Austenalia

The Heroine by Eaton Stannard Barrett

As I continue my quest to read the Gothic novels that Austen read, I came to this gem.  Technically speaking, it could not have been an inspiration for Northanger Abbey, since it was published in 1813 and read by Austen in February and March of 1814, however, it provides a fascinating look at Gothic parody and has an interesting connection to Austen, which I will reveal later on in this post.

Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra in a letter dated March 2-3, 1814: 

I finished the Heroine last night & was very much amused by it.  I wonder James [their elder brother] did not like it better.  It diverted me exceedingly…We have drank tea & I have torn through the 3rd volume of the Heroine, & do not think it falls off.–It is a delightful burlesque, particularly on the Radcliffe style.  (Le Faye 266-67)

The Heroine was popular upon its publication, and remained in print until 1927 (Horner and Zlosnik 3). No less a light than Edgar Allan Poe had this to say:

…although it has run through editions innumerable, and has been universally read and admired by all possessing talent or taste, it has never, in our opinion, attracted half that notice on the part of the critical press, which is undoubtedly its due. There are few books written with more tact, spirit, näïveté [[naïveté]], or grace, few which take hold more irresistibly upon the attention of the reader, and none more fairly entitled to rank among the classics of English literature than the Heroine of Eaton Stannard Barrett. (41)

I myself will admit to having laughed aloud several times while reading it.  The Heroine follows the adventures of the self-styled Cherubina de Willoughby as she manages by turns to be clever, silly, naive, rude, and self-absorbed in her quest to become a heroine just like those she has read about in novels–all the usual suspects–Mysteries of Udolpho, the Monk, The Italian, Pamela, etc.  There is a 2011 edition available, but through the magic of print on demand, you can also get the 1909 version with an introduction by Walter Raleigh, which is the one I read.  Raleigh does not have a lot of respect for Barrett, but I agree with Horner and Zlosnik that Raleigh may have been too quick to dismiss Barrett’s talent (2).  I think Poe was right.

One of the things I found most interesting in the book, though, was a reference to Sir Charles Bingley on page 98. Yes, that Bingley. Janeites will know that Pride and Prejudice was first published in January 1813.  The Heroine was also originally published in 1813, though I have not yet found the month.  This led me to wonder about any connection between the two writers.  Now, you will say, wait–you were reading the 1909 version, perhaps it was revised.  I had the same thought, so through the magic of the Internet and the Hathi Trust, I located a scanned version of the 1813 edition.  In volume II, page 15, the very same text appears referring to Sir Charles Bingley. (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015059389596&view=2up&seq=6)  Cherubina is referring to Stuart, her paramour, when she writes, “Would Sir Charles Bingley have deserted me so I ask? No.  But Stuart has no notion of being a plain, useful, unsuccessful lover like him” (15).  The reference is not repeated and there is no further elucidation, but the statement implies that our heroine has read Pride and Prejudice, which means Barrett had as well.  He also seems to expect that the reader will know who Bingley is.  Could this reference to her own work have been one of the reasons Austen so enjoyed the book? I don’t know if we will ever find out, but it is interesting to wonder.

The Heroine is definitely worth your time, if you enjoy parody, or the Gothic.  It is certainly a bit of fun and a little bit of a literary history puzzle. I have mentioned in a previous post that even though The Heroine could not have inspired Northanger Abbey, it may have been on Austen’s mind when revising it for publication.  I am glad to report that I am not alone in seeing the possible connection: 

Austen reworked Northanger Abbey some time between 1816 and 1817, and it seems probable that at least some of it is indebted to Barrett’s work.  We might suspect a reference to The Heroine in its ironic first sentence, for example:  “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine” (Northanger Abbey 5).  Like Catherine Morland, The Heroine’s heroine, Cherry Wilkinson, has read more Gothic novels than are really good for her.  Like Catherine, Cherry has difficulty differentiating between life and fiction.  (Dow and Halsey)

Give it a try; I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Works Cited

Allan Poe, Critical Notices, Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. II, no. 1, December 1835, 2:41-43.

