19th Century Epic Romances discussion

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Northanger Abbey-Nov. 2014 > Monthly Group Discussion for Nov 2014

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message 1: by Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition (last edited Oct 31, 2014 10:58AM) (new)

Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments We will start discussing this book on Nov 1st.

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, in the village of Steventon in Hampshire. She was the seventh of eight children, and was educated mostly at home. As a young woman, Austen enjoyed dancing, reading, and walks around the Hampshire countryside—all of which activities appear in many of her novels. She had many friends in Hampshire and was upset when her parents announced their intention to move to Bath in 1801. Austen never warmed to the town. In 1805 Austen's father died, leaving his wife and two daughters to depend on the Austen sons for financial support.

After her father's death, Austen, her mother, and her sister spent several years in dire financial straits. In 1809, Austen's brother Edward gave his mother and sisters his old estate in Chawton, Hampshire, where Austen spent the rest of her life. Austen revised three of her novels and wrote three more while at Chawton: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), and Emma (1815). In 1816, Austen contracted Addison's Disease, a tubercular disease of the kidneys. She died on July 18, 1817. Two of her novels were published after her death: Persuasion and Northanger Abbey (both 1817).

Austen was one of the earliest British female novelists, and became the most well-known in her time. Her novels were (and are) popular for their satirical portrayal of upper class England. Austen's chief weapon was her ironic wit, which she honed to a razor-sharp edge as her career progressed. Her books were published anonymously, since at the time she wrote, women who became public figures often lost respectability. Austen wrote during a time of political turmoil. In the early 1800s, the Napoleonic Wars were making many monarchies nervous, and government censorship of literature sometimes occurred.

Austen's life as a writer often took a backseat to the more practical details of her life, at least until the move to Chawton. As a teenager, Austen had written several small satirical pieces, and in the late 1890s she had started her first novel, originally titled Susan, the name of the main character. By the her earliest novel was published in 1817, Austen had published almost all of her other novels. In revising Susan, she renamed the protagonist "Catherine," and ultimately changed the title of the novel Northanger Abbey.

In her later novels, Austen perfects her distinctive style, satirizing the world of the British upper classes, using ironic humor to expose their follies, and creating enjoyable, ostensibly romantic plots. Northanger Abbey, as Austen's earliest novel, is not always as masterfully executed as Austen's later work. Her trademark irony is often relatively obvious, and exaggerated so that it becomes light sarcasm. Northanger Abbey also differs from Austen's other novels in its explicit derivation from other works. Book II contains two elaborate parodies of The Mysteries of Udolpho, a novel by Gothic writer Anne Radcliffe, who was very popular when Austen wrote her novels. Northanger Abbey is generally an ironic parody of both Gothic novels and unsophisticated romances that were popular in this period. It also satirizes the conduct books of the 1700s, books that informed children and young people how to behave in society.

In terms of British literary development, Jane Austen occupies no one position. She does not belong to the Neo-Classicist movement, which was the major literary movement of the 1700s. She is too early to be a Romantic, and her plots are too involved with society and human interaction to fit tidily within the Romantic genre. Austen's emphasis on manners and on the positive and negative aspects of rigid British social norms, is similar to the emphasis of the Victorian authors half a century later. Austen's novels, while part of the progressive development of British fiction, cannot be classified as belonging to any particular literary movement.

1 SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Northanger Abbey.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/northan... (accessed October 29, 2014).


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Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments Just found a typo in the excerpt from Sparknotes:
It should say that Jane. Austen started writing in the late 1790's instead 1890's, since she died in 1817.


message 3: by Deb (new)

Deb (ebbieday) | 19 comments Thank you, Terry. I appreciate the time you devote to writing these introductory pieces.
Debbie


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments Thanks Deb! I just copy and paste from info I get online regarding whatever we are reading.


message 5: by Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition (last edited Nov 06, 2014 02:13PM) (new)

Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments I just finished listening to "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier, narrated by Anna Massey. It was such a wonderful experience that I searched her name to see what other books she narrated and found "Northanger Abbey"!
So, even though I already have the book, I am going to listen to "Northanger Abbey" on Audible. I highly reccomend anything narrated by Anna Massey. She has a very expressive voice and the different personalities of each character are very clear. She can do convincing male and female voices without sounding silly and has a great English and American accent.


message 6: by Linda (new)

Linda (lindy-lou) | 12 comments Terry wrote: "I just finished listening to "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier, narrated by Anna Massey. It was such a wonderful experience that I searched her name to see what other books she narrated and found "N..."

