March 16, 2003
Northanger Abbey: Sophie Cottin's Amélie Mansfield
There is a remarkable parallel between Henry's sentiment and one voiced in Sophie Cottin's Amélie Mansfield (first published 1803, and published in London in French in 1809): there are close parallels in character types, the situation and attitudes of the characters. Cottin's Albert, brother to heroine, Amelie, Dresde, suffers as James does from shallow flirt Blanche who enjoys being mean. Cottin's Blanche is a softened version of Isabella Thorpe; the types which align themselves with Henry Tilney and Isabelle Thorpe are examined with thoughtful precision and full seriousness. He is wounded, and we see the wounded James type from within. We do not see this either in Burney nor Austen except when wounded person the heroine.
This does not mean that Austen necessarily had Amélie Mansfield in mind even if it has even more striking parallels with Pride and Prejudice. In Amélie Mansfield Sophie Cottin also makes us see from within and at length how an upper caste male (a Darcy type) in later eighteenth century society was brought up to be arrogant and self-contained ("proud"), his yearnings and fear of humiliation, and how the older hardened woman to whom he is attached (a Lady Catherine de Bourgh type who is "prejudiced") can effectively manipulate his pride to interfere with his urge to marry a lower caste heroine.
What such parallels such is the participation of all Austen's books with the terrain of contemporary French novels and how Northanger Abbey should be considered a novel written in her later years and compared in aesthetic techniques and deeper attitudes to Emma and Persuasion, not a novel of her earlier years and compared in mood if not technique to Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility (it has often been shown that P&P and S&S show signs of their origins in epistolary narrative while Northanger Abbey does not.