Barrett, Eaton Stannard, Esq. The Heroine: or Adventures of a Fair Romance Reader. London, 1813. Accessed via Hathi Trust 5 July 2020, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/mdp.39015059389596

Barrett, Eaton Stannard. The Heroine: with an introduction by Walter Raleigh. London: Henry Frowde, 1909.

Dow, Gillian and Katie Halsey. “Jane Austen’s Reading: the Chawton Years.” Persuasions Online 30.2 (2010). Accessed 5 July 2020, http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol30no2/dow-halsey.html.

Horner, Avril, and Sue Zlosnik. “Dead funny: Eaton Stannard Barrett’s The heroine as comic gothic.” Cardiff Corvey: reading the romantic text 5.2 (2000).

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen’s Letters (fourth edition). Oxford UP, 2011.

Austenalia, Book Reviews/Discussions

Darkness at Pemberly by T. H. White

If you have read my earlier post about the Austen in Austin exhibit at the Ransom Center in Austin, you will have seen a reference to this book in my comments.  After I visited the exhibit and heard Janine’s talk, I had to find the book and read it.  This little book combined two of my favorite things, or so I thought…a cozy mystery and Jane Austen.

Well dear reader, the book was fun to read if you are a fan of the cozy mystery genre; it was sort of Agatha Christie meets Dashiell Hammett sprinkled with a few Austen references for the heck of it.  Originally published in 1932, it attempts to straddle the English village mystery and the hard-boiled detective story, and manages to do it somewhat successfully. Our detective, aptly named Buller, is an English copper who retires after he is unable to gather the evidence necessary to arrest a crazed killer who confesses in the first part of the book.  I’ll admit, I was scratching my head for the first 92 pages trying to figure out why Pemberly was even in the title, since neither the estate, nor any Darcys were yet to be found.  However, I persisted. And was rewarded in part the second when the detective inspector, now retired, is revealed to be a friend of Sir Charles Darcy, descendant of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth, and his sister Elizabeth.  Sir Charles is a little bit of a ne’er do well–he has even served time in prison–and a slight hothead. I won’t ruin it for you, but Sir Charles becomes embroiled with the diabolical murderer from part the first and Pemberly becomes the setting for most of the rest of the Novella as the cast of characters, including chemists, butlers, and more try to avoid being the next victim and catch the killer before he can do in Charles or Elizabeth.  Needless to say, there is a very chaste romance between Buller and the 1930s Elizabeth, who is a “modern” woman of the era. 

All’s well that ends well and readers expecting everything tied up and explained by the end will not be disappointed.  It was satisfying as a mystery, less so as Austen fan fiction, but I am not sure what I was expecting from T. H. White, he of The Once and Future King. If you only read it as a curiosity, it will be worth it, it doesn’t take long at only 286 pages, and it is intriguing to see how White imagines the progeny of the Darcys and the decline of Pemberly. Copies are readily available on Amazon.

Austenalia

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser

The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser 

Johns Hopkins University Press (2017), 295 pages

Paperback (2019), $19.95

First published in 2017, I am reviewing the 2019 paperback version with a new afterword.  For those interested in reception history and Jane Austen reception in particular, this well-researched book contains much that is original and highly thought provoking, as well as wonderfully detailed. Dr. Looser treats readers to fresh ways to think about how Jane Austen became JANE AUSTEN! Looser included numerous endnotes and source lists for those who want to continue reading on the topic.  Sources include archival material and period specific analysis, as well as her own informed original analysis.  Her meticulous research allowed her to uncover an error in the identification of Austen’s first illustrator with convincing evidence that it was Ferdinand Pickering, not George.

Looser argues that Austen was not made by the literati alone.  Though the literary establishment had its share of Austen lovers (and haters), public interaction with her work contributed to her renown. Long lasting worldwide engagement with Austen belongs to casual readers, illustrators, dramatists, political movements, and school teachers. Her argument may sound familiar to Janeites; recent JASNA conferences included many presentations on this theme, most notably Janine Barchas, author of several talks about the forgotten editions of Austen.  However familiar the story of how Austen’s books went out of print and were “rediscovered” and reissued by Richard Bentley in the 1830s, only to experience a Victorian surge in popularity among literary elites in the 1870s, recent research goes beyond critics and collectible first editions.

