Northanger Abbey: Volume II, Chapters 9 - 10 (24 - 25)

To Austen-l

December 4, 1997

Re: Ghostly Heroine & Chivalrous Hero (Ghosts of the Gothic)

Barbara Irwin's commentary can be applied to all artful texts that take us real time to read, but in NA with its blend of a gothic parody and romance with a realistic novel, a skillful use of such nudges and hints is probably imperative.

I was especially impressed by her carefully outlined close reading of the imagery and presentation of Eleanor, viz.

  1. Henry speaking of Eleanor's "careless cutting [muslin] to pieces" (Ch. 3, p.824);
  2. quiet introduction (Ch.8, p.837) at Mrs. Murphy's side at the dance;
  3. Eleanor always wears white" (Mrs. Thorpe, Ch. 12, p.854);
  4. Invisible Eleanor when General Tilney asks Catherine himself to go with them to NA and has already asked the Thorpes if they can spare her without allowing either Eleanor or Catherine to ask the Thorpes (Ch. 17, p.875);
  5. Invisible Eleanor when they're getting into the carriage to leave Bath (Ch. 20, p. 882);
  6. Invisible Eleanor when General tells her to talk at the Abbey but doesn't let her (Ch. 22, p. 891);
  7. grove of trees with "gloomy aspect" a spot shes fond of (Ch. 22, p.893);
  8. Eleanor "often solitary" (Ch. 22, p. 894);
  9. "gloomy" objects and Eleanor's countenance linked (Ch. 24, p. 899);
  10. description of Eleanor's actions fit description of a ghostly walk (Ch. 24, p. 899);
  11. Invisible Eleanor from the words By ten o'clock the chaise and four conveyed the two from the Abbey (Ch. 26, p.908) to his son and daughter's observations were of a different kind at dinner that evening (p.909): for the entire day's description at Henry's home there is no mention of her though the reader knows her to be present;
  12. Eleanor's nonappearance described in eery language after the loud noise of the house-bell: "and Eleanor did not come up" (Ch. 28, p. 913); and
  13. description of activity outside of Catherine's door fits perfectly description of a ghostly visitation (Ch. 28, p. 913)."

I also am drawn to her focus on the climax of the sequence at NA:

"Eleanor is eventually freed from those ghostly attributes of hers with the words, "Eleanor, and only Eleanor, stood there" (Ch. 28, p. 913), and we are taken out of the parallel universe of the Gothic novel to land firmly on the ground of this, OUR, novel. From thence forth reader expectation does not include any complications from misapprehensions on Catherine's part based on fanciful events in her reading, only on "the most thorough knowledge of human nature," as we as readers have expected all along."

Another choral phrase which lets us know we have returned to the daylight world of common sense, or come down from some strange romantic realm is Mrs Morland's comment to Catherine when she returns home: "This has certainly been a strange acquaintance" (1995 Penguin, Butler ed, Ch 29, p 206).

A number of us have been saying that Eleanor is the gothic heroine of the book, and criticism of NA and the gothic novel or novels bears this out. However, like all generalizations, the perception remains unproven until we can find it in the details of the text.

So thank you Barbara.

Beyond the ghostly imagery, words suggesting silence, solitariness, invisibility, Eleanor Tilney is characterized in a way that recalls the more vulnerable flesh-and-blood heroines of the other books, especially Fanny Price but also Anne Elliot (as she plays the piano no-one notices her tears), Elinor Dashwood (who often can "only smile"), and Jane Fairfax. The Gothic here "spills" into the a perception about the real constraints upon and imprisonment of real women in Austen's world.

Is there a way we can see Henry Tilney's role as Valancourt "spilling" into Austen's other novels. I see the dark seducer-villain type as part of the Lovelace-Valmont tradition of the _roman noir_ (this is what French critics call the pessimistic erotic novels of the later 18th century), but he is also manifest in Montoni. Who in Austen's novels is so chivalrous and witty and kind to his sister as Henry Tilney?

Ellen Moody

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