Northanger Abbey: Volume I, Chapters 1 - 3


To Janeites

Re: NA: Novelistic Satire and Catherine's Na´vetÚ

Perhaps we should define what we mean by naive: my concise Oxford defeines naive as "artless, innocent, unaffected; unconsciously and amusingly simple." This does fit Catherine throughout most of the book; her first movement away from transparency comes during her visit to the Abbey where she is awakened to the truth about Isabella (from the breakup of the engagement and Isabella's transparent letter), to the difference between what a Gothic book induces one to terrify oneself with and what is really frightening in life (an ebony cabinet v General Tilney) and where her love for Henry deepens to the point that she can no longer be simple.

Catherine has two roles to play: she is a device like Gulliver from Gulliver's Travels, or like Voltaire's Candid, a superinnocent eye whose rooted intuitive truthfulness and decency exposes to us the hypocrisy of the world and who is herself deluded by its fantasies (gothic romances). She is also a very real young girl growing up. The two roles jar.

We can see this in Chapter One which veers between a kind of literary parody which is not novelistic and not to be assimilated (as when she recites the poems, and refuses to cherish mice and roses), which stretches on and the attempt to make us identify her as a good and uninitiated young girl about to make her entry into the world. On the latter I agree with Nancy Austen had Burney's Evelina in mind -- as well as Burney's Cecilia.

Ellen Moody

To Austen-l

September 30, 1997

Re: NA, Ch 1: John Gay's "The Hare and His Many Friends"

Kathy asks if "The Hare and His Many Friends" is the common hare and tortoise story. No. It's a memorable satire on the limits of friendship. If Catherine "learnt" this fable "as quickly as any girl in England"--and understood it--she would certainly have been on guard against Isabella, not have been Isabella's dupe.

This detail like many others in this opening chapter of NAsignals to us that we are not about to embark on a realistic novel in the same mode as those of S&S, P&P, MP, Emma or Persuasion. What we have instead is a text that is only sometimes a novel with psychologically consistent characters; sometimes what we have is satire, a novelistic satire, in the mode of Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Catherine is sometimes a device, a naif like Gulliver or Goldsmith's Chinaman or Voltaire's Candide. She is placed in a narrative which does not try wholly or all the time to persuade us we are in a simulacrum of the real world; rather this is narrative--all the allusions and formal parodies of this chapter continually remind of us of this as does the clear presence of a satiric narrator.

Now these stories were and still are still constructed so as to explode false notions because the game played in such narratives is that the uncorrupted innocent character sees far more truly and clearly what is good and decent and reasonable in accordance with nature than the character who has been educated out of some original common sense.

It takes considerable literary tact and judgement to read such stories. In the instance of "The Hare and His Many Friends" we are not to understand the allusion psychologically, but rather thematically. It is not Catherine's inner mind that has been educated by Gay, but rather that the satirist refers us to a kind of satire which projects another similar outlook on the world we are going to find in NA.

Here is the poem:

Friendship, like love, is but a name,
Unless to one you stint the flame.
The child, whom many fathers share,
Hath seldom known a father's care;
'Tis thus in friendship; who depend
On many, rarely find a friend.

A hare, who, in a civil way,
Comly'd with ev'ry thing, like Gay,
Was known by all the bestial train,
Who haunt the wood, or graze the plain:
Her care was, never to offend,
And ev'ry creature was her friend.

As forth she went at early dawn
To taste the dew-besprinkled lawn,
Behind she hears the hunter's cries,
And from the deep-mouth'd thunder flies;
She starts, she stops, she pants for breath,
She hears the near advance of death,
She doubles to mis-lead the hound,
And measures back her mazy round;
'Till, fainting in the publick way,
Half dead with fear she gasping lay.

What transport in her bosom grew,
When first the horse appear'd in view!

Let me, says she, your back ascend,
And owe my safety to a friend,
You know my feet betray my flight,
To friendship ev'ry burden's light.

The horse reply'd, poor honest puss,
It grieves my heart to see thee thus;
Be comforted, relief is near;
For all your friends are in the rear.

She next the stately bull implor'd;
And thus reply'd the might lord.
Since ev'ry beast alive can tell
That I sincerely wish you well,
I may, without offence, pretend
To take the freedom of a friend;
Love calls me hence; a fav'rite cow
Expects me near yon barley mow:
And when a lady's in the case,
You know, all other things give place.
To leave you thus might seem unkind
Be see, the goat is just behind.

The goat remark'd her pulse was high,
Her languid head, her heavy eye
My back, says she, may do you harm;
The sheep's at hand, and wool is warm.

The sheep was feeble, and complain'd
His sides a load of wool sustain'd,
Said he was slow, confest his fears;
For hounds eat sheep as well as hares.

She now the trotting calf addrest,
To save from death a friend distrest.

Shall I, says he, of tender age,
In this important carte engage?
Older and abler past you by;
How strong are those! how weak am I!
Should I presume to bear you hence,
Those friends of mine may take offence.
Excuse me then. You know my heart.
But dearest friends, alas, must part!
How shall we all lament: adieu.
For see the hounds are just in view...

John Gay

This is exquisitely funny. It is sardonic yet ever so light in touch. The animal fable is in itself quintessential satire with its reduction of people to cunning animals. So to me the moral here goes farther than the banal and unarguable that friendship is often a farce, a pretence, a means of networking yourself into some favor until of course the friend needs you and it might cost you something to help him or her out. The moral is in the form: love is a fav'rite cow. Yes be careful never to offend, and trust to many and you'll never have a friend. Thus allusively we are told Catherine is our hare, she must learn who are her true friends, and that in the warfare of this world such friends are and will be few. Catherine will have to reject the false (Isabella) for the true (Henry and Eleanor Tilney). Hey that rhymes!

Ellen Moody

---- If we can't kill it, it's immortal. ---Sign seen in front of gun store

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