Part I begins with the illustrations commissioned by Bentley. She examines how the illustrator’s choices–the focus of the action, who is in the illustration, even the captions–frame reader reception.  Pickering, Austen’s first illustrator, mostly depicted the heroines and female characters in domestic scenes (23). Later illustrators often followed Pickering’s lead, even down to choosing the same scenes to illustrate (51).  She helpfully places the illustrations in conversation, so the reader can see how they evolved and influenced reader reception, making Austen’s work recognizable to many people who may only have seen the illustrations.

In “Part II” Looser discusses the dramatization of Austen, including professional, college and school adaptations. One striking trend that emerges from these chapters is the evolution of the dramatizations from female centric to male centric. She includes a brief discussion of implications of this trend for film adaptations as well. I will never watch the 1940 Olivier P&P with quite the same condescending attitude as I have in the past.

“Part III: Jane, Politicized” demonstrates that politicians of all ilks have co-opted Austen to further their causes, from Suffragettes to second wave feminists to Conservatives to Marxists. Looser comments, “Whatever party Austen may or may not have affiliated with during life, her legacy puts her all over the political map…your sense of whether that would have pleased her or left her nonplussed, may hew more closely to your own political beliefs than to anything we can prove about hers.” (145)

“Part IV: Jane Austen, Schooled,” delves into the many and varied ways that Austen’s texts were used and taught in schools and out of schools.  Looser begins with George Pellew’s dissertation–the first written about Austen, and continues through Austen’s inclusion on reading lists, in readers, and in college courses–Lionel Trilling turned away students when too many signed up for his Austen course (212). Unafraid to examine less scholarly views of Austen, such as a 1971 mock-ad in National Lampoon (213), Looser handily makes her argument. 

According to Looser, Jane Austen became Jane Austen! because she could hold the “attention of scholarly and popular audiences alike.” (218) Reception does not have to be a zero sum, it can be both and. While frustrating to the literary establishment, ultimately Austen’s adaptability is what makes her great. In the afterward, Looser adds that perhaps we should take Austen’s declaration that she does not write except for those with great ingenuity, as a sign of her confidence in her readers (227). All readers, great and small can find meaning in Austen. 

Austen lovers of all types will enjoy the reference in Looser’s final words. “I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend haughty, highbrow exclusivity or celebrate uncritical adulation.” (223) 

Both, please.

Austenalia

Review of new Emma directed by Autumn de Wilde

You can read a professional review here.  While I am a professional with regard to book reviews, I am not a professional movie critic, so this is just the opinion of one Janeite, take it for what it is worth. 

Overall, I found the new Emma very enjoyable.  The costumes and scenery–both the exteriors and the interiors, were gorgeous.  Some have noted that the director opted for bright colors; this is true, but the effect was to make certain things pop, and in my opinion, color was not overused, nor was it distracting–it enhanced the scenes rather than detracting or distracting from them. As far as casting, with the exception of Mr. Knightley, they were all wonderful.  Favorites included Bill Nighy as Mr. Woodhouse, Miranda Hart as Miss Bates, and Josh O’Conner as Mr. Elton. Of course, these three also had the most broadly comic roles, which they all made the most of. If O’Conner looks familiar to you, you may have seen him as Prince Charles in The Crown. His Mr. Elton is a completely different sort of character, so hats off to him. I felt that Mr. Knightley tended to fade in comparison to the other cast members, and he just didn’t seem “knightly” enough.  He wasn’t bad, just not as fantastic as Jeremy Northam (say what you want about the Gwyneth Paltrow version of Emma, Northam is the best Knightley ever).

