Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Close Reading Questions for Austen's Northanger Abbey, Chs.9-15
1. In what way does Austen distinguish Henry Tilney from the other characters in Bath (esp. Thorpe, Mrs. Allen, and Isabella)? Is she, as Aaron suggests in his response, closer to the voice and wit of the narrator? How do we feel the narrator, herself, feels about him (besides the fact that he is only “very near” being handsome)?
2. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “sensibility” as “In the 18th and early 19th c. (afterwards somewhat rarely): Capacity for refined emotion; delicate sensitiveness of taste; also, readiness to feel compassion for suffering, and to be moved by the pathetic in literature or art.” Austen wrote about this capacity in her early novel, Sense and Sensibility, where a younger sister’s “sensibility” is tempered by her older sister’s “sense” (meaning a more 18th century rationality, objectivity). Which quality do you think Catherine most embodies and why? Do you feel Austen celebrates or censures her for this attribute?
3. A consistent theme in Austen’s novels is the entrance of a young woman into society. However, such a rite of passage requires “experienced” chaperones to guide her on her way. How does Austen satirize the entrance and education of a young woman into society—and in this case, into the social wilds of Bath? What dangers or missteps does she encounter that were all too real for women in Austen’s time?
4. Chapter 14 is a delightful discussion of books and taste, in which Catherine seems to come up a bit short. Is this truly the case? Does Henry represent Austen here, the arbiter of true taste; or does Catherine also possess her own legitimate (if still unformed) aesthetics? Who gets the upper hand (if anyone) in this discussion—and be sure to note the narrator’s occasional interruptions.