Northanger Abbey As An Example Of Gothic Literary Genre

“Give them pleasure – the same pleasure they have after they wake up from a nightmare,” (Alfred Hitchcock). The Gothic genre has been somewhat of fascination from the start of its time, as it can be so violent and gruesome, yet individuals read it anyways as it triggers something in them that keeps them on the edge of their seats. In Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen, Catherine Morland is obsessed with the gothic genre and all that entails. In a pursuit to obtain a relationship with Henry Tilney, a man she is interested in, she is constantly seeking the horror and darker possibilities to what meets the eye. Catherine hopes to engage in some form of gothic experience as it would bring some excitement to her life. The text actively indulges in gender roles and genre through its usage of gender norms, interpretation of the gothic genre and the depiction of females in the nineteenth century.

Within the text, Catherine is actively defined and held back by gender norms. Within the time era that the book takes place, there are a set number of rules and limitations that a woman would be in need to follow. Women were required to act a certain way in and out of the house. Catherine lives in an era where the peak period for marriage is between the ages seventeen and twenty-seven (Marriage and Money in Austen, Koenig-Woodyard), and if you had not married within that time frame than it would be significantly more difficult for one to get married. Within the text women are often paraded around once they hit the age of marriage as once they are married it is seen as one less mouth to feed. Within the hopes of getting married, Catherine would have been on her best behaviour as to not rid herself of the possibility of a finding a partner. Catherine did in fact care for her image as she worried that Captain Tilney had, “must have heard some malevolent misrepresentation of her… in the hope of separating them forever”. Catherine was expected to be on her best behaviour as the smallest misrepresentation may have ruined any chance of impressing Tinley. In Catherine’s era it was significantly important to give a good impression as, “females outnumbered men throughout the eighteenth century,” (Marriage and Money in Austen, Koenig-Woodyard). Whereas it was normal for men to marry at any age, women only had a concise time-frame.

In addition to gender norms, the text actively promotes themes through the interpretation of Gothic genre. Catherine was obsessed with the gothic genre and actively sought it out in her everyday life. She actively compared everything to gothic books that she had read, in hopes that her life would be in comparison to that of a gothic novel. “Whatever might be our heroine’s opinion of him, his admiration of her was not of a very dangerous kind.” This is the beginning of Catherine realizing that her life is not similar to that of a gothic novel and that not everyone she meets has the intent or underlying motive to kidnap her as she would then experience the horror that she has read about so many times. Then the text goes onto expressing that Tilney’s admiration for her is, “not likely to produce animosities between the brothers, nor persecutions to the lady”. Although she still looks for darker intents within situations, this later ultimately defeats Catherine’s hopes for an experience such as the ones she reads, which inevitably would leave her to accept that life in its simplicity is sometimes just that.

On top of interpretation of the gothic genre, depiction of females in the nineteenth century also play a significant role in the text. The language used throughout the text portrays women as very feminine, emotional and dependent, although there are some defiance’s of these stereotypes as well. Catherine is viewed throughout the text as fragile and Austen phrases that, “her delicate sensibility did not take immediate alarm”. By phrasing her as delicate and sensible, it depicts her as fragile and emotional. Women were often portrayed to be highly emotional and easily deceived as it is assumed that they make judgements based off of their emotions. Women are also seen to be perceived as dependent and reliant on a male figure, hence the urgency to get married before a certain age while they are still considered “desirable”. The text portrays Catherine as vulnerable through the use of language as it says, “she could not have her partner conveyed from her sigh without very uneasy sensations”. The context implies that she is in constant need of her male companion in order to feel at peace, which would further portray the depiction of Catherine and women in the text as vulnerable and fragile. Women are also depicted to be in constant state of perpetual fascination over the stories that men would tell them. Catherine is seen to be, “listening with sparkling eyes to every thing he said; and, in finding him irresistible”. Through the passage, Catherine is perceived to be mesmerised by Tilney and depicted to be very star struck and fascinated within everything he says to an extent where she is hanging onto every word he says.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one,” (Albert Einstein). To conclude, the text actively indulges in gender roles and genre through its usage of gender norms, interpretation of the gothic genre and the depiction of females in the nineteenth century. The gender norms throughout the text often portray women to be obedient, on their best behaviour and ready to be married at any given moment. The Gothic theme of the book has Catherine actively looking for such experiences in her own life, which can cause for some discrepancies within her relationships to others. The depiction of women in the era and in the text often portray women to be seen as delicate, vulnerable individuals that are in constant need of reassurance. Although the gothic genre can be very enthralling, sometimes understanding that life in its simplicity can be in itself satisfying. 

16 August 2021
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