misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

A refreshing response to Austen's Northanger Abbey: a fun experience

Dear friends and readers,

So you thought I'd given the gothic up for a while. Not a bit of it. I've carried on teaching "Exploring the Gothic," at GMU, and (since the two conferences) have gone past James's Turn of the Screw, to two Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle, and just last and this week Austen's Northanger Abbey and Dickens's "The Signalman." 

Instead of clubbing, you go to an assembly and dance

What fun a number of people in both classes had with Northanger Abbey.  A young black guy, an athlete (that means he's in effect an employee of the college, with his fees paid through his participation in sports) gave one of the most refreshing talks on the novel I've heard in years. Nothing on sources, and I suppose a vindication of Gard's claim: he got it all so right in his idiom.  He made two lines on the board and one side he listed Tilneys and the other Thorpes.  Then he went through the characters:  the General begins as "this agreeable" (he was bemused by this agreeable not agreeable axis in Austen) guy, all "charm," who turns out to be "money-hungry and manipulative;" Eleanor "loves Catherine," and is "agreeable," "nice and true", "sincere."  Herny he's just tthis "stand up guy," Frederick, "ladies man," "gets his way," and "he was a cad," and finally Mrs Tilney, "a mystery, the one gothic character in the book. He was disappointed because he kept hoping her apparition would appear.  When Catherine went in search of her, he was avid to find her. But no such thing,  Isabella: "false, money hungry, manipulative," and (best of all) "John Thorpe:"  "this guy is just clueless on how to get a woman, lame".  He concluded "money-hungryness was a trait seen throughout the novel except for our "good" characters.

John Thorpe seen as "having no idea how to get a woman," "lame."

This reaction to Mrs Tilney was not unique.  There were two students who really half-believed Catherine would find Mrs Tilney locked up somewhere.  They are both students who don't read much, and one is wholly unfamiliar with let's say European culture and books. Perhaps in traditional cultures where women are so subject, this rings as not just a distinct possibility. 

Seeking the imprisoned Mrs Tilney

My young black male student who gave such a charming talk said he sort of knew she wouldn't be there as he had read a few gothics or had 'a feel for them," but he thought at least she would be an apparition or ghost.  

There was also a subtle talk:  talk: JA injects the gothic into anti-gothic parody by getting intensities of experience into realism. She takes parodic conventions and reinjects into them gothic feelings.

Then we watched the 84 minute version of  Davies's NA, a clip from Wadey's  87 NA (I picked a particularly ghastly piece) and a little of Nunez's Ruby in Paradise and went on about it's about growing up.  Several just loved the ending of Davies's Northanger Abbey with exquisite nervous happiness of J.J. Feilds answered by the open-hearted warmth of Felicity Jones as Catherine.  Austen's NA is not just an anti-gothic gothic, but an appealing believable coming of age story.

To being perfect happiness at 26 and 18 is to do very well ...

Tags: andrew davies, children's-girls' books, female archetypes, gothic, jane austen novels, women's art

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