December 1, 1997
Re: NA, Chs 20-5 (II:5-10): An Inset Gothic Romance
Since much earlier in our group read both a few people brought up the difference in mood and texture and movement between this section of NA and the 19 chapters that precede it, I thought I'd bring up an interesting older article in which C. S. Emsden argued that these 5 chapters were written at a different time from the earlier 19. No one can prove beyond a doubt such an assertion without any external documentary evidence, but there is a difference in focus and the use of time.
The five chapters in question are described by Emsden as follows:
"It requires but little search to discover the beginning of the long section of the book, covering some five chapters, in which the horrific Gothic episodes are related. It starts in the middle of Chapter 20, and continues, subject to the inclusion of a few brief passages from the original sketch, until the end of the fourth paragraph of Chapter 25. The author, rather obviously, wrote a sentence to bridge the transition, as follows: 'The anxieties of common life began soon to succeed to the alarms of romance.' The story then switches back for news of Isabella and James in Bath ("'Northanger Abbey Re-Dated,' Notes and Queries, 195 , 407-10.
The chapters aren't horrific but there are striking differences. I'll mention a few. The focus is no longer on a love story. Even Henry gets displaced as Catherine becomes fascinated by immense chests, ebony cabinets amid the wind, rain, darkness and strange sounds of a corridor-ridden abbey.
Time slows down. Although there are as many time words, and the clock ticks from 20 minute interval to 20 minute interval, with the General keeping everyone to a breathless punctuality (to have dinner with this man is worse than trying to catch a train), notice how little time is actually traversed by this week's Chapter 21. Each paragraph seems to embody the beating of Catherine's heart as we move into her mind and experience its movements.
There are so many more references and, especially, imitations or allusions to Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest and Mysteries of Udolpho. I have read both, and can vouch for the 21 separate close allusions and imitations of Radcliffe's two novels which occur within the space of the these and the next two chapters (annotated carefully by Butler with bits of the relevant chapters reprinted at the back of the Penguin, pp 228-30). I'd like to say that Radcliffe's is effective in context, and the slowing down of time to imitate the mind as it is fully absorbed and intently alive is something first found in omniscient narrative in Radcliffe. I still remember how the characters arrived at the fearful castle in the middle of the forest in The Romance of the Forest (a memorable moment) and had to make their beds in front of a fireplace on the floor (they are fleeing the law) and also the subterranean passage which connects the castle with a chapel not too far away.
The fascination with gothic visibilia is also different. These things are not mocked in a phantasmagoria, but slyly absorbed with quiet laughter--as in Henry's marvelous set piece where Catherine is imagined as finding nothing of "any importance--perhaps nothing but a considerable hoard of diamonds" (Penguin p 140). This is another of my favorite lines in this novel.
Was the rest of the novel written around this densely allusive set piece? Perhaps. Or was the densely allusive set piece written 1798-9 after Austen's deeper acquaintance with Radcliffe? Again perhaps.
My idea is those who enjoy these chapters most are those who enjoy Gothic romance itself enormously too. As I was reading the chapters this week I found myself remembering Daphne DuMaurier's Frenchman's Creek. The portrait of the "handsome warrior" whose features are to strike Catherine so strongly made me remember the portrait of the heroine which the French pirate sees over the fireplace nightly well before the lady returns to the house, which portrait keeps him coming back and sleeping in her bed. Looking forward to Catherine's daring foray into Mrs Tilney's bedroom, with her combined dread of and desire to find something lurid and horrific, I remember the second Mrs de Winter's equally awed foray into Rebecca's room which overlooked the wild waters of the bay. Are there others like me who enjoy this set of chapters enormously?
------- "Only in semblance are the outward and inward seasons of a life identical; in verity, wealth of experience is the sole measure of living, and the spirit is timed by another clock than that of the calendar... ---Stephan Zweig, Mary Queen of Scots