First, let’s address the inevitable complaint form Austen purists, of which I normally count myself one. It is true that some of the colors used and some of the events in the movie are not completely faithful to the time period or the text. That being said, the essence of Emma was there and a lot of the dialogue, though it may have been moved to a different scene, was taken directly from Austen’s novel.  Unless one is making an 8 hour mini-series, one will never get everything from a book into a movie–that’s just a given. What is more important is the choice of scenes, the depiction of the plot and characters, and the theme of the work. 

The main characters, with the exception of the aforementioned Knightley, are all very well done and if not faithful exactly to the novel, they are definitely played in the spirit of the novel. Harriet is sheeplike, Mrs. Elton is hilarious (check out that hairdo), and Frank Churchill manages to be both pleasant and a little bit of a Rake. The important scenes, paramount of which is Box Hill, are there. I thought the Box Hill scene was well done–the viewer knows what is coming, but still wishes heartily that it wasn’t.  Hart’s Miss Bates has just the right combination of wounded bird and stiff upper lip. Emma manages to look surprised, as if thinking, “did I say that out loud?” She did.

One of the most interesting things about the movie was the soundtrack.  It is stylish, but unusual–the songs are almost like the narrator’s voice and they help imbue the irony that every true Janeite is looking for. The songs are of various genres–some operatic, some art songs, or what sound like art songs, and some gospel. An eclectic mix, but I thought it worked.

All in all, I would recommend the new Emma–there are a lot of Easter eggs for Austen fans and though the fourth wall is never broken, the viewer almost feels like the movie is winking–it is not taking itself too seriously, which I think is in the spirit of Austen.  She used humor to point out the unfairness in society, the petty wrongs, the silly rules. Somehow, I think she might have approved. (Except of course, for the inexplicable nude scene at the beginning. I am still trying to figure out why that was there. Just don’t look if you don’t want to see it.)

Austenalia, Book Reviews/Discussions

A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney

Full disclosure:  I bought this book because of the subtitle:  The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf.  I should have known that I wouldn’t like it from the lack of an Oxford comma in the subtitle, but I pressed on.  The authors are academics, and there are endnotes and lists of sources, so it appears their research was extensive.  However, I found the chapters about Austen to be highly speculative and therefore, disappointing. Based on a few letters, which they read in a particular way, the authors build a whole “unknown” friendship between Jane Austen and Anne Sharp, the governess for Austen’s niece Fanny Knight. While it is true that Sharp did work for the family, and there appears to have been some interaction, and even some exchange of letters–most of those letters did not survive and Midorikawa and Sweeney read a lot into the ones which do, including some interactions between Cassandra and Anne after Jane’s death.  I think more work needs to be done with the sources they used and perhaps more searching for additional sources to verify their suppositions before their thesis, at least in terms of Jane Austen and Anne Sharp, can be addressed. Deirdre LeFay says it better than I do in this article.

The authors argue that these four women writers had mostly unknown relationships with other women which served to inspire and/or support their writing. The problem is that the evidence is pretty thin for them even being friends, at least in the case of Austen and Sharp, and nonexistent to show that if their friendship did exist, it provided any kind of support for either of them writing. I cannot speak to the other three authors discussed in the book, since I did not finish reading the book, but other commentators who knew about Woolf have written in reviews that there was really nothing new in this book. 

I would have to call  this a disappointment and I could not recommend it for those with an interest in Austen. Save your money for Janine Barchas’s new book instead.

Austenalia, Book Reviews/Discussions

The Regency Years by Robert Morrison

The full title is The Regency Years: during which Jane Austen writes, Napoleon fights, Byron makes love, and Britain becomes modern. Morrison’s book is highly readable and engaging, while maintaining a level of scholarly rigor not often seen in works marketed to a lay audience.  For those interested, there is a wealth of endnotes and reference lists. I will be investigating several as soon as possible. Hats off to Norton for including them.  I am happy to see academic historians, such as Morrison seeking to write accessible history that still adheres to the standards of the discipline.

