Friday, February 5, 2010
Close Reading Questions for Austen's Northanger Abbey, Chs.16-22
1. In Chapter 21, we encounter Austen’s spot-on imitation of a Gothic novel, complete with many of the hallmarks we recognize from The Castle of Otranto. How do you read this chapter in particular—as a parody (or satire) or a legitimate attempt to conjure up a sense of horror and the sublime? Does the tone of a giggling narrator lie behind this, or is Austen yielding to her own admiration of the genre and its possibilities?
2. How do you feel the Catherine/Henry romance is progressing in these chapters? Is it a dance of mutual respect and admiration, or does he appear more condescending and dominating? Consider their conversation in Chapter 20: is he teasing (mocking) her Gothic sensibility or using it to woo her more effectively? In other words, does he want to tame her or does he want to get “Gothic” with her?
3. Do you feel Austen is more critical toward the women in the novel than the men? Discussing Isabella’s change of heart, Henry notes, “It is probable she will neither love so well, nor flirt so well, as she might do either singly. The gentlemen must each give up a little” (II.19.143). Is this view of women (as inconstant flirts) one espoused by the narrator, or does it suggest a certain misogyny on Henry’s part?
4. The painting above, Sir Joshua Reynolds’s Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse (1784) depicts a famous actress in theatrical mode. Though she is clearly acting here, more a character than the woman herself, the painting is still startlingly realistic—we can “see” her. Might this be true of the Gothic itself: that we need to see the “clockwork” behind the genre for it to have its full effect? Is the sublime in literature created by knowing it’s not real—that someone dreamed it up?