Posted tagged ‘Jane Austen’

Northanger Abbey 3-4: The Lower Rooms

April 2, 2009

Here are my notes from Chapters 3-4 of Northanger Abbey.

Plot Points

In the courts of Bath, Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen seem to follow the common routine of visiting shops, attending social functions such as dances, and meeting new people. The two meet Mr. Tilney, a young man who dances with Catherine. Later, they find an old acquaintance of Allen’s, Mrs. Thorpe. Catherine becomes friends with Isabelle Thorpe.

Character Commentary

In the Lower Rooms, Catherine is introduced by the master of ceremonies to Mr. Tilney: “He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it.” He speaks with Catherine and Mrs. Allen about clothes and fabric, such that Catherine is impressed and wishes she would meet him again the next day.

Catherine meets the daughter of Mrs. Thorpe, Miss Isabella Thorpe, and the two seem to easily become friends. Perhaps Catherine is impressed with Miss Thorpe’s experience in the ways of Bath; she is older, “better informed,” and knowledgeable of “tasteful attire.”

Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe are former schoolmates and, now re-acquainted, have occasion to share information on their situations. They discuss their families: Mrs. Thorpe applauds her sons who are out in the world and about which the hint of success is given; Mrs. Allen “had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend…” Then, the Miss Thorpes arrive. At the same moment, Catherine Morland is introduced. Mrs. Allen could be taking on a maternal role for Catherine.

Narratology Notes

So far in these early chapters of the novel, I feel as if the narrator (Austen) is keeping her distance from the main character, Catherine. She enters and ends chapters with a discussional tone, reminiscent of traditional romantic prose. She shows Catherine, for example, in describing the possibility (but not surety) of her thinking about Mr. Tilney before sleep, and in her having “more than usual eagerness” about starting the next day; Austen seems to clearly divide her chapters within the bounds of this commentary, and the chapters are about the same size in length. Is Austen writing a narrative or a chapter?

Looking Ahead

Now that Catherine has some friends, will she grow more confident? And, now that Austen has more than one group of associated characters, will she start creating some parallel dichotomies?

Follow RJA on Twitter

March 30, 2009

I will be updating my Twitter account with updates on Reading Jane Austen posts. I’m doing this not only so that people might have another option when it comes to viewing update (if a reader is Twitter-centric versus RSS-centric), but as an added way to cap off a posting.

My recent experience has been that these posts take up more time than I had originally anticipated: first there’s reading the content, then analyzing it (usually along the way), synthesizing it, writing it, and uploading it to this platform and within the boundaries of my Tools for a Close Reading of Jane Austen. And there will still be a typo or two.

Posting it on Twitter will serve as a way for me to acknowledge to myself that “I’m done!”

Not sure what Twitter is? Check out the main page here. My tweets are located here.

Would Jane Austen use Twitter?

Northanger Abbey Chapter 2: The High Feathers

March 30, 2009

Here are my notes from Chapter 2 of Northanger Abbey.

Plot Points

Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen travel to Bath, the resort city. There, they prepare for a ball, where they are disappointed by a lack of participating. Left to the periphery of the excitement, Catherine becomes bored.

Character Commentary

Chapter 2 opens with what seems to be a preemptive defense of Catherine: “it may be stated, for the reader’s more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be; that her heart was affectionate, her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind…”

The preempt may have been appropriate, for during the ball/dance she shows some considerably vain sensibilities. After experiencing the boredom of not participating in the dancing activities due to lack of a partner, Catherine overhears something flattering said about her: “She was looked at however, and with some admiration; for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to be a pretty girl.” To me, this seems to show an unflattering view of the character, regardless of the disclaimer given by Austen, perhaps part of the theme of busting up over-romanticization.

Mrs. Allen, a landowner in Wiltshire where the Morlands live, and who is traveling with Catherine to Bath, is described as having “neither beauty, genius, accomplishment, nor manner.” Furthermore, she has “good temper” and “a trifling turn of mind” and is obsessed with fashion. Her description and place in the narrative (guardian to Catherine during trip to Bath) imply that she should have some social skills, i.e., ability to facilitate Catherine’s entry into the social scene; however, she does not, as she knows nobody at the ball and laments that one couple she does know is not in attendance.

Themes and Threads

This is the only information given on the trip to the city of Bath:

“Under these unpromising Auspices, the parting took place, and the jouney began. It was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. Neither the robber nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero. Nothing more alarming occured than a fear on Mrs. Allen’s side, of having once left her clogs behind her at an inn, and that fortunately proved to be groundless.”