Morrison’s main argument goes something like this: The Regency, though only a decade (~1811-1820), was a time of many world altering events and an explosion of creative output in almost all areas, including literature and the arts, science, engineering, and even politics throughout the world, but particularly in Britain.  Because of these events and the outsize personalities of many of the creatives, the Regency is where we should look for the roots of modernity, rather than the Victorian era. He gathers evidence from areas as diverse as sport and other forms of entertainment, sex, and landscape design. He manages to include the words of several women, albeit mostly of the upper classes, as well as evidence from the lives of free people of color. Although the scope is Britain, he makes the effort to take into account different perspectives, such as North Americans, including native people, and views from other colonized areas and people. He does not flinch from taking a hard look at from whence the prosperity of the Regency arose–often the backs of the working classes along with colonial expansion and exploitation. He uses the contradictions of the Regent himself–an urbane supporter of the arts who could also be crude and gluttonous for more than just food and drink–as a symbol of the contradictions of the Regency–a time of glorious literature and great advancements in science during which the wealth gap became ever wider and whole swathes of society lived in abject poverty and filth. 

At several points he seems to be using the Regency as a warning to us in the present;  the struggles for political representation and fairness engaged in by the working classes mostly ended badly, such as the Peterloo Massacre, because of the government’s overriding fear of something like the French Revolution happening in Britain. During much of the Regency, Wellington is fighting Napoleon somewhere. The warning isn’t that the people will be defeated, but that they have a point and that protest can lead to positive change without violence. 

During the Regency, radical orators, politicians, novelists, satirists, caricaturists, philanthropists, poets and journalists assailed the entrenched hierarchies of Church and State from every available angle, and focused in particular on the trumped-up, tricked-out Regent as a symbol of all that was wrong with Britain. Their strategies loosened the grip of Regency intolerance. Their courage and insight remain as inspiration to those who seek to carry on their work… (63).

While I enjoyed the book immensely and would highly recommend it for learning more about the Regency period, I am less certain that Morrison’s argument that the Regency is the root of modernity is completely convincing.  I don’t disagree, and he has more than enough evidence for the first part of his argument about the Regency as a watershed politically and creatively, it is difficult to trace the origins of a concept such as modernity. To be fair, Morrison is does show convincingly that the Regency era marks the beginning of realistic novel writing as opposed to Gothic/Romances (NOTE: this usage of Romance is the more classical meaning of a genre in which a hero has a quest), but he also rightly points out that the most popular novelist at the time was Walter Scott who situated his works squarely in the Romance category, albeit the newish genre of Historical Romance.  Even though Scott and the Regent admired Austen’s works, they never achieved the popularity of Scott’s during her own lifetime. In retrospect, Austen’s reputation outstripped that of Scott (for more about that read this recent article by Janine Barchas and Devoney Looser–you may recognize the license plate!), but this makes the case for realistic novel writing as a “movement” of Regency rather less sure. 

Likewise Morrison’s tracing of protest movements.  Though he argues successfully that they existed and that ideas about nonviolence may be traced to some stars of Regency protests, ultimately there is no indication that anything actually changed as a result. Even Peterloo did not really bring about any desired change. “Liverpool’s government was unrepentant. It tried, convicted, and imprisoned several radical leaders…It passed the notorious Six Acts, which introduced harsh measures of control over assembly, the popular press, and the bearing or arms” (56). Morrison is continuing the conversation about the significance of the Regency which will likely continue as more evidence is discovered, sifted, sorted, and analyzed.

Morrison’s use of a core cast of Regency characters lends continuity and a sense of intimacy to his work. He draws heavily from Byron, Leigh Hunt, Austen, The Wordsworths, Scott, two sets of Lambs, and Hazlitt among others.  By using evidence from these luminaries in each chapter, the reader gains a sense of the familiar that serves as a throughline for the book as it describes wide ranging aspects of the Regency. Morrison, not unsurprisingly, uses evidence most frequently from figures he has written about before in his other works.  This is both a strength–because he knows them well–and a weakness, because it limits the evidence. However, it is not a serious weakness and his conscious decisions to look for representations from all classes and types of people offsets any real criticism for sticking with his cast of Regency characters. It would be impossible not to limit the evidence somehow or else risk a book too long to read comfortably.

