Image of Elegance in Jane Austen’s Work Free Essay Example

April 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

Like many of Austen’s works, Northanger Abbey began with modest respect, and now is revered among historians, critics, and authors alike. First published along with Persuasion shortly after her death, Jane Austen’s gothic parody was subject to both criticism as praise in its portrayal of Bath and the Medieval period. Ushering in a period of pointed arches, stained glass windows and high arched ceilings, the gothic left its viewers, readers, and critics in awe, admiration, and wonder. Accordingly, Jane Austen brilliantly wrists the elements of regular life in Bath with the setting of the 18th Century Northanger abbey.

Although much of the story takes place in a Gothic setting, Austen uses the main character Catherine to show how in real life, things do not play out like they do in the pages of popular fiction. While many scratch their heads over how polarized this gothic parody was, overwhelmingly, the mixed reviews boiled down to Austen’s parody of the gothic and depiction of realism within her work.

For some, realism and its depiction of humanity was not engaging enough when compared to the supernatural and sublime elements fostered in classical gothic works. In the quarterly review, the British Critic, Anne Rostrum felt that Austen’s exclusive dependence on realism was evidence of a “deficient imagination”, feeling that the characters composed were dumbed down, insufficient, and recklessly underwritten. For many, the simplicity and reality of real life was not “a real page turner”. In her own review, Charlotte Brontë objected to what she saw as the “passionless characters” who “lacked souls”.

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Indeed, Early Victorian commentators were divided on her parody of the Gothic and ushering in of realism.

Secondly, Austen received criticism for being too quiet in her criticism of patriarchy. Charles Irvine stated, “These gothic stories give a nightmare version of patriarchal oppression as General Tilney, if not guilty of the specific crimes that Catherine Moreland imagines he has committed, is indeed a vicious man”. Madeline Woodruff said, “while Austen cunningly satirizes the gothic, she fails to use that parody on issues of significance, the oppressive patriarchy chiefest among them”.

While there was certainly no shortage of criticism in the reception of Northanger Abbey, time has proven to settle disputes and provide clarity to the voices that criticized it. Today, Austen scholars have pointed out that because of the newness of her style and genre, these early reviewers did not know what to make of her novels. For example, in the late 1880’s, the Edinburgh Review stated that they misunderstood her use of irony in their 1817 publication, and praised Austen for her ‘exhaustless invention’ and the combination of the familiar and the surprising in her plots. Additionally, Andrew Johnston argued that Austen’s lack of feminism in Northanger Abbey could be explained by the “drastic wartime censorship” and the campaign of “vitriolic abuse” waged against Wollstonecraft that Austen had to be quiet in their criticism of patriarchy.

In conclusion, while the first scholarly assessments of Austen were divided, time and perspective have led many to praise her elegance in writing, her use of realism in the fictional world, and the humor of morality. Today, voices like T. B. Macaulay echo that Northanger Abbey was worth “all of Dickens put together”. Indeed, while Northanger Abbey was initially marginalized and placed with her juvenilia, it is now seen as one of the more mature novels of her time.

Sources:

  • Frayling, Christopher. Introduction. The Gothic Reader: A Critical Anthology. By Martin Marone. London: Tate Publishing, 2006. 12-20. Print.
  • Irvine, Robert. Jane Austen. London: Routledge, 2005.

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