I notice that (1) no information is given regarding an event, and (2) the speaker goes out of her way to indicate that, in fact, nothing actually happened. Coming off of reading Sense and Sensibility, in which stuff does happen while characters are en route (if only a discussion of their moods; a measure of time is achieved). The trip is anti-heroic: there are no strong protagonists and no antagonists, and Austen is clearly aware (or expecting?) that her audience would be looking for these things. This seems to be pointed at all of the epics, gothics, and romances that deposit characters in troublesome situations, out of which a “hero” is revealed.

Out of Context

I can relate to Catherine’s feelings of awkwardness at a social event. Feeling down and then overreacting (at least in the characterizational context that Austen gives) to a change toward the positive is normal.

Memorables

“… they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies.”

Northanger Abbey: Getting Started

March 23, 2009

In seemingly half-comedic, half-serious tone, Jane Austen begins the life of Catherine Morland. “… born an heroine,” Austen says, in placing Catherine in scene. She is among 10 siblings, has a “thin awkward figure,” and is said to be inattentive. That is to say, today she is ordinary.

Already, I can sense the scent of sarcasm in Austen’s tone in starting out Northanger Abbey. From what I already know, it’s doesn’t seem to be her style to invoke these themes of predestined heroism:

“But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.”

For Catherine’s life thus far has been uneventful, average, and loveless.

Quotables

“But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.”

Looking Ahead

That’s Chapter 1. More chapters to come soon!

My Radcliffe Intermission: A Preparation for Northanger Abbey

February 10, 2009

As planned, I will be reading through Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian before beginning Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Word has it that Northanger looks at a certain topic (cough cough), and that it might be prudent to know the parodied before reading the parody. I’m trying to be vague and open-minded about it because I don’t want any assumptions to spoil what might otherwise be an unbiased and thoughtful reading.

I am posting this not only as information for those who might be following along, but as an attempt to keep to my own convictions about time constraints. I intend to finish The Italian in a week, which shouldn’t be too much trouble given that I won’t be spending time making posts for it. And after that, I want to move swiftly though Northanger so that I can at least try to start Pride and Prejudice before February is up. If you’re wondering about my original schedule, see My Schedule for Reading Jane Austen.

Also up during my intermission will be some thoughts on 2 film adaptations of Sense and Sensibility. Nope, we’re not quite done with the Dashwoods yet. Stay tuned!

Sense and Sensibility 49-50: New Confidences

February 10, 2009

I have just finished the final chapters of Sense and Sensibility. This post covers my entry for those chapters, not my final comments on the novel, the methods and scope for which I have yet to determine.

Plot Points

Edward Ferrars has arrived at Barton Park, and he asks Elinor to marry him. Elinor accepts the proposal, and the two have frank discussions about their experiences and the various players in their history, particularly Robert and Lucy. Edward seeks and is given his mother’s approval, and they move to Delaford, the offer of the home there still in place from Colonel Brandon.

Shortly after, Marianne marries Colonel Brandon, having been taken in by his character and knowledge of his fondness of her, and the two Dashwood sisters end up living in close proximity at Delaford. All parties are happy.

Character Commentary

Edward Ferrars obviously takes a big part in the resolution of the story. After his proposal to Elinor and their final confidence in each other, Austen says that “His heart was now open to Elinor — all its weaknesses, all its errors confessed, and his first boyish attachment to Lucy treated with all the philosophic dignity of twenty-four.” He admits that his actions—including his engagement with Lucy—were “foolish” and that one reason he found Lucy attractive was because he had known few women, and was thus unable to see her “defects.”

Later, there is some reproachment of Edward by Elinor, and “He could only plead an ignorance of his own heart, and a mistaken confidence in the force of his engagement.” Later, Austen writes, in speaking of Edward and Colonel Brandon’s newly reinforced friendship, that “Their resemblance in good principles and good sense, in disposition and manner of thinking, would probably have been sufficient to unite them in friendship, without any other attraction…” So do Elinor and Brandon see different Edwards? Not that Elinor is offended beyond marrying him, but there seem to be inconsistent views of Edward given by the combination of these two characters and the narrator.

Themes and Threads

Austen speaks of Marianne in the final chapter, when explaining her marriage to Colonel Brandon: “She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favorite maxims.” And, instead of”falling a sacrifice to an irresistible passion,” she becomes a wife and patroness. “… her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.”

This marks an ending to the Marianne character as a driver of the thematic conflict in Sense and Sensibility. In a way, Elinor is shown to have won out. But is this really the case? Does the marriage of Marianne and Colonel Brandon result in a de facto victory for sense over sensibility? After all, the two sides were in a way switched, more thoroughly in the case of Marianne. (Remember that at some points late in the story, Elinor was behaving quite sensitively). I think this will require more analysis later on.

