Northanger Abbey: Volume I, Chapters 6 - 7

To Janeites

April 18, 1999

Re: NA: The Boor John Thorpe

Nancy wrote:

'However, if what Thorpe says about Camilla is at all true, my desire to read it is slipping away'.

It may be that Austen meant us to assume that if John Thorpe doesn't like something, that is a strong recommendation. What Austen has done in Thorpe's description of Camilla is parody a dense mind in response to a couple of the more moving incidents in Camilla. His bigotry against a woman who marries a French emigré is of a piece with his careless use of anti-semitic talk (Allen is as rich as a Jew). He also responds to a book in terms of Burney's life. On every level his conversation is ridiculous and implicitly cruel -- as well as showing he has not read the book, since the incident of the see-saw (resulting in the permanent crippling of a character in the book).

His dismissal of Radcliffe may be taken in a similar light.

When he praises The Monk that's tantamount to Austen calling it coarse and salacious. About Tom Jones Austen puts in Thorpe's mouth the going cant. Remember Marianne's commentary on cant: one cannot escape the ruination of words and ideas when they come out of the minds of such as Thorpe. That does not mean the work or concept in question is necessarily shallow, but that the speaker is.


What I meant to say was John Thorpe's response to the incident of the see-saw shows he has not read Camilla since it occurs very early in the book. By-the-bye it's not true that Austen is the first to try to give us a genuine sense of a child growing up in a novel and how that early experience affected her: the first novel to do this is Camilla. What happens is a girl child is badly crippled very early in the novel.

Ellen Moody

From John Mize:

My first guess is that Thorpe is trying to elicit a shocked response from Catherine. Her protest will then be characterized as feminine squeamishness as contrasted with his own sturdy masculine toughness. Before his marriage James II entertained his future wife with stories of gruesome executions and the like, probably in an attempt to demonstrate his own toughness. I wonder what his future wife thought, probably "This guy is a moron, but it's good to marry into the royal family." My theory about Thorpe is undercut by the fact that he never listens to anything Catherine says.

I haven't read Camilla yet either; my copy is also on a bookshelf.

John Mize

To Janeites

April 18, 1999

Re: NA, Ch 7: Is Isabella just a liar?

Anne Woodley writes of Isabella Thorpe that she hadn't thought of Isabella as a 'conscious liar before':

Were she conscious she might make a better job of her lying, but she does't have much of an art in seeing what other people's true nature is. She doesn't recognise either of the Morland's essential honour - which of course the Tilney's do instantly. Coupled with that we see that her brother and sisters share the same talent for self delusion. In a world of artifice even if a lot of it is created by oneself, it must be difficult to see the truth.

And she quotes Isabella's unconscious revelation of herself at the opening of Chapter 6. 'Surely that is not a conscious act?'

I probably spoke with too little qualification. Still I'll stand by the idea that in Chapter 6 Isabella is far more often a conscious liar than the modern reader who is inclined to forgive gives her credit for. The 18th century reader would have seen conscious lying in the places I pointed out. We are so 'Freudianised' we seek to understand by saying so-and-so doesn't realise, when so-and-so often does.

In Chapter 7 matters change, and I would agree that on the whole Isabella is actually not just unconscious but somewhat innocent. She really loves flirting; she really wants to rush after young men. There is a kind of vivacity and energy and sheer love of play in her. She is a young girl too -- just making her entrance into the world. She is also desperate. She is there to find a husband. It was understood that was the purpose of poorer gentry girls for going to Bath.

For me who am older and never liked teasing (I see it as cruel) nor found socializing this way much fun, it's hard to like Isabella or see the world as she does. But a young reader might identify with Isabella as someone yearning to dance, to flirt, to have a lover who thinks Catherine is just as she is. That she is shallow in all her desires would not obviously not hit her; feelings like Catherine's deeper quieter ones are outside her experience and will remain so until she is much older. Also depth of feeling is not something measurable. It's clear the mother likes John Thorpe enormously even though he is a total boor and feels nothing for anyone very much.

These are after all caricatures. Like Mrs Bennet, these characters are not quite real; they are exaggerations of types and attitudes.

Anne also makes a good point when she says that Isabella doesn't understand the motives of other people very well. While that's not the same thing as not seeing into oneself, it is a form of delusion. One important inference we are to make throughout Austen is how little people understand of one another, whether they are obviously a bit dumb or flatter themselves with their perception (think of Emma and Elizabeth Bennet in this regard).


Reply-to: Subject: [Janeites] : NA: Isabella Thorpe

From: Brooke Kolosna

I remember thinking that Isabella is a conscious liar, but it comes later in the novel, when she drops one man for another. I also agree that she is a very shallow person, meaning that she shows little understanding of others' feelings or motivations. Isabella is only interested in one thing--herself. We could argue that her society forces young women to this by giving women only one option for security and leisure--marriage to a wealthy man. Perhaps Isabella is a caricature of how extremely self-centered this could make a person.


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