I recommend Morrison’s work to those with an interest in the Regency period–it is entertaining and informative, as well as being methodically sound. Enjoy!

Austenalia

Austen in Austin

Book Sculpture by Mike Stilkey

Yesterday, we had our regional Jane Austen Society of North America regional meeting–it was a great way to start off the year. We heard a wonderful talk by the president of JASNA entitled, “Jane Austen, Working Woman,” followed by a visit to the Harry Ransom Center to view the “Austen in Austin” exhibit, a part of a larger exhibit, Stories to Tell. Our tour was lead by Janine Barchas, UT professor and the curator of the Austen cases. Unfortunately, the exhibit closed today, but Janeites should know that the HRC owns the Austen family copies of her works–with annotations made by Cassandra. The photo below shows one of the annotations, but it is very faint. It is in a copy of Persuasion, and it reads, “Dear Jane, these words should be written in letters of gold.”

Another hidden gem from the exhibit is an association copy of Persuasion owned by T. H. White. White penned a locked room mystery based on Austen’s characters in 1932, “Darkness at Pemberly”, which was also adapted for a Radio BBC program. I will be looking to see if I can find a recording, but in the meantime, you can read the story here at project Gutenburg.

More Austenalia to come soon!

Austenalia

New Year, New Look…

Last year I began the Year of Reading Dangerously to celebrate the theme of the 2019 JASNA Annual General Meeting, which was focused on Northanger Abbey. It was great fun and I plan to continue reading and commenting on more Gothic fiction this year. However, it is a new year, and I have decided to broaden my scope and include a category of posts entitled Austenalia, which will be related to all things Austen and Regency. You can still see the Year of Reading Dangerously by clicking on the tag for that, but those posts will also be in the Austenalia category for anyone who would like to begin at the beginning. I have almost finished Robert Morrison’s book, The Regency Years: during which Jane Austen writes, Napoleon fights, Byron makes love, and Britain becomes modern, and it will open the series later on this week.

Until then, happy new year and happy reading and teatotalling to all!

Austenalia

The Mysteries of Udolpho, the final chapters…

Dear Reader,

I do apologize for taking so long to finish up with Mrs. Radcliffe’s enormous tome.  My goal was to finish it before the JASNA AGM, and I did, but just the day before on the plane, so it was only by a hair’s breadth.  Then the splendour of the AGM temporarily stalled my book reviewing plans. At long last, I will fill you in on what happens to Emily, whether Valencourt wins fair maiden, and what befalls the evil Montoni.

One of the sessions I attended was a talk by Marsha Huff entitled, “The Gothic Key,” in which Ms. Huff read Udolpho so that Janeites wouldn’t have to, as she so eloquently put it.  Many of the points she made were similar to those I have made, so I won’t belabor them. To review–Gothic fiction is very meta (before being meta was a thing!) and self referential–it refers to other Gothic novels, and the same images and tropes are recycled so that the reader knows what to expect, even though she (and it is always a she) is dying to find out what is behind the veil, just like Catherine!

When last we were together, I chose to discuss a few themes.  In this installment, I would like to point out the ways in which Austen explicitly refers to Udolpho in Northanger Abbey and elsewhere. There is one passage in particular, in which Henry goes on at length teasing Catherine about the Abbey. He asks whether she is prepared to “encounter all the horrors” (114) and be led around by an ancient housekeeper named Dorothy (115).  Of course, your footnotes may have told you he is teasing Catherine about one of the most tense series of scenes in Udolpho in which Emily is toured through the old castle by Dorothee and eventually sees what is behind the veil, although the reader must suffer through about 450 more pages before her curiosity is satisfied.  Spoiler: It is a wax work of a corpse–a weird form of penance being suffered by a minor character whose identity and crime is not revealed until the final two pages (I am not kidding) of Udolpho. Radcliffe obviously did not adhere to the “rules of composition” Austen did whilst composing Northanger Abbey (186). But I digress. 