In Context

With the end of the Dashwood saga at hand, it is important that each of these young women be taken care of. To Austen’s initial readership, surely the best possible outcome for these heroines is a life of marriage. For Marianne, the reward is especially given: she is “patroness of a village” due to the wealth of her husband. From a purely economic standpoint, the Miss Dashwoods ended up in favorable hands, it seems.

Looking Ahead

I will be posting some final comments over the next few weeks as I parse through all of my posts on Sense and Sensibility to try to make sense of it all. I’ll also let you know about the next steps in Reading Jane Austen.

Sense and Sensibility 46-48: Exit, Willoughby; Enter, Edward

February 8, 2009

My notes from Chapters 46-48 of Sense and Sensibility.

Plot Points

Having left Cleveland after Marianne’s illness, the Dashwoods return to Barton Park, where Marianne continues to recuperate. Meanwhile, Colonel Brandon returned to his home in Delaford. Elinor first debates the propriety of, then follows through on, the retelling of Mr. Willoughby’s confession, to which Marianne reacts in an uncharacteristically calm spirit. It is generally decided—encouraged by Elinor and accepted by Marianne—that Willoughby would have been an unfortunate match for Marianne, and that the two are incompatible. Marianne conjectures that Willoughby’s problems stem from his initial error in the Eliza Williams situation.

Word is brought to Barton Park that “Mr. Ferrars is married.” The Dashwoods, especially Elinor, are disturbed by this. Elinor had thought that she would hear more from her other friends on the state of Edward and Lucy, and displays an uncharacteristic sensitivity to the affair. As a reversal of these thoughts, Edward unexpectedly arrives with news that his brother Robert had married Lucy, to which the Dashwoods are shocked.

Character Commentary

Marianne undergoes a period of self reflection in Chapter 46 that I believe is an important turning point in that character’s theme (see below). Marianne says that her illness has caused her to think seriously: “I saw that my own feelings had prepared my sufferings, and that my want of fortitude under them had almost led me to the grave. … Had I died, it would have been self-destruction.” She continues to claim that she had been unkind to many, including Mrs. Jennings, the Palmers, etc.

Marianne both claims and appears to be unencumbered by thoughts of Willoughby. Thoughts of Edward, however, seem to plague Elinor, who worries about him and reacts emotionally to thoughts of and address from Edward.

Themes and Threads

In these chapters, the attitudes of the Miss Dashwoods seem to undergo changes. Marianne’s usual oversensitivity is largely held at bay, while Elinor’s reactions and states of mind are uncharacteristically emotional. As they are exiting the carriage upon arrival at Barton Park, Elinor notices that Marianne is calm even though she’d been crying:

“In the whole of her subsequent manner, she traced the direction of a mind awakened to reasonable exertion; for no sooner had they entered their common sitting-room, than Marianne turned her eyes around it with a look of resolute firmness, as if determined at once to accustom herself to the sight of every object with which the remembrance of Willoughy could be connected.”

One problem that the Miss Dashwoods have is their now tendancy to conjecture about other people. For instance, Marianne is quick to conclude the Willoughby saga by explaining off his actions as part of or caused by his actions toward Eliza Williams, and generally writes him off as a scoundrel. Elinor is led by her imagination to new psychological and interpretive ends. In Chapter 48: “She saw them in an instant in their parsonage house…”, and “In Edward, she knew not what she saw, nor what she wished to see; … (emphases added)” Elinor imagines Edward and Lucy together, their having traveled together on a trip to her uncle’s house.

Such an imagination in Elinor causes her to overreact to external stimuli in an uncharacteristic way. She has, up to this point, been held up as strong-minded and thoughtful above being affected by emotion. But, here she is worrying about Edward and, when he arrives at Barton Park unexpectedly to relay the news that Robert had in fact been the “Mr. Ferrars” who had married Lucy, Elinor “almost ran out of the room, and as soon as the door was closed, burst into tears of joy, which at first she thought would never cease.”

It seems as though the process of illness had affected Marianne, and that the process of attending to the long-term troubles of Marianne has affected Elinor.

Out of Context

I especially appreciate this line of Marianne’s as she is wanting to explore new ways to occupy her mind: “I have formed a plan, and am determined to enter on a serious course of study.” Not only does this notion make psychological sense, but I myself have used this method of distracting from either unpleasant or unwanted experiences. I’m sure that preoccupying one’s mind to escape relationship troubles is commonplace.

Looking Ahead

In the final 2 chapters, I hope to be able to determine “who” this novel is about. Throughout, Austen has shifted focus as various points, consistently between the sisters Marianne and Elinor.