The Modeled Social Order in Austen's Northanger Abbey

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The following essay will be concerned with Jane Austen’s coming-of-age novel Northanger Abbey. The modeled social order and how Austen’s protagonist Catherine Morland finds her place in society will be described in detail by analyzing the generic traditions and the narrative strategies. In reference to this, lucky and rather unfortunate events, experiences and Catherine’s acquaintances will be studied in detail. For this purpose, the motif of reading will be the most important argument. In Northanger Abbey there are two kinds of reading: reading books or letters respectively and reading people. Catherine is still young and naïve and is not yet able to distinguish between the two types of reading. Hence, before Catherine can enter the world of adulthood, she needs to improve her ability to read people as well as novels. In the very first sentence of chapter one, seventeen-year-old Catherine Morland is introduced to the reader as follows: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be a heroine.” (Austen, Chapter I, p. 3). This setting is significant as it conveys the idea that Catherine could be a heroine but would be an unlikely one. It is widely believed that Austen satirizes the form and conventions of gothic novels that were popular during the time when Austen wrote Northanger Abbey. In particular, Austen is said to have targeted Anne Radcliffe, who wrote The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), a gothic novel that Catherine loves to read during her stay in the spa town Bath. The differences between the heroines already become clear when comparing the appearances of Austen’s Catherine to Radcliffe’s Emily. Catherine is described in the following way: “She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without color, dark lank hair, and strong features – so much for her person; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her
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