from THE POETICS OF NOVELS
What is considered Austen’s ‘juvenilia’ period, dating from 1787-1793 and which contains ‘principally burlesque narratives that parody the fictional modes of her time’ (Lauber 11) is clearly the same period in which her significant ‘experimental’ modes are being written. The foundation for Northanger Abbey lay in the text Susan written in 1798-99 (her pre-postmodern-post-juvenilia phase) a time which also post-dates drafts she was writing of Pride and Prejudice in 1796. The novel, with the same title, was sold to Crosbie & Company in 1803 for £10, but was never published. Austen writes on 5 April 1809: ‘Gentlemen, In the spring of the year 1803 a MS. Novel in 2 vol. entitled Susan was sold to you by a Gentleman of the name of Seymour, & the purchase money £10, recd at the same time. Six years have passed, & this work of which I am myself the Authoress, has never to the best of my knowledge, appeared in print, tho’ an early publication was stipulated for at the time of sale. I can only account for such an extraordinary circumstance by supposing the MS. by some carelessness to have been lost; & if that was the case, am willing to supply you with another copy if you are disposed to avail yourselves of it (my italics), & will engage for no farther delay when it comes into your hands. It will not be in my power from particular circumstances to command this copy before the Month of August, but then, if you accept my proposal, you may depend on receiving it. Be so good as to send me a line in answer as soon as possible, as my stay in this place will not exceed a few days. Should no notice be taken of this address, I shall feel myself at liberty to secure the publication of my work, by applying elsewhere (my italics), I am Gentlemen &c. &c.’ (Chapman 263). This letter was answered by Richard Crosby on 8 April 1809 in which he answers by saying that they paid for the manuscript titled Susan the sum of 10£ ‘for which we have his stamped receipt as a full consideration, but there was not any time stipulated for its publication, neither are we bound to publish it, Should you or anyone else (sic) we shall take proceedings to stop the sale. The MS. shall be yours for the same as we paid for it’ (Chapman 264). No mention of the novel is made again until 13 March 1817 in which she writes ‘Miss Catherine is put upon the Shelve for the present, and I do not know that she will ever come out’ (Chapman 484). And that is basically the end of it.
When the work was finally published, albeit posthumously, we hear Austen, in her own voice, writing: ‘This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertized, and why the business proceeded no farther, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worth-while to purchase what he did not think it worth-while to publish seems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the public have any other concern than as some observation is necessary upon those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete. The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes’ (Austen, Advertisement by the Authoress). As in introductory passages by other writers this introduction is noteworthy since it not only comments implicitly on that mysteriously fragile relationship between novelist and publisher (one which still exists and is purposefully exacerbated by that most nefarious of intermediaries, ‘the literary agent’), but also highlights Austen’s rather fragile apologetic tone. It is clear from her prose that because the publisher did nothing with the work and because it languished for years unseen and unread Austen was demonstrably peeved. And though she makes what reads as an apology to her readers, none was really needed. ‘Those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete’ are actually those parts of the novel that make it so imaginative especially regarding period, books and opinions of which more will be said later. What is foremost is that Austen is sincerely interested in getting the work published. Not only is she willing to supply another copy to Crosbie, but firmly indicates that she feels at liberty to seek out other publishers should Crosbie be disinterested. Crosbie, in a response that is diachronically absolute in the publisher-writer diastalsis, is presumably chaffed by her comment regarding why a publisher would buy a book and not publish it.
Somehow, though, it is not surprising that after holding the book for six years the publisher did nothing with it because in 1803, barely a scratch into the nineteenth century, a novel such as Northanger Abbey may not have pleased publishing sensibilities at the time since the cult of the Gothic was still very much a fertile ground for publishers and a parody of the cult may have been deemed not in Crosbie’s interest to publish it. ‘Literary history marks a conventional ending for the cult of the Gothick at about 1820. The posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey in 1818, despite the fact that Frankenstein was published in the same year, contributes strongly to the sense of an historical watershed, the wit of Jane Austen’s novel perhaps matching the feeling of the times that the literary cult of terror and the sublime has a touch of the grand guignol about it’ (Sage 18-19). Certainly Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) was enjoying immense popularity at the time Austen tried to publish Northanger Abbey and that may have played some part in its rejection. Radcliffe received great sums of money for her books: £500 for Udolpho, £600 for The Italian in contrast to the meagre £10 Austen received for Northanger Abbey. And Crosbie may have sensed that even such a meagre investment of £10 may not have been worth the publication of a novel the publication of which might result in limited returns.
As Ian Watt has written in The Rise of the Novel, books were very expensive at the time and ‘the high cost of books in the eighteenth century emphasizes the severity of economic factors in restricting the reading public’ (Watt 42). Coterminous with the high cost of reading (according to Watt, the price of a novel could have fed a family for a week or two) came the social significance of reading. ‘The distribution of leisure in the period supports and amplifies the picture already given of the composition of the reading public; and it also supplies the best evidence available to explain the increasing part in it played by women readers’ (Watt 45). Given those parameters, one might speculate that a publisher would either reject outright or covertly reject Austen’s novel based on the cost-effective issues of the day. Why publish a novel that parodies an enormously popular book that is predominately sold to women? Might such a publication offend the sensibilities of the predominately female reading public? And might that result in a kind of backlash against the publisher of such a novel? Certainly one must question (along with Austen) Crosbie’s intention to buy the book only to ignore it.
