Book reviews: Northanger Abbey Maria or the Wrongs of Woman Term Paper

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Apr 11th, 2019


In the first four centuries after the inception of writing, it happened that paper writing stood out as the major component of communication, in that it transcended through space and time. It bore much acclaim in terms of the consequences it be held.

As such, many believed it to shape popular opinion, belief systems, broadened understanding, and embodied a sense of belonging, the sensitive issues, the remembrance and ultimately the characteristics that defined the norms and taboos. In a nutshell, its overall effect was the shaping up of a people’s mindset therefore guiding a nation towards the realization of set goals and objectives (Kelly 17).

In the process, societal behavior change was for a time attributed to this, but then again these kept on changing. A people’s attitude and perceptions towards specific things in their lives kept changing or revolving, yet the writing in the books remained constant. This was a quagmire to the thinkers and philosophers of the romantic period, and it remained among the readers, writers and philosophers alike on how these kept shifting.

In the romantic period, fiction writing attracted a big chunk of the populace, and such it proved a way in which the ideas of the writers and authors alike filtered into the minds of the people- majorly the middle working class. These enticed them a big deal because it provided a mirror with which to see oneself through, as such to a big extent shaped their dreams and aspirations.

The relationship between the working class in the society and the romantic era was that the working class lived a liberal life, rapidly changing though retaining much of their culture carried over time through means such as folk song and others. As then, a person’s access to education was motivated by factors either within the person or external such as parents, society or relative and the rest.

The middle class people were handled or spoken to suspiciously by their age mates, as such, chauvinism aside all authors proved that readers, both men and women alike read what they could come across, as such they were heavily reliant on what they wrote; fiction or non-fiction (Kelly 19).

Book reviews

Both stories embrace mother-daughter relationships, and bring out the heroines in them are survivors and examples that need to be emulated as they have stood out in the midst of the tyranny matted upon them by the men in their lives, be they fathers, husbands and sometimes even brothers.

These men treat the women as mere property which can simply be traded upon to meet their needs; others view them as servants in the home, in this regard easily coerced or seduced into doing something.

The story in the books have met criticism time and time again, the major ones being that General Tinley’s position in Northanger had been exaggerated, and Eleanor’s objection to be part of the make-up of a fictitious tale. Moreover, in modern times, the events at Northanger are too archaic to have a place in the minds of the common folk since much has changed and the woman has been to a great and by a bigger margin emancipated.

Northanger Abbey

In this Gothic tale, we are narrated for the story of a woman who is really loved and appreciated, yet lost and silent. Mrs. Eleanor Tinley, as she is called in the book is the pillar with which the book is embedded upon. In the story, the General sends an invitation to a lady; Catherine.

He intends that she comes to stay at his abbey; this is against the backdrop of his determination to convince her to give up her intended inheritance to his young son. On the other hand, Eleanor also wishes to have Catherine around as the General states of this: “I know how much your heart is in it” (Austen 139).

In the narrative, Catherine has a loving, kind and open heart that is full of affection, and this takes up Mrs. Tinley’s. Following the demise of her mother, Tinley had been secluded totally by society, as such with Catherine’s arrival and the kindness within compounded the trust that forged forth real friendship (Spacks 157).

The narrator posses to reiterate that the chronic suffering she is undergoing is as a result of the demons that dwell within such a home as Northanger.

In due course, time would unveil a totally different character in the General’s attitude and demeanor. The nice and tamed General would turn out to create scenes that at the very least irritated and more often demanding. This upsets Eleanor to the core, as a result she ends up revealing how she was used in place to lie that the General together with her were absent from home (Baker 94).

The other opinion on this change of attitude from the General is that this abrupt unforeseeable change in behavior from apparent display of kindness, care and love to cold hearted hostility is pretty much a sign of the wrong characters in men.

The tempers and tantrums thereabout is a foreground to how men behave in marriage, and such they hit a crescendo to which they do not listen to the women even when the least of manners and common sense on their part dictates so. The hostility wears Eleanor down to the point that she breaks the news to Catherine that she has been expelled and is expected to leave home the following day.

The one aspect in the narration that highlights the experience of the woman in Northanger Abbey is that of one character, Isabella Thorpe. In the specific instance Henry forgives his brother towards Isabella, he says of her, “She had a heart to lose…she would have met with a very different treatment” (Austen 98). Catherine’s reaction to Henry’s judgment points out the impunity therein, and his bias to the feminine characters.

A critical focus on the novel reveals how Austen hones her writing prowess by the use of ‘orphan’ in a manner contrary to what is often advocated for by Gothic novelists. Furthermore, the term’s inclusion exhibits an affectionate nod portrayed by the novel’s entertainment value.

In her context, Austen portrays Catherine as a voracious reader hence she will have probably read entirely all the Gothic narratives from Thorpe’s list as at the time of her departure from Bath. As such, with the Gothic-like reception expected at Henry Tilney’s home- a clue from Tilney, Catherine’s imaginations become ecstatic to the adventure.

Therefore she expects “with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its [Northanger Abbey] massy walls of gray stones, rising amidst a groove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic Windows” (Austen 161). This could probably be a typical description about any kind of Gothic edifice.

For Catherine, she encounters a reality of how Northanger Abbey is like contrary to what her fantasy Gothic texts had conditioned her to anticipate. As such:

From the lodges of modern appearance to a smooth level road of fine gravel, without obstacle, alarm, or solemnity of any kind, and from her observations of the profusion and elegance of modern taste that existed in the modern furnishings to the windows which, though the form of them was a Gothic- they might be even casements- but every pane was so large, so clear, and so light! To an imagination which had hoped for…..painted glass, dirt and cobwebs (Austen 162).