Terry wrote: "I just finished listening to "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier, narrated by Anna Massey. It was such a wonderful experience that I searched her name to see what other books she narrated and found "N..."

I have the audiobook ready by Juliet Stevenson and have enjoyed that version but i will certainly look for things read by Anna Massey. Thank you for the recommendation.


message 7: by Angela (new)

Angela Rohde (angelarohde) | 72 comments I began reading Northanger Abbey this morning. I had ordered the Penguin Classic hardcover cloth edition, because it is one of the few Austen books I did not have in my collection. I have wanted to read it for some time.
My first impression- the book is extremely funny. I have made it to chapter 7 in the past hour and a half. Some of my favorite quotes from the book this far:
Chapter II: "...-and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is." I thought I knew everything at 17. I was in love, close to being an adult- and this line resonated with me, because now at 30 I can see how truly uninformed and ignorant I was.
I also loved all the banter
I also loved all the banter Mr. Tilney spoke about what she may write in her journal after their meeting as opposed to what she should write about him. It was very sweet, and his open, flirtatious nature with Catherine seemed quite forward to me. Keeping a journal from childhood myself, it is quite a personal decision to include a detailed description of someone you meet in a journal. Even supposing to know what one might write about in their journal about you, is slightly arrogant- which, when accompanied with charm, is very attractive to me.
I'm excited to see where the next chapters go!


message 8: by Wanda (last edited Nov 14, 2014 12:34PM) (new)

Wanda (wandae) | 65 comments I just finished the project gutenberg ebook version that came with some very charming illustrations. It's the final Austen for me and it's certainly the most sarcastic of the six. Her barbed observations on polite society are the big draw for me and this book did not disappoint.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments I have to say that although I am enjoying the humorous way Jane Austen gently pokes fun at how naive Catherine is and how transparent Isabella is with her "gold digging", I can't really think of an original thing to say about this book that has not already been stated. Jane Austen writes with such a light wit that it is no wonder her observations regarding personalities and social interactions are still as on point today as they were 200 years ago.


message 10: by Angela (new)

Angela Rohde (angelarohde) | 72 comments Honestly, my own brothers ex-girlfriend is Isabella's character reincarnated. He was with her for my entire teenage years, as they were quite serious about their relationship, but even he got tired of dealing with the airs she put on.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments (spoiler)
I think that it was a stroke of luck for James Moreland, that Frederick flirted with Isabella, because he exposed her real personality and her agenda to the somewhat dense James. I guess he thought she was pretty and was flattered by her attention.


message 12: by Wanda (new)

Wanda (wandae) | 65 comments Terry wrote: "(spoiler)
I think that it was a stroke of luck for James Moreland, that Frederick flirted with Isabella, because he exposed her real personality and her agenda to the somewhat dense James. I gues..."


I think his brother Henry said something to the effect that it was the kind of thing his brother would do. Catherine and James were both lucky not to get 'attached' to the two Thorpes.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments Yes, even though Frederick was a flirt himself, he saw through Isabella right away and decided to have some fun.


message 14: by Cedricsmom (new)

Cedricsmom (lindaharrison) | 27 comments I have been listening to this book on CD while reading along. I am by no means an Austenite; in fact, I find myself rewriting all of her sentences in my head to get to the meaning of what she's saying. I know that in her day, writing was more roundabout and some people enjoy that. I find it annoying. I'm only in the fifth chapter, but I want her to get to the "scary" part, even if it is tongue-in-cheek.

Frankly, I don't know if I'll be able to get through this book. I recently ordered the REAL Mysteries of Udolpho and it has arrived from the warehouse.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments Well, you definitely need to be in the right mood to read Austen, she can write a paragraph where a sentence will do. However, it is sometimes the personality of the speaker that she is trying to describe - like Isabella and Mrs. Allen's mindless prattle. They go on and on just to hear themselves speak.


message 16: by Cedricsmom (new)

Cedricsmom (lindaharrison) | 27 comments There were a few of that sort in P&P, as I recall.


message 17: by Angela (new)

Angela Rohde (angelarohde) | 72 comments (Spoiler)

Finished the book! It was quite difficult for me to put down.

I have to admit to being surprised by General Tilney's actions. There was a period of time in the book that I thought he actually had his eye on Catherine for his own wife. The exaggerated compliments he paid her and his own desire to accompany her on tours throughout the house made the impression in my mind he may have fallen for her. Jane's descriptions on the turns Catherine's imagination took in the supposed atrocities that General Tilney could have committed were amusing. I laughed a lot.

