Northanger Abbey: Volume II, Chapters 7 - 8 (22 - 23)

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Re: NA, Ch 22: Mrs Allen as a Reader of Romance; or How Not to Read Gothic

There is a joke worth mentioning in Mrs Allen's amazement that the very few servants depicted in the usual gothic romance could have got through all that work is not only against the reader who reads too romantically and does not connect what he or she reads back to reality. It is also against the over- literal reader who could never have gotten immersed in such a book in the first place. Mrs Allen reminds me of Miss Charlotte Luttrell in Lesley Castle, another lady of severely practical bent who when she is told of the death of the man her sister was expecting to marry and for both of whose wedding, she, Charlotte, had prepared so much food, can only say:

"Imagine how great the Dissapointment must be to me, when you consider that after having laboured both by Night and Day, in order to get the Wedding dinnner ready by the time appointed, after having roasted Beef, Broiled Mutton, and Stewed Soup enough to last the new-married Couple through the Honey-moon, I had the mortification of finding that I had been Roasting, Broiling and Stewing both the Meat and Myself to no purpose."

When Eloisa (what else could be her name) rushed in white "as a whipt syllabub" to report Henry's (the groom's) imminent demise, Charlotte cries:

"'Good God!... you don't say so? Why what in the name of Heaven will become of all the Victuals? We shall never be able to eat it while it is good. However, we'll call in the Surgeon to help us--,I shall be able to manage the Sir-loin myself; my Mother will eat the Soup, and You and the Doctor must finish the rest.'" (Chapman, Minor Works, Vol 6, pp 112-3).

Wacky comedy? Yes. But it depends upon Austen grasping a certain kind of mind, and in the case of Mrs Allen we have a little joke based on how differently people read and how different and complex our minds when confronted with a book.

Ellen Moody

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Page Last Update 22 March 2003