Austen description depicts a thoroughly modernized picture of Tinley’s residence contrary to the expected. As such, the context evokes disappointment from both Catherine’s and a reader’s point of view, the “real Northanger Abbey was quite devoid of Gothic features” (Austen 162).

Maria or the Wrongs of Woman

Around the year 1792, in London a proposition to the French assembly was made by then newly launched Talleyrand’s new education system. It simply agitated for the male members in the society or the boys to be educated.

This was the motivation behind Mary Wollstonecraft’s writing, so that he could point to society that once again it was a wrong footing for the society to be vindictive of the woman in a matter which they were to play a key role. Her theory, simply put, stated that “if woman be not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all” (Wollstonecraft 28).

In her work, she injected the energy and zeal to like minded individuals throughout the sexual divide- both male and female. She implored her experience, intelligence and sentiments in her quest to exorcise the ghost that was segregation along sexual lines.

She found fault with what the religion and society dictated then about the female companion, as such brought to life the agitation that both philosophy and the applicability of the practice at hand, would transform a specific society with a big margin.

In Maria, Wollstonecraft underscores the then culture and feelings directed toward women specifically one portrayed as strong and, dwelling through misfortunes of her horrid husband. She hopes that a reader would echo her assertion towards the evils that bedevils a woman at the hands of these men. As such, she says:

The wrongs of woman, like the wrongs of the oppressed part of mankind, may be deemed necessary by their oppressors: but surely there are a few, who will dare to advance before the improvement of the age, and grant that my sketches are not the abortion of a distempered fancy, or the strong delineations of a wounded heart (Wollstonecraft 27).

The tone of the book is set upon Maria’s own experience, foregrounding at the end with her demise. These two coincide, though the book was published after she had passed away by her husband, it still brought out much of what the author had intended to pass across.

It begins with her imprisonment by the husband who goes ahead to get custody of their child. George Venables, the husband has her confined in a filthy asylum and befriends an attendant in there. In contrast, she is a low class lady, impoverished to say the least yet.

It comes to her knowledge that Maria is not of unsound mind, and therefore decides to bring her books to read. In the books, there are writings that are made by another inmate, and they start communicating, fall in love and finally meet (Sunstein 210).

As they spend time together, they get to share the tribulations in the lives they lead and thus forge a common bond. Darnford, for instance opens up that her life had been socially and morally wrong, and he happened to find himself locked up in the asylum after a binge.

The doctors had refused to set him free ever since. Jemima too opens up to them, explaining how much of a bastard she was when she had been born. Her mother passed when she was much of a toddler, worsening her grave situation and position in society even more. She ended up a laborer in her own father’s house and then vacated the place for another job.

Her master mistreated her, denied her food and forced her to have intercourse with him. The result- she was pregnant with her master’s baby, the wife threw her out. She aborts the baby because she cannot even sustain a single soul that is her own self and instead opts to become a prostitute. After the demise of the man who had been keeping her, she ends up at the asylum, as the attendant that she was.

In subsequent chapters till the end, she reveals to her daughter via written narratives how her father and mother loved her eldest brother more than any of their children. She also goes ahead to explain to her how the brother in return dictated over them, harassed and beat them up.

In order that she saves her skin from her tattered life and hopeless future, she seeks refuge from a neighbor with whom she falls in love with the son, George Venables. His general profile was presentable, likeable and respectable by all around town, but his real character was a philanderer.

Marriage is portrayed as a prison; the women are the permanent inmates. As of this she says: “Was not the world a vast prison, and women born slaves?” (Wollstonecraft 27). It is after marriage and the lovers are fully settled that the horrors of the union start to haunt.

It is the woman on the receiving end as she is subject to the whims of her husband, and such they are not valued as complete human beings. They are not separate from slaves, the fact that Maria was almost valued at $ 5000 is proof enough that the woman would only serve in purpose that they service their men.

In the book, the narrator tells of disastrous marriages and the feminine gender- irrespective would be the one being abused, heckled, beaten up and abandoned (Wollstonecraft 20). According to the author, “Men who are inferior to their fellow men, are always most anxious to establish their superiority over women” (Wollstonecraft 95). This, she believes is a truth to eternity.

Social classification is also evident, and by far much defines the difference in the manner in which the different classes of people are treated by society. Maria belonged to the upper middle class; accordingly society respected her much, and handled her with much higher esteem.

Jemima, the asylum attendant belonged to the lowest ranked in their society as it then was, she was a low class, but then society rarely drew the line between these classes of people among the women as it was woven gist that was chauvinism. The result of this was that both women in the two very classes of people underwent the same ordeals (Taylor 59).


In reading the above texts, the major theme projected is the ‘discovery of the female persona’. The ability in women to practice feminism and to enjoy being women, to flag off any attempts to be easily swayed in decision making, rejecting bad advice and fending of bullying from their male counterparts.

The women personalities should know the limits to their responsibilities, and how much should be required of them when and how, aside of course from them drawing the line to what is, in their judgment- right or wrong basing on their evaluation and aspirations.

In many an instance, sexual expedience has been used to define the thin societal membrane that has sieved women off their functionality in society. The books reiterate that male guarantors who base on the gullibility of their female counterparts are condemned.

Works Cited

Austen, Jane. A companion to Jane Austen studies. West Port CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. Print.

Baker, William. Critical companion of Jane Austen. New York: Penguin, 1944. Print.

Kelly, Gary. English Fiction of the Romantic Period. London: Longman, 2008. Print.

Spacks, Meyer. The Female Imagination: A Lit-erary and Psychological Investigation of Women’s Writ-ing. New York: Knopf, 1975. Print.

Sunstein, Emily. A Different Face. The Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Denver: MacMurray, 2009. Print.

Taylor, Barbara. Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.

Wollstonecraft, Mary. MARIA or the Wrongs of Woman. London: Verso, 2001. Print.

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