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In order to understand how Austen satirises Gothic fiction it is necessary to understand what is meant by the term Gothic and why Austen is seemingly attacking this genre.

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Introduction

Northanger Abbey is generally perceived to be a Neo-classical parody of Gothic fiction. In order to understand how Austen satirises Gothic fiction it is necessary to understand what is meant by the term Gothic and why Austen is seemingly attacking this genre. The Gothic novel, it is said, came into existence with Walpole's Castle of Otranto although some trace it back to the supernatural events of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Macbeth. The term Gothic is taken from a highly decorative, and some would say excessive, form of Architecture. The central themes of Gothic novels are their excessiveness and their inexplicable and convoluted plot lines. They tend to be extremely formulaic with castles, chains, ghouls and the ever present heroine of questionable bloodlines. The Gothic Novel is also extreme with extremes of situation, language and feeling. This is in marked contrast with the Neo-classical mistrust of emotion. The Neo-classical age is also known as " The Age of Reason ". The Eighteenth Century saw many leaps forward in the fields of Medicine, Science and Industry. The whole era is characterised by its reason and judgement, its clearheaded pragmatism and a dislike of the superstition of the earlier periods. Those who embraced this new age felt they could achieve excellence in all fields by emulating the Classical age of the Greeks and the Romans. The Neo-classical writers were of course a reflection of this age. ...read more.

Middle

Despite Catherine's reservations about Thorpes behaviour and manners she is flattered by his attention and seduced by the fact that he is Isabella's Brother whose spell she has fallen under. So much so that when James Morland asks what she thinks of Thorpe she replies " I like him very much, he seems very agreeable." Austen uses the contrasts between the various characters to show the difference between Gothic and Neo-classical values. When Catherine sees Henry Tilney talking to " a pleasing young woman who leant on his arm." Catherine immediately assumes, quite correctly, that it is his Sister, "Guided only by what was simple and probable it never entered her head that Mr Tilney could be married." One can only imagine what Isabella's reaction would have been in such circumstances. When introducing us to the Sister in question Austen again leaves the reader in no doubt about which values Eleanor Tilney represents. She " had a good figure and a very agreeable countenance ... her manners shewed good sense and good breeding." then in a direct attack on Isabella, Austen goes on to say " She seemed capable of being young, attractive and at a ball without wanting to fix the attention of every young man near her." Austen then goes further and overtly attacks Gothic values in general telling us that Miss Tilney is " without exaggerated feelings of ecstatic delight or inconceivable vexation at every little trifling occurrence." ...read more.

Conclusion

remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable ... Does our Education prepare us for such atrocities." This is the end of Catherines flirtation with Gothicism. The rest of the Novel bears testimony to the perils of adopting Gothic values and the benefits of living a reasoned, moderate and rational life. It is interesting to note the fate of Isabella in contrast to that of Catherine. Isabella is a victim of her own duplicity. In dropping James Morland in favour of Captin Tilney she becomes a victim of someone as vain and decietful as herself, a case of 18th century karma. The fate of James Morland, as someone who is seduced by Gothic values is also an unhappy one. Those in the Novel who have adaopted Neo-classical values have all triumped, Eleanor gets her rich Viscount and Henry and Catherine marry despite the tyrannical General and even manage to come into a small fortune. The message from Austen could scarcely be clearer, as Glenda Leeming summarises " Although credulous enough to be strongly affected by both the inscincere Isabella Thorpe and the improbabilities of the horror novel, Catherines real generosity, good principles and her own open scincerity preserve her from their influence." In the battle between the two sets of values form Catherine, it could be said, she was never in any real danger of being lost. ...read more.

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