Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Close Reading Questions for Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818): Biographical Notice & Chs.1-8
1. The “Biographical Notice” that opens the work was written by Austen’s brother, Henry, after her death. Though this “preface” does not seek to fictionalize Austen’s work, it does present a “fictional” portrayal of Austen to cater to pubic taste and sensibility. How is Henry selling Austen in this Preface, and how might this influence how we read or interpret the work itself? Cite a specific passage or two to support your reading.
2. How does the narrator (as opposed to the author) introduce and describe Catherine’s formative years? Related to this, how would you describe the narrator’s tone? Consider a passage such as this one, “…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” (I.17).
3. Many critics (among them the editor, Marilyn Butler) have noted that Northanger Abbey is a novel about novels written by a reader to other readers. In this sense, it can almost be read as a “fan” work that is contributing to the very genre it emulates. Where do we see these “fan” elements and what role do they play in the work itself? Consider comments the narrator makes as well as conversations between the characters themselves.
4. How does Austen characterize the society of Bath throughout the early pages of the novel? What role does dialogue, in particular, play in drawing this portrait? Related to this, what do you feel is her purpose in bringing Catherine to the relatively closed society of Bath (a resort town—people went there for the exclusive society and the healing waters).