The Satirical and Ridiculous Northanger Abbey


We know that Jane Austen was a social commentator for her era. She poked fun at her neighbors, the ridiculous standards of society, and even herself. This has always been the humor of reading Austen. However, she has a particularly lovely passage in chapter 5 that speaks about novels and their writers. It is a complete tirade, a rant if you will, on the view of the novel. It has an air of satire and I believe that is probably how it was intended but it is an intriguing piece of work in and of itself. The condescending nature of which she speaks about the reading of novels points clearly to the oxymoron of that passage actually appearing in a novel. She does this often and it is one my favorite parts about Austen. You can be sure to get quips of all kinds that are more of her personal feelings than they have anything to do with the characters themselves. It feels like, in these types of passages, that you’re sitting in a drawing room carrying on a conversation with an old friend over a cup of tea. It’s a lovely distraction.

I thoroughly enjoy the torment of the crush that Catherine has for Tilney.  Is that sick?  It’s just the reminder, a walk down memory lane if you will, of that young desire just to see someone across a room; the searching and longing for just one little peek at the person.  It’s that young girl naiveté that makes her torment so enjoyable.  Austen obviously had a clear understanding of a girl’s heart and what it’s like to have the torment of a crush.  It happens to be a wonderful part of growing up but at the same time borders on self abuse.  It is just simply a delicious part of the book and I read it twice just because I enjoyed the passage so much.

Dear Isabella, what a ridiculous young woman.  She’s filled to the brim with contradictions and each one is not lost on our simple heroine.  I believe Catherine is well aware that her friend has some quirks about her character.  I believe that Catherine may not be as naïve about this as you would expect.  You have to wonder if the two would have been friends at all if Catherine had had another option.  Isabella’s self proclaimed love for her friends is shown to be lackluster at best, when she refers to her friend as insipid.  She doesn’t care where the men have gone, yet, to the confusion of Catherine, chooses to walk right into their path.  It is perfectly clear that this is a girl destined for some bad things.  She’s too self absorbed not to have something bad happen to her.  She’s that darling character that you read and you just know, with delicious enjoyment, that she’s headed for trouble.  You can feel it in your bones.  Like watching a good horror movie and knowing that the dumb blond is about to die because she chose to go out after dark.  You know it is coming and yet you can’t wait for it to happen.  Jane Austen has such a gift of writing a character like Isabella.  You see the ridiculousness and it is in such stark contrast to the heroine of the novel.  Catherine is genuine and honest.  The clear distinction between Catherine and Isabella is a brilliant move by a gifted writer.

As we move further into the book, I find myself anticipating the snake in the grass.  You know there’s going to be one.  It’s one of the absolute promises of reading Austen, the snake.  I believe I know who it is already but a few more chapters should clarify it!

Challenge for Friday 7/5/2013: Chapter 7 & 8


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