Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Northanger Abbey discussion: Volume 1, Chapters 6 – 10

The season in Bath continues and there are many gothic novel references in this section. We are introduced to John Thorpe and Catherine’s brother, James as well.

As usual, post your thoughts about the book through Chapter 10 in the comments section!


Chrees said...

I don’t have much to say on this section since I didn’t take a lot of notes, but since when has that stopped me from talking about something?

Chapter 6 runs through a lot of gothic novels of the day, with Catherine and Isabella declaring their immeasurable love for the genre. I thought it funny that when Catherine and John Thorpe were alone together, one of the first things she talks about is such books.

And as is appropriate for a satire, Austen uses a lot of gothic novel devices. Catherine is always just missing Mr. Tilney or is cheated out of chances to be with him. But instead of being dangerous, the man (Thorpe) Catherine is stuck with is a boor.

Chapter 10 has a most delightful conversation between Tilney and Catherine, especially the part where he compares dancing to marriage. Many of their conversations after this seem to follow the same formula of Catherine being flustered at Tilney’s statements, which appear nonsensical at first but gives him a chance to expound on his conventional unconventional views.

Barry Barnitz said...

In keeping with Catherine Morland's youth and deferential temperment, one should notice the simplicity and literalness of much of her dialogue with the people she meets in Bath (this is her baptism into society, and Austen heroines are almost always subject to making errors and mistakes of perception, as they absorb and are schooled by the lessons of experience.) Austen's irony works off of Catherine's statements by revealing the character of her associates to the reader, if not Catherine. For example, Catherine takes Isabella at her word on wishing to avoid the three "odious" young men. Of course, after pursuing them and glancing back three times upon passing them, Isabella is revealed to the reader as a flirt. John Thorpe is revealed as a "rattle" and as Claire mentions, a boor--and not much of a literary critic; while Henry is revealed as witty, intelligent, and, importantly, considerate of others (it is perhaps no virtue for Henry to make himself agreeable to a young ,attractive, well tempered young lady such as Catherine, but he also makes an effort to attend to Mrs. Allen, although her animating interest, dress, is a subject he finds boring).

We should also note that Isabella hints at her love interest (the clergyman, and later, the "sallow" complexion)although Catherine, we are told, is too young and inexperienced to realize the hints.

Note also how John Thorpe reveals an exaggerated assumption of Catherine's wealth (he thinks she will inherit from the Allens.) Later he will continue this assumption:
"“If your brother had not got such a d — beast to drive,” said he soon afterwards, “we might have done it very well. My horse would have trotted to Clifton within the hour, if left to himself, and I have almost broke my arm with pulling him in to that cursed broken–winded jade’s pace. Morland is a fool for not keeping a horse and gig of his own.”

“No, he is not,” said Catherine warmly, “for I am sure he could not afford it.”

“And why cannot he afford it?”

“Because he has not money enough.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Nobody’s, that I know of.” Thorpe then said something in the loud, incoherent way to which he had often recourse, about its being a d — thing to be miserly; and that if people who rolled in money could not afford things, he did not know who could, which Catherine did not even endeavour to understand."

Chrees said...

Barry, thanks for putting into words what I had trouble doing regarding Catherine's literalness. She can't imagine someone saying something they don't mean. Even though a lot of the social conventions get to the point in a roundabout manner, Catherine figures the point will be clear cut. Alas for her, she finds out that people have motives beyond what they profess.

Regarding that last point, Catherine attributes gothic novel motives to people she shouldn't, while glossing over ulterior motives of people she thinks are her friends. And as we see later, she ignores danger where it really exists while imagining gothic novel dangers to everyday occurences. Clearly a woman living her life through the filter of certain books.

Barry Barnitz said...

Chrees,as the following excerpt (after John Thorpe agitates Catherine by first declaring that Morland's gig isn't roadworthy, and then immediately contradicting himself):

"Catherine listened with astonishment; she knew not how to reconcile two such very different accounts of the same thing; for she had not been brought up to understand the propensities of a rattle, nor to know to how many idle assertions and impudent falsehoods the excess of vanity will lead. Her own family were plain, matter–of–fact people who seldom aimed at wit of any kind; her father, at the utmost, being contented with a pun, and her mother with a proverb; they were not in the habit therefore of telling lies to increase their importance, or of asserting at one moment what they would contradict the next. She reflected on the affair for some time in much perplexity, and was more than once on the point of requesting from Mr. Thorpe a clearer insight into his real opinion on the subject; but she checked herself, because it appeared to her that he did not excel in giving those clearer insights, in making those things plain which he had before made ambiguous; and, joining to this, the consideration that he would not really suffer his sister and his friend to be exposed to a danger from which he might easily preserve them, she concluded at last that he must know the carriage to be in fact perfectly safe, and therefore would alarm herself no longer."