One of Austen’s letters contains another explicit reference to Radcliffe.  In a letter dated Wednesday (March 2, 1814), Austen writes of having finished The Heroine by Eaton Stannard Barrett, which Austen refers to as a “burlesque” of Mrs. Radlciffe’s style.  The Heroine was a parody of the Gothic, and this is an interesting tidbit to file away–Austen admired the book, and one wonders if reading this made her more determined to get the rights to Northanger Abbey back from Richard Crosby. The Heroine was published in 1813 and in 1816 Henry Austen bought back  the copyright for Northanger Abbey on behalf of his sister, Jane. 

In case you are still wondering what happened to our cast of characters from Udolpho…  After much wandering through the countryside, which Mrs. Radcliffe describes in excruciating and minute detail, Emily ends up back at La Vallee. Montoni is killed by banditti, Valencourt is suspected of having led a dissipated life, but is exonerated through the offices of a poor old servant woman he has been supporting. The portrait Emily’s father was carrying around turns out to have been his sister, Emily’s aunt–she is the murdered Marchioness of Dorothee.  So, Emily looks just like her, because she is her niece. Emily and Valencourt are wed, as are Blanche and her love. Ludovico even reappears to Annette’s everlasting joy. All’s well that ends well. 

Radclffe, after making the reader suffer through 672 pages of which only about 250 were necessary, ties everything up in a neat bow in the last few pages, just as Austen does in Northanger Abbey.  Hmmm. Radcliffe’s narrator also gets in a didactic aside, which causes this reader to wonder whether she wasn’t having a laugh at the reviewers who always seemed to like Radcliffe’s Gothic novels, but not anyone else’s…

“O! useful may it be to have shewn, that, though the vicious can sometimes pour affliction upon the good, their power is transient and their punishment certain; and that innocence, though oppressed by injustice, shall, supported by patience, finally triumph over misfortune.” (672)

Verbose to the last.


I have enjoyed this year of reading dangerously so much, that I am going to continue with the Gothic for a while longer.  I will intersperse my thoughts on the Gothic with reviews and book discussions of other novels as well. I have found much more to explore in the rabbit hole of the Gothic, some of which I will write to you about next time, including the “Terrorist System of Novel Writing” from 1797.

***Photo from the writer’s tour of the Swem Library Rare Book collection at the College of William and Mary

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. Oxford UP, New York, 2008.

Radcliffe, Ann. The Mysteries of Udolpho. Oxford UP, New York, 1992.

Austenalia

Year of Reading Dangerously: The Mysteries of Udolpho, volume I

Originally published in 1794 in four volumes, The Mysteries of Udolpho is probably the prototypical Gothic Novel. Regular readers will know that I did not read it first, though it is of primary importance to Catherine in Northanger Abbey, preferring instead to work my way through Walpole and Lewis in preparation for Udolpho.  I must say I am glad I did.  Walpole had the advantage over Mrs. Radcliffe in brevity and Lewis has it all over her for salaciousness, at least so far.

In Volume the First, we meet our cast of characters and do a little bit of traveling, so that we can endure the picaresque of which Henry insisted on tutoring Catherine. I find it highly improbable that anyone as flighty and fickle as Isabella could possibly have read Udolpho in its entirety.  I think she must have read excerpts at best.

Here is the breakdown of Volume I:

Chapters 1-6 our heroine, Emily manages to lose her mother and meet her beloved, Valencourt. She travels through the countryside with her father, who is in ill-health. There is a mysterious portrait and a supernatural forest. There is a lot of nature and description…

Chapters 7-12  Emily’s father dies, but not before making her promise to burn some papers in a very specific location of his closet–without reading them! Dear reader, you can easily see that this will not go as expected.  Who among us could actually keep such a promise, virtuous though we may be? Emily, now an orphan (I am sure you see a theme here among our heroines.) returns home under the nominal care of her mother’s sister, Madame Cheron, who is, shall we say, less than virtuous. Valencourt reappears in the story and asks permission to court Emily, which Madame Cheron wants to refuse, but then reluctantly gives, when she realizes he is the nephew of someone important to her. Montoni arrives on the scene and it is apparent that he will be the villain.

