30/05/2009

A HEROINE, HER ANCESTOR AND HER HEIRESS

Catherine Morland

Northanger Abbey was one of the first novels Jane Austen wrote but it was only published in 1817,  after her death,  by her brother Henry . Though still amusing today, would have been amusing in a rather different way to its first readers, because it was written as a deliberate parody of the very popular “horrid” novels of the period – what we now call “thrillers” – some of which Isabella Thorpe has listed in her pocket – book and recommends to Catherine Morland: The Italian,The Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, The Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, Horrid Mysteries. Under Isabella’s guidance, Catherine starts by reading The Mysteries of Udolpho, and later on she begins to imagine that General Tilney is just such a wife- murderer as the sinister Signor Montoni in that story.
The juxtaposition of fiction to reality will provoke her distorted vision of people and facts, her incapacity to judge them properly, her blunders and several misunderstandings.


Jane Austen’s portrayal of Catherine is humorous and ironic, Catherine is realistically portrayed as deficient in experience and perception, unlike the heroines of Gothic and romance novels. All the heroines of this kind of novel are of high birth, angelic beauty, extreme virtue and sensibility, and although usually orphaned and invariably growing up in poverty on some lonely foreign mountainside, nevertheless are so naturally gifted as to possess all the female accomplishments without ever having any formal tuition.
Catherine, instead, was plain, had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without much colour, dark lank hair and strong features; she was noisy and wild, hates confinement and cleanliness, enjoys boys’ pastimes...
Catherine fails to recognize the obvious developing relationship between her brother James and her friend Isabella; she fails to recognize Isabella's true nature until long after it has hurt her brother; she accidentally leads John Thorpe into thinking she loves him; and most significantly, she embarrasses herself in front of Henry Tilney when he finds out she suspects his father of murder. While Catherine is an avid reader of novels, she is inexperienced at reading people, and this is what causes many of the problems she encounters. By the end of the novel, she has become a much better judge of character, having learned from her mistakes with Isabella and General Tilney. She is also, perhaps, a bit more cynical about people, as Henry is. Ultimately, it is her integrity and caring nature that win Henry's heart and bring her happiness.


Would you have ever said that she had an ancient, noble, world-wide famous ancestor from Spain? Do you remember him? He too was an avid reader of tales and he too confused reality and the images in his mind, those heroic images taken from the wonderful romances he had read in great quantitities. YES!
Don Quixote de la Mancha !
Don Quixote ( 1605 ) is a parody of the romances of Cervantes's time. Don Quixote rides out like any other knight-errant, searching for the same principles and goals and engaging in similar battles. During these battles, he invokes chivalric ideals, regardless of how ridiculous his adventures may be. On another level, however, the adventures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza in the novel's First Part attempt to describe a code of honour that could serve as an example for a Spain that was confused by war and by its own technological and social successes. Cervantes applies this code of values to a world in which such values are out of date.
Don Quixote is a gaunt, middle-aged gentleman who, having gone mad from reading too many books about chivalrous knights, determines to set off on a great adventure to win honor and glory in the name of his invented ladylove, Dulcinea. Don Quixote longs for a sense of purpose and beauty—two things he believes the world lacks—and hopes to bring order to a tumultuous world by reinstating the chivalric code of the knights-errant. Initially, Don Quixote's good intentions do only harm to those he meets.

Well, Catherine has also got a fascinating French lady among her descendants. Any idea? Not a clue? Ok. I’ll help you: Emma, better known as MADAME BOVARY (1857).
Like Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey parodies Gothic heroines, in Emma Bovary Flaubert uses irony to criticize romanticism and to investigate the relation of beauty to corruption and of fate to free will. Emma embarks directly down a path to moral and financial ruin over the course of the novel. She is very beautiful, as we can tell by the way several men fall in love with her, but she is morally corrupt and unable to accept and appreciate the realities of her life. Since her girlhood in a convent, she has read romantic novels that feed her discontent with her ordinary life. She dreams of the purest, most impossible forms of love and wealth, ignoring whatever beauty is present in the world around her. Flaubert once said, “Madame Bovary is me,” and many scholars believe that he was referring to a weakness he shared with his character for romance, sentimental flights of fancy, and melancholy. Flaubert, however, approaches romanticism with self-conscious irony, pointing out its flaws even as he is tempted by it. Emma, on the other hand, never recognizes that her desires are unreasonable. She rails emotionally against the society that, from her perspective, makes them impossible for her to achieve.
She starts mixing fiction to reality and to wish her life to be just as it is in the novels she loves reading …She doesn’t go crazy like don Quixote, but, even worse, she dies.


So among the three characters Catherine’s fate is the luckiest and happiest
. Do you remember what happens to her at the end of Northanger Abbey?


What could the end of my post be? A suggestion not to read too much because it might become dangerous? Not at all. It's an invitation to read more and more, enjoy reading and meet amusing, moving or fascinating characters like THESE.
Have a nice relaxing weekend.
MG
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7 comments:

Elvira said...

No, I don't remember anything about Northanger Abbey. I read it about 30 years ago... If I didn't have so many books waiting to be read now, I'd read it again.

Interesting post, as usual. Greetings!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Elvira
Well, if you are interested and you don't have enough time to re-read it, you could see this 2008 tv movie, it's not bad at all. Of course the book is ...always better!
By the way, guess what? My degree thesis ( a research I did and about which I wrote an essay in order to get my degree in foreign languages) was about Cervantes' biography and the years when he was writing Quijote!
Entonces mi Espanol era muy bueno y estudiar tu idioma era mi sueno. Hace muchos anos... que làstima! :(
Un buen fin de semana.

Mo said...

Are these books 'school readers' anymore?

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Yes, they are. Unfortunately, less and less teenagers seem to be able to appreciate them. But among my students, I've got many girls loving reading classics.
Thanks for your visit and your contribution, Mo!

Anonymous said...

MissBluestocking:

I absolutely adored the book Madam Bovary. Reading this I wanted to write something that satirized romanticism. But it was harder than I thought it's be. I'm still too into romance to go about making ridiculing it. Anyway, the theme of Madam Bovary was just so compelling. I found the movie on Youtube but it's in french with no subtitles. Imagine my frustration...grrrr

xalwaysdreamx said...

Hi Maria! Thanks for dropping by! I love how you compared NA with Madame Bovary and Don Quixote. You're making me want to re-read them just to compare them! You're so insightful! =)

--Sharry

Anonymous said...

Maria excellent review, you have a lot of knowledge about the english literature!so pleasure to read your thoughts, you makes great articles.
madame bovary, i think she was looking after a great and rich lover to Live the ''good life'', so her goals was more materialistics. From the other hand, Catherine had more idealistic plans and she wanted to live the great adventure with a handosome young man to rescue her from the fantastic danger who existes only on her mind. Bovary also was extremely beautiful, catherine was the next-door girl, not beautiful but cute with girlish feautures. Emma was a woman meant to born fatal, catherine meant to be happy.
Belle also reads a lot, from the ''beauty and the beast''