I felt Catherine to be quite childish during that period of the book and wondered at how she would be perceived by Henry if the state of her active imagination were known- but when he did find out what she was thinking, he reproached her so sweetly with his 'Dearest Catherine's ' I could not help but think he was made for her with his understanding nature. Then the affection he showed her after, and by not mentioning it again (even with his sarcastic and teasing nature!) left room for no doubt in my mind of his feelings for her.
I wished there had been less narrative at the end of the book and more dialogue between Catherine and Henry, but I was happy with the ending. I wish I could have seen James end up happy at the end as well. I hoped for a moment he might somehow end up with Eleanor.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments I think General Tilney only cared about securing a wealthy wife for his younger son, who would not inherit that much besides the house he already lived in. He thought Catherine's family had money.


message 19: by Susan (new)

Susan Hamilton Angela wrote: "(Spoiler)

Finished the book! It was quite difficult for me to put down.

I have to admit to being surprised by General Tilney's actions. There was a period of time in the book that I thought he a..."


Is it just me or does Austen often have narrative at the end. I have always found that her intro's (I often read a small character bio before starting) and endings were too narrative while the rest of the book was filled with rich dialogue.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments Yes, I noticed that too. Maybe it was the general writing style in the 19th century. I've noticed other books written then have long winded prologues and epilogues.


message 21: by Stacey (new)

Stacey (stacey_wt) | 5 comments was reading the comments about how wordy and how long the narrative is and how characters prattle one in these novels. It's true! I've been thinking about this a lot lately as have been listening on audio book to many of the serialized books of the day (Dickens, Hardy). I think they're soooo long because these installments were awaited with relish. Each one had to last a week or more until the next installment. They were read aloud, they were savored, they were ALL THEY HAD TO DO back then :-) Makes me realize how much time I fritter away on my dang smart phone. These books are good reminders of the thinking people we once were.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments Good point Stacey!


message 23: by Raymunda (new)

Raymunda (raymundaj) I must admit this is the first time I ever read Jane Austen and I'm really enjoying it. I love her writing style and irony, and I find the story very engaging.


message 24: by Susan (new)

Susan Ferguson | 5 comments I love Jane Austen- always have. She is so much fun to read without the drippy sentiment and prattle. At least, the sentiment is ironic and not serious.
I did not discover Northanger Abbey for quite a few years after I first read her. It is rather different than P&P or Sense and Sensibility. That could be because Catherine is so much younger, kind of like Lydia except not so vain and with more sense.


message 25: by Raymunda (new)

Raymunda (raymundaj) I finished the book last night, and although I liked the story, the writing and the characters I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed with how it ends.

Don't get me wrong, I like the end, (view spoiler)

Anyway, I'm happy I have discovered Jane Austen's work and I will certainly be reading her more famous books, like Pride and Prejudice, in the future.


message 26: by Susan (new)

Susan Hamilton taide wrote: "I finished the book last night, and although I liked the story, the writing and the characters I have to say that I'm a bit disappointed with how it ends.

Ya I found the ending a little bit offbeat with the carefree nature of the book.


message 27: by Trudy (last edited Nov 28, 2014 07:40PM) (new)

Trudy Brasure | 95 comments Susan wrote: "Is it just me or does Austen often have narrative at the end. I have always found that her intro's (I often read a small character bio before starting) and endings were too narrative while the rest of the book was filled with rich dialogue.

YES! I've found that Austen's narration at the end to be disappointing. It happens in every story: just when I'm especially eager to hear how the repressed lovers declare their affections and elation to securing a match, Austen reverts to narration. It's cleanly summed up for us and the reader never gets to enthuse over what must have been an exulting exchange.
I like happy endings, but I love experiencing the thrill of emotions with the characters. And I feel that the narration at the end deprives me of 'living' the most important scene of the story!


message 28: by Angela (new)

Angela With regard to the comments about the narrative at the end, I would think that it might be related to Jane's real life. She did not marry, so I think she has little to draw from once the story comes to the point of marriage and the sort. But I agree - it is disappointing and seems to end the books rather suddenly.


message 29: by Trudy (last edited Nov 30, 2014 03:22PM) (new)

Trudy Brasure | 95 comments Hadn't thought of that, Angela. It might have been difficult indeed to describe the feelings of a newly engaged couple of you've never experienced it yourself. One of the drawbacks of a maiden writing romance in that era?
But then, I don't think Charlotte Bronte had married either when she wrote Jane Eyre and that was very expressive of passionate feelings.


Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments I don't think you have to experience something yourself in order to write about it. (The person who wrote "Life of Pi" didn't exactly spend time on a raft with a tiger)
I think that 3rd person type narrative was popular during Jane Austen's time.


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