Chapters 13-14 Emily and Valencourt are engaged and nuptials are being planned, but the evil Montoni elopes with Madame Cheron and announces that the household will be moving to Venice, all the better for Montoni to gain control of Emily, my dear.  Madame Cheron remains clueless and Valencourt is thwarted in his efforts to see Emily or write to her, but they meet by chance and are able to indulge in a tearful farewell. Emily entreats Valencourt to remain calm–she fears he will challenge Montoni to a duel, and reminds him it is only one year until she reaches her majority and will no longer have to abide by Montoni’s will. Gloom, despair and agony on Emily and Valencourt, dear reader. Thus ends Volume I.

There is really so much here, that I will just choose a few themes to discuss as they relate to Northanger Abbey. First, let’s talk tropes. The orphan virgin, the bad chaperone, and the evil foreigner. These three tropes have all been present in the books so far–The Castle of Otranto and The Monk. Emily is so virtuous, she almost gives me a pain, but she is so sweet, you can’t help but like her, at least a little.  By the end of chapter 7, she is orphaned and under the guardianship of the bad chaperone, Madame Cheron. Madame Cheron is a bad chaperone, because she doesn’t care about her charge, she is extremely self-absorbed, and by taking Montoni as her lover first and eloping with him later, she makes it difficult for Emily to maintain her engagement with Valencourt, or indeed with any gentleman. Finally, the evil foreigner, Montoni, embodies the dissipation of the Catholic Church, as interpreted by Protestant Englishmen and women. He is sly, sneaky, and willing to become the lover of Madame Cheron to get to Emily.  He plots, he thwarts, he is the supervillain we love to hate.

Austen uses these same tropes in Northanger Abbey–in fact she engages in literary shorthand with her readers by using the Gothic to fill in the details that are not explicit on the page. Catherine is not an actual orphan, but her trip to Bath with the Allens makes her a pseudo-orphan.  Her connection to home remains through her brother, but it is tenuous–she is left to figure things out mostly for herself, without much guidance. This is why Mrs. Allen is a bad chaperone–she talks incessantly of clothes and muslins, in fact, Henry Tilney charms her by discussing muslin himself-catching her off guard and winning her approval in one stroke. The Allens shouldn’t have let Catherine go riding with Thorpe alone–Mr. Allen doesn’t ask for enough details, and they really probably shouldn’t have let her go to Northanger Abbey without doing more checking. Mrs. Allen is self-absorbed in much the same way as Madame Cheron, minus the illicit love affairs. She is however, apparently somewhat younger than Mr. Allen, which makes one wonder…he very wealthy after all. Finally, the evil foreigner.  The evil foreigner in Northanger Abbey is off page, referred to by Thorpe in conversation with Catherine, and acknowledged by Henry in his “Remember we are English…” speech to Catherine, who is imagining all kinds of things that really would only happen in France, Spain, or Italy (a Catholic country), according to the English. Austen makes her point with tongue firmly in cheek.

Another hallmark of Gothic fiction, and really a lot of early fiction, is the use of books and reading to indicate the traits of the characters. In Udolpho, books are used as messengers to the reader. Valencourt proclaims his love for Emily through the gift of a book. “For some moments she was conscious of being beloved; then, a recollection of all the variations of tone and countenance, with which he had recited these sonnets…she wept over the memorial of his affection.” (58) Emily remembers her father after his death by spending time in his library and reading a book he had been reading, “To her the book appeared sacred and invaluable, she would not have moved it, or closed the page, which he had left open, for the treasures of the Indies.” (95)

As we know, the character depiction and action in Northanger Abbey depend on the reading habits of the players. Emily in The Mysteries of Udolpho appears a virtuous reader–she and Valencourt share a love for poetry and reading is a large part of their courtship.

I await further developments in Volume II.