Explain the ways in which Gothic is about reading and misreading

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Explain the ways in which Gothic is about reading and misreading.

Charming as were all Miss Radcliffe’s works, and charming, even as were the works of all her imitators, it was not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the midland counties of England, was to be looked for.

        Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is, for the largest part, based entirely around that which is real and that imagined, dreams, and reality, perhaps. Life is shown to be separate from, and not representative of, art, and the novel allows us to follow Catherine Morland’s journey from child-like imagination to a more lifelike and perhaps cynical view of the world around her.

        References to books and reading are frequently found in Northanger Abbey, as Catherine is working her way through the gothic novels of the time. Austen allows Catherine to read novels, and accuses her contemporaries of some hypocrisy- for, she says she will not:

Adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performance, to the number of which they themselves are adding- joining with their enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust.

        Indeed, this view is common: In The Monk, Elvira despises novels, and would not have permitted her daughter to read them, and even places strictures on the reading of the bible, having made ‘two resolutions respecting the bible…. That Antonia should not read it till she was of an age to feel its beauties and profit by its morality… and all improper passages either altered or omitted.’ Reading is seen as a dangerous pastime, and despite Austen’s allowing Catherine to read the novels of which Elvira is so disparaging, she does give the message that novels are not necessarily a suitable occupation for a young girl until she is able to understand the difference between fantasy and reality. Indeed, the line between truth and fiction is not understood by other characters within the novel: Catherine’s dismissal for Northanger Abbey is brought about not only by her own overactive imagination, but the false belief that others were given, in this case to her wealth. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it is Jonathan Harker’s difficulty in differentiating between dreams and reality whilst in Dracula’s castle, which leads to his terrible experience with the three female vampires.

        Mary Shelley, like Lewis, gives her characters only those works which are of benefit to their morals and education: the De Lacey family leave ‘Paradise Lost, a volume of Plutarch’s Lives, and the Sorrows of Werter for their unknown benefactor, Frankenstein’s Monster. Victor Frankenstein, whilst he is informed by Krempe, his lecturer,  that his choice of reading is far from adequate, does not read anything resembling a novel: his crime is reading the works of Cornelius Agrippa. Austen, indeed, perhaps like Shelley, judges her characters, or expects her readers to judge them, based on the novels they choose to read. Whilst Catherine, innocent as she is before her trip to bath, reads Pope, Grey, Thompson and Shakespeare, Isabella chooses the Gothic novel, and suggests Radcliffe, whereas her brother, Mr Thorpe, shows his lesser character by insisting that, in terms of novels, ‘there has not been a decent one come out since Tom Jones except The Monk…but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation’ In doing so, he discounts the work of Anne Radcliffe, which was held to provide some value, and instead concentrating on those which feed from horror, rather than the more imaginative terror.

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        Whilst novels, and the reading of them, feature in all of these texts, books are not the only things to be read and misread. Catherine Morland misreads the situation at Northanger Abbey completely, suspecting General Tilney of terrible crimes, with the suggestion, or rather the unavoidable truth, that her novel-reading and imagination have led her to these false conclusions. Even Catherine’s sudden ejection from Northanger Abbey so early in the morning is misread by her: whilst she is aware that she had ‘offended the General’, but she is wrong in her reading of the situation, her crime, in fact, being ...

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