I maintain, asked for mine. I, dilettante that I am, of course had no answer other than the truth which was, well, now I want to read all the authors you just mentioned (they included Twain, Pamuk, Pynchon, Ondaatje...). But later I thought of the obvious answer... Virginia Woolf. Which led me to admit to self that I also wanted to read all of Edith Wharton (I've had a good start) and Jane Austen (also a good start) and the Brontes and maybe George Eliot... which has led to a pretty big nighttable pile.

Anyway, I can see why this isn't exactly the most popular Austen novel. It's very funny but at the expense of all of its characters, including the heroine (who is too much obssessed with the gothic novels of the day). Later Austen learned to be funny at the expense of her secondary characters allowing her heroine (and often a hero such as Darcy or Colonel Brandon) to be noble throughout (despite flaws). This allows readers to simultaneously enjoy a satire of a romance and a romance all in one (the heroine always gets her man). To deliver the very thing that one is satirizing is either very saavy or completely hypocritical. But I fall for it all the same. Its current incarnation seems to be Cormac McCarthy who both critiques killing and delivers it in gory detail (so I'm told; I'm not tough enough to endure say Blood Meridian).

7 comments:

Deb said...

Hi Ayse,

I've noticed in a few blogs that there are very few comments and I wonder how these bloggers ever know that they are being read. So I just wanted to tell you that I've been reading your blog for about a year now (plus a lot of the archived posts) and I can't tell you how much I appreciate what you do here.

I can feel your enthusiasm and love for reading, writing and teaching, and I think your students are very lucky to be in your classes and workshops. It would be worth it to move to Florida, get a bachelor's degree, and start work on a master's, so I could take your class. :)

Anyway, just wanted to thank you and to let you know I'm reading and learning. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Deb Mallett
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Ayse Papatya Bucak said...

That's very kind of you to say; we'd welcome you here in Florida!

Emily said...

P -- Northanger Abbey is actually one of my favorite Austen novels (I'm a sucker for the other less-liked novel, Mansfield Park as well).

I take your points about the novel, and the way that Austen writes, but I suspect that the reason I prefer this one to the other ones is that I'm interested in the literary history that goes along with this novel --the reaction to other novels that the book holds up, for example.

Ayse Papatya Bucak said...

Dr. E: I believe it is also the other Dr. E's favorite. I did like how it was a book about reading and there's that bit where the narrator complains about novels in which the characters never read. I love that (so true!). I haven't read the whole category of gothic novels that she's reacting against so I'm sure I missed a lot. I'm embarrassed to say I would probably enjoy them...will have to get on that.

Emily said...

Gothic novels of the late 18th century are a hoot (okay, many of them). Some of them are actually quite good (in the literary sense). I like Radcliffe particularly.

Others, not so much -- The Monk by Matthew Lewis is one of those that merits consideration when thinking about literary history and popular reading, but is rather, um, melodramatic. It did have an impact on later writers (like Byron and Shelley).

I went through a phase where I was really into gothic novels -- the real kind, not the Anne Rice kind. I also had the great fortune of having a professor include several in an 18th c. novels course.

The Other Dr. E said...

Having been cited on this blog, I'd like to clear up my "favorites" by posting my December 2006 ranking of Jane Austen novels, which I drew up after binge-reading them that winter break:

1) Pride and Prejudice
2) Northanger Abbey
3) Persuasion, tied with Emma
4) Lady Susan, tied with Mansfield Park
5) Sense and Sensibility

No question, P&P wins out over the rest. I thought that after having so many years go by from my previous reading that Elizabeth and Darcy would seem too cheesy for me, but no way. They are by far the best couple out of the group, with lovely sparring dialogue. And Elizabeth definitely outshines all the other heroines-smart and sassy.

Having no literary history to contextualize Northanger Abbey, I think I like the novel because Catharine is similar to Elizabeth in terms of her wittiness but at the same time more silly than Elizabeth... and for that reason, endearing.

And S&S is boooring. My apologies to other readers but really, nothing happens in that novel. Well, at least that's the impression I have a year after reading it!

Cheerios,
Elena

The judge said...

I don't think Blood Meridian is a critique of killing. Frankly, it's a celebration of it.