Sunday, 20 January 2008

Northanger Abbey - Masterpiece Theatre

I hadn't seen any tv version nor read the book for quite a few years. I found myself laughing this evening at some of the humour, and delighted, and crying when Henry finds out how silly Catherine has been. It is a delightful story, about the dangers of reading bad gothic novels. I found myself astonished as Gillian Anderson, who is introducing this series, announced that Jane Austen wrote this novel to support Gothic reading by women!! I should think not. From all I have read, and understood about Northanger Abbey, Jane wrote this book in protest against the silliness of all the young women who read the novels and allowed their imaginations to run wild. She was being sarcastic - pointing out that young women could be reading better books than The Castle of Otranto and the Monk.
The most interesting thing about Northanger Abbey is the innocence Catherine displays; she is not able to protect herself against the wiles of Isabella and her brother John, is completely unsuspecting of any motivation except kindliness and consideration. While all the other heroines of Jane Austen are unmarried, none are as innocent as Catherine, who is unworldly in the deepest sense. All the other heroines display awarenesss of their position in society, and wealth, and that people can marry for reasons other than love. In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen has Henry finally admit the dark secret of Northanger Abbey - his father did 'kill' their mother, but not in murder, but by marrying her for her money, and not for love. His coldness eventually kills her. And as this is Jane's first novel, I think she allows herself to say this openly, while in later novels she shows unhappy marriages (I can never read about Charles and Mary in Persuasion, without wondering how happy he was getting Mary when he wanted Anne, and how hideous Mary is as a person to be married to, so selfish and self-absorbed), rather than having anyone spell it out so clearly again. As always, her ideal is to marry for true love - the meeting of souls - which again Henry and Catherine illustrate at their first meeting, their quick meeting of their minds in banter and teasing.
Northanger Abbey also shows the very real benefit of having rich neighbors when one doesn't have rich connections. Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, all have not wealthy heroines; only Emma is wealthy in her own right. Anne in Persuasion is dependent on her father since she is so old and unmarried in the novel. Emma does for Harriet in Emma what rich relations (the Allens seems to be a popular name for rich relatives/neighbors etc) and neighbors do for Lizzie and Catherine - bring them out into society where they meet (or in Elizabeth's case, meet again on his home ground) their future spouses. In a world bound by social and family connections, these play an important part for unmarried young women to meet future spouses, and to broaden their knowledge of the world. Certainly Catherine by the end has learned her lesson - don't let your imagination run away with you, if you read books. Even Henry says, "I really think perhaps one can read too many books," but he was meaning trash novels of the 19th century, not reading for intellectual pursuit. At the end we see Catherine teaching her younger siblings how to read, and the inference is both that she has the temperament and character to be a parson's wife (which Henry will be), and also that learning to read is important. Jane's point was girls were wasting their time (and maybe opportunity and intelligence) with silly gothic novels.
I really hope Gillian Anderson was being sarcastic!
And Henry Tilney is very charmingly played by JJ Feild, another handsome and charming collection to Austen Males We'd All Like to Marry. It was fun to see Carey Mulligan again, she who plays Lydia in Keira Knightley's version of Pride and Prejudice. She plays Isabella, the conniving 'friend' who plans to marry James (Catherine's brother) until she finds out he has only a little money. Catherine is too innocent to see Isabella is a flirt and a schemer, determined to marry for money, but she is not so innocent as to welcome back Isabella once Isabella dumps her brother for Captain Tilney, Henry's older brother, and Isabella is left ashamed after Henry seduces her. Catherine maybe innocent, but she has a backbone and ideas of her own, so she is not a boring goody-two shoes character either. She is sweet and good-natured, as all of Austen's heroines are.
Next week is Mansfield Park, which I have never seen. I am anticipating this already.......6 days and 22 hours to go......
Happy reading, and hope you are able to see Northanger Abbey!


Patricia said...

I watched Mansfield Park...except I don't remember a lot about it. I'll look it up for a memory. Geez, I just finished Eldest ~ and I bought my very first Jane Austin book. Now I'm going to start reading "Persuasion". I gave up my blog by the way, so now I just show up as Patricia

Susan said...

Why did you give up your blog? I wondered what happened? Is everything ok? Call me if you need to.
I think i realized yesterday that you weren't my friend Patricia but you, so sorry for some of the comments I made thinking you were her!! Though you could still work in my bookstore if you want (when I get my millions and open it!)!!
What did you think of Eldest?
Let me know what you think of Persuasion - it is one of my favourite books.

raidergirl3 said...

I wrote about this last night - Henry was so charming, and I thought, so sweet. It's one of the few Austen books I've read, but I really enjoyed it. I must watch next week.
Nice post discussing the novel/show.

Patricia said...

I don't have the enthusiasm or time for the blog at the moment. I also have the feeling that certain family members were reading it and I didn't want them to have access to it. I may start a new one, this time with a password so only people I want can look at it. Or maybe I'll do a craft blog....*sigh*... I'm wishy-washy for being 40 something!!

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