This common sense component of her character, which is fundamental, coexists with her love of gothic sensibilities,and promises to be her saving grace, should she come to rely on it.

A second point we should note. Again, an extract:

"Mrs Hughes talked to me a great deal about the family[the Tilneys].”

“And what did she tell you of them?”

“Oh! A vast deal indeed; she hardly talked of anything else.”

“Did she tell you what part of Gloucestershire they come from?”

“Yes, she did; but I cannot recollect now. But they are very good kind of people, and very rich. Mrs. Tilney was a Miss Drummond, and she and Mrs. Hughes were schoolfellows; and Miss Drummond had a very large fortune; and, when she married, her father gave her twenty thousand pounds, and five hundred to buy wedding–clothes. Mrs. Hughes saw all the clothes after they came from the warehouse.”

Excuse my jumping slightly ahead of ourselves, but this piece of information is quite important, especially since we are informed of Mrs. Tilney's death (later confirmed).
These 20000 pounds would be settled on the Tilney children. In Austen friendly divisions of settlement wealth among children are almost always equal. Since there are three Tilney children (we have yet to meet Captain Tilney, the eldest son, at this point) the sum would be divided into thirds. At the historical 4% to 5% returns (both consol and land rent return rates available during the Regency period), each child's inheritance from the mother would provide approximately 300 pounds of annual income, which is the approximate minimum annual income required to attain an independent position in the gentry class.

We therefore are aware of the following:

Captain Tilney, as the eldest son, is heir to the Tilney estate at Northanger Abbey, in addition to his share of the settlement inheritance.

Henry Tilney is a clergyman (details not yet available on his living) as well as having an additional approximate 300 pounds of annual income.

Eleanor Tilney has, at a minimum, her share of the settled inheritance, in addition to whatever might be settled upon her by the family on her marriage.

Austen would depend upon her readers to readily recognize these facts of life.

Barry Barnitz said...

I hope all of you will enjoy these Brock Illustrations of Northanger Abbey.

Tiredbuthappy said...

Not much to say on this section that Chrees and Barry haven't covered. That's very shrewd, Barry, the stuff about the money. I never have a clear sense of how much money is being discussed in older novels. It's so interesting, this assumption that anyone of a certain class should have a passive income, and that that should be their chief financial support. Any kind of profession must create the appearance of not actually involving work, and must be secondary to whatever passive income the family lives on.

To have anything like a passive income you could live on in today's world, I figure you'd need either a million bucks invested conservatively (so you're collecting 40K or 50K per year to live simply on) or you must own enough real estate to have rental income.

Even the wealthy people I know (and I don't know too many, but have a very close friend who's a trust fund baby and I know many of her syblings and cousins) are raised with the expectation that they'll have a profession. Sure, they can work in a coffee shop if they feel like it and live like they're earning 60 or 70K, but still, they have a day job.

But novels of this period are for the most part so misrepresentative. It's the same as if all the novels being written about today's culture were only about people with a net worth of more than a million dollars. Most fiction would just simply omit the vast majority of the population, except for when they touch briefly on the wealthy folks' lives (as servants, penniless adventurers, paid companions, etc).

I wouldn't like that. Of course I like reading about people different from myself, but I also like being able to relate to the characters in books at least some of the time. For example, I'll read pretty much any book about librarians, because as a librarian I just like to see how other people perceive us and because I have inside knowledge that makes the book more textured. And books about archivists (the other hat I wear)--these are not very common and so I snap them up even more quickly.

Just rambling. Thanks for the food for thought, Barry and Chrees. I finished the book tonight so I'll try to post comments on time as Chrees posts the calls for discussion.

Chrees said...

Barry, I was searching for illustrations for NA and found those that you listed. But then I found the wonderfully trashy book cover and HAD to post it. Thanks for the reminder--I'll post some of the illustrations as we go along.