To some extent, Northanger Abbey may still not please publishing sensibilities especially in relation to texts deemed ‘realistic’, for the poetics of Northanger Abbey are not the same poetics as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or Persuasion or Emma all of which have been glamourized into television dramas or feature films. On the contrary, Northanger Abbey remains on the margins. In its own way, Northanger Abbey is the gothic equivalent to Tristram Shandy (1760-7) which was ‘not so much a novel as a parody of a novel’ (Watt 303). Without arguing whether a parody of a novel is or is not a novel in its own right (though Fielding must also chafe at that proposition), one can see how the notion of the parodic becomes somewhat pejorative and as such tends to undermine the originality of the work.
Much of the criticism levelled at Northanger Abbey is because the work has been somehow relegated to the station of a ‘burlesque’ or a ‘parody’ (which were considered the same thing in the seventeeth-century), both of which, as Lauber addresses, seem to be part of one’s ‘maturing’ process as a writer and, in that context, somehow makes the work something less than ‘artistic’. Obviously it is not. But it is precisely this post-juvenilia writing which marks Austen’s brilliance as a novelist and which establishes Northanger Abbey as a work which needs to be considered as a poetic instrument equal to, though separate from, such works as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. To that extent, one is clearly puzzled by Leavis’ suggestion when he writes, ‘This at least is clear, that Miss Austen was not an inspired amateur who had scribbled in childhood and then lightly tossed off masterpieces between callers’ (Leavis 4), then goes on to say ‘while another [novel] Northanger Abbey was so immature that she despaired of doing anything with it’ (Leavis 4). Leavis calls Northanger Abbey a ‘family joke’ or a ‘sport’, in its relation to the Gothic novels’ (Leavis 4), but such assertions clearly beg the question: Why, then, would Austen, who was not an ‘inspired amateur’, find it worth her time to write a family joke? Why would she feel deeply about publishing it, about sending another manuscript which would have necessitated the unenviable task of hand-writing another copy? Austen herself writes to her sister Cassandra (17 November 1798), that ‘an artist cannot do anything slovenly’ (Chapman 30) and again to Cassandra (24 January 1809), ‘I am gratified by her [Fanny] having pleasure in what I write–but I wish the knowledge of my being exposed to her discerning Criticism, may not hurt my stile, by inducing too great a solicitude. I begin already to weigh my words and sentences more than I did, and am looking about for a sentiment, an illustration or a metaphor in every corner of the room’ (Chapman 256). Certainly, Austen’s artistic sensibilities are not staggered and her notions of style and rigour were already grounded at a very young age. A better question to ask might be: Why did Austen write Northanger Abbey in the first place? By 1809, Austen had already undertaken the manuscript of Sense and Sensibility (1811) so why, if she felt, as Leavis assumes, Northanger Abbey was such a disaster, would she still want it published? The answer must lie in the style of the novel itself and what she was doing in terms of abrogating current trends in popular novel writing.
After Furetière one reads that one speaks of a burlesque style in prose, when one uses words which are spoken in pure pleasantries, and would hardly be suffered in serious speech. Johnson slightly modifies that to be something jocular which tends to arouse laughter by unnatural or unsuitable language or images’. Johnson then speaks of ‘parody’ as ‘a kind of writing, in which the words of an author or his thoughts are taken, and by a slight change adapted to some new purpose’ So too was burlesque divided between a ‘high’ and a ‘low’ style as Addison points out in No. 249 of the Spectator in 1711 and a division which gained credence throughout the rest of the eighteenth century. Certainly if those are the parameters that critics have imposed on Northanger Abbey one is likely to agree with them as it being a parcel of ‘immature’ writing, but parody is not the rather facile device that they presumed it to be. In ‘Literary Parody, Remarks on its Method and Function’, Tuvia Shlonsky writes that ‘to subordinate parody to satire is to undermine its literary exclusiveness in which resides its particular power, function and effect’ (Rose 44). Likewise, Tynjanov writes that ‘the essence of parody lies in its mechanisation of a certain device, where this mechanisation is naturally only to be noticed when the device which it ‘mechanizes’ is known. In this way parody fulfils a double task: 1) the mechanisation of a certain device and 2) the organisation of new material to which the old mechanized device also belongs’ (Rose 164). To that extent, just as Cervantes transfigured the chivalric mode through parody and Sterne transfigured Cervantes, Austen transfigures Radcliffe, thereby regenerating the target text and creating a new one.
Certainly if one takes a twentieth-century approach to parody and the poetics of parody what one is left with is a kind of post-juvenilia meta-fiction for much of what Austen does in Northanger Abbey is equivalent to what Bakhtin