Northanger Abbey: Volume I, Chapters 10 - 11

Re: NA: James Morland, Antifeminism; Very Like Emma

I see Morland as one of the several males in this book--including at times Henry Tilney--who continually make off-the-cuff anti-feminist remarks or assume women are silly or rattles or merely there to provide sexual or other animal comforts. James's acceptance of Isabel is a piece with his assumption that Catherine will like Thorpe whom James knows is a "rattle" (which is a harsh word if we look at 18th century definitions and consider Austen's attitude towards Thorpe's "quizzing" and other petty meannnesses). James is not looking for anything beyond sexual flirtation now because, perhaps like Mr Allen, he does not expect to find a friend in his wife. I agree that his adding his voice to the others who pressure Catherine in the later chapter is particularly ugly especially since the words he uses shows he is aware he is using emotional black-mail against her.

Yet, as with Eleanor Tilney, we are simply not given enough of James to get a deeper feeling about his inner character. He remains a suggestive outline. Later in the book when he writes his moving letter we see that Austen meant us to see he at least understood the value of sincerity, wanted a kind of love, and was himself constant under continual half-betrayals, malice, and the kind of behavior that just skirts the unacceptable on the part of Isabella. But between the time we see him uncomfortable when Isabella begins her outrageous lunge at Captain Tilney and the time when Catherine sees his letter, we see nothing of him. We hear very little of him. Even those scenes are not shown; we see them only through a brief reference by the narrator which accounts for the scene she wants to show us: Catherine's intense concern for her brother and attempt to enlist Henry Tilney's offices in an effort to free her brother of this incubus --as she sees it. Of course the incubus is Isabella herself.

It's as if Austen's central purpose is there but the subsidiary effective scene which she throws off in MP has not been provided. As I believe the extant text we have is not early, I don't think she was unable to do this. Another interesting parallel I find with Emma is that in a way NA is a suspense or mystery story which combines dramatic irony with a revelation at the end. I think Persuasion was meant to be more than a little of a mystery story. We were to find out things about Mr Elton and Mrs Clay we hadn't suspected which would make our reread of Persuasion a very different experience from our first (as Emma is). So too in a simple way our reread of NA at least with respect to the General and Thorpe is different from our first read. Thus I'm with Dorothy Willis in saying that as with Persuasion, Austen felt she had much to do as yet. We might speculate that at the end of her career she was writing and rewriting two Bath novels, and it is appropriate that the two are often printed together.

Further, we have Austen's comment that she is putting Catherine on the shelf and does not know if or when the novel is coming down again. This suggests a dissatisfaction with some problem that is so difficult she is not sure how to solve it. I don't think the sketchy nature of what are now minor characters was the obstacle. Perhaps it was blending a literary satire with a realistic novel. As regards the characters of Catherine and Henry Tilney, the two aims are in conflict.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 16 March 2003