Catherine Morland and Northanger Abbey are usually struggling with Fanny Price and Mansfield Park for the dubious honor for least favorite heroine and novel amongst the Austen Six. This is a pity because whenever I reread NA I'm reminded of how much I enjoy it and how much I like and admire silly, impressionable but wiser-than-she-gives-herself-credit-for Catherine ("Rounders") Morland.
Yes, she is duped by Isabella Thorpe into thinking that they are truly friends, and yes, she fawns on Henry Tilney something fierce, but the little voices that tell her from the start that all is not right with Isabella and General Tilney, in particular, prove that she does have sense should she chose to use it.
I find Catherine fresh, funny, sympathetic, and endearing, and I find Austen in Northanger Abbey the same.
I reread one Austen novel a year, and this year I read Northanger Abbey. Whenever I read Northanger Abbey, I also read a marvelous paper that was published in Persuasions, The Jane Austen Journal, No. 20 (1998), a publication of the Jane Austen Society of North America. It's titled "The Case of the Petulant Patriarch" and its author is Kenneth W. Graham, a professor at the University of Guelph. Several years ago, I asked Dr. Graham if I could have his permission to scan and post his article, since JASNA didn't include it in their online collection. He granted that permission, provided that JASNA approved. After obtaining approval from JASNA, I moved on to other projects and never got around to posting the paper.
After reading it again last night, I decided that my Austen friends would enjoy Dr. Graham's article, so I scanned it and here it is.
"The Case of the Petulant Patriarch" is a speculative look at General Tilney's military career and how it shaped him. In his paper, Graham sets out to "shadow General Tilney, the petulant patriarch."
He is a puzzling figure, not only in what he is but in what he represents: we meet a man, overconfident, stubborn, selfish, petulant, who in his accomplishments and influence represents the upper levels of British authority. Shadowing General Tilney through his army career and his life as a husband, father, and landowner will bring us into contact with the tensions of his times and with what may well be the real mystery to be solved, the mystery of Jane Austen's position in the ideologically uneasy epoch of the 1790s that engendered Northanger Abbey. The novel's attitude to its times and to the social and political hegemony of a particular patriarchal class is the mystery to be unraveled.
I found Graham's assumptions about the campaigns that General Tilney participated in to be interesting reading in their own right--from the Seven Years War (1756-63) to one of the ten thousand British troops that joined Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick in Westphalia in 1759 to joining General Howe at Staten Island. After outlining the possible military career of General Tilney as well as his son, Captain Frederick Tilney, Graham moves on to show how the "Campaign to Capture Catherine" is executed as a military campaign. Graham also has a terrific discussion of the death of chivalry and how the social tensions of the time are reflected and commented upon in the novel.
It's a wonderful article and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
After I reread NA I treated myself to rewatching the latest BBC adaptation, courtesy of Netflix. It also happens to be next in the queue at Masterpiece Classic, if you're so inclined to watch it this Valentine's Day.
The first time I watched it, I was in a wonderfully expansive mood and loved everything about it except its extreme brevity--only an hour and 30 minutes!
This time I was more critical--while I still think the casting is marvelous, I didn't care for some of the changes that Andrew Davies introduced into the script. I didn't think Mr. Allen needed to be portrayed as a penny-pincher, and I especially didn't like the way Davies had Henry be truly angry with Catherine for her confession that she thought the General might have murdered his wife. Henry scolds Catherine in the book, but he is never angry with her. Unlike so many other Janeites, I have no problem believing that Isabella gave away the farm to Captain Tilney in the hopes of getting him to engage himself to her, so THAT scene doesn't bother me. I was disappointed with the abbey, which looks more like a castle than my idea of an abbey, even one with modern apartments. I haven't yet purchased the DVD yet, but will because what Austen collection would be complete without it, but I'm still holding out for the definitive NA adaptation.