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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 ...



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 20th, 2010 01:56 pm (UTC)
A very lovely class, it sounds like!
Nov. 21st, 2010 06:53 pm (UTC)
And McEwan's Atonement
From Sam:

I saw your post about "Northanger Abbey" and "Atonement" and was wondering when your next blog will be? My students and I were just discussing intertextuality and "Northanger Abbey" before our unit on "Atonement," I'd be fascinated to hear what you do with McEwan's text. Have you read Brian Finney's book review (it's on his website, I don't have the link but could track it down)? I think it's one of the best I've ever read, he attends not only to "Atonement" itself but also to its critique of reading practices, its engagement of history, and the reactions of reviewers to the controversial ending. Really great stuff."
Nov. 24th, 2010 12:47 pm (UTC)
Mrs Allen
This is only partly a response to Arnie's theories; what I end on is a lack of feminism and serious critique in Austen. We have to face that she's sometimes comic first and no more than that.

Mrs Allen is another of these women who Austen has something of an animus about -- she introduces her by saying (words to these effects) she is the kind of women who excites no interest except that they get (good) husbands (intelligent, decent, earn a living). We are to assume I think once upon a time Mrs Allen was very pretty -- so another male captivated by physical charms (lust). And like Sir Thomas Bertram, Mr Allen lives with his decision. She could go further than this in her critiques, but seems not to. It's a personal animus.

Austen does use the character for satire: she is a comically inadequate chaperon in that she gives no good advice, but she is not a bad-hearted woman. Mr Allen it is who checks on who Henry Tilney is when Catherine first meets him and elicits he's acceptable. Mrs Allen is a literal reader: one of the funniest jokes in the book is of Mrs Allen saying she ever wondered how the servants (women) in gothic novels got through all that work. Austen is aware of how so many readers read so narrowly out of their own concerns (it reminds me of Lear being told that a man is miserable: has he got daughters?!!!); it is also like the joke about Mr Woodhouse wanting Emma to put a shawl on Harriet in the picture. They can't tell reality from imagination. Lots of people like this today watch soap operas.

She can be connected -- sort of -- to the gothic strain of the book. There's a play where her character is amalgated to the ladies' maid in Udolpho and Catherine to Emily St Aubin and all I can say is it make a kind of sense of both: a companion type in gothics who is only a burden (even if comic). More; she can be compared to chaperons in Burney and other women novelists: this is a concern of women novelists. I heard a paper comparing her to women in this role in Burney.

But it is caricature. To use D. W. Harding's terms, this is a two dimensional character, functioning in a limited kind of way. She does not see sex as a danger when her charge goes out on a carriage ride because all she can think of is, will her dress get ruined? Umbrellas. That's not real. A real woman would not repeated the same joke. It's a type character out of Ben Jonson. So too is Mr Collins in part used this way -- only Collins is called upon to play a larger thematic role because of the marriage plot in P&P and serious treatment of Charlotte Lucas. Mrs Allen doesn't see sex, doesn't see much. I don't remember even Heydt-Stevenson seeing sexual innuendoes. More important, she does not see why her husband married her nor that he is bored stiff with her and glad to get away when he can (to his newspapers which were we to extrapolate we'd have to say Mrs A would be clueless about -- but we are not to ask such questions, the fiction's art lets the tactful reader nkow we do not ask how many children had Lady Macbeth -- there is no Lady Macbeth beyond what Shakespeare wants us to see and suggest from). Thus you cannot for example attach her to a serious critique of marriage and sexual conduct as you can say Mr Collins or Charlotte Lucas


Edited at 2010-11-24 12:50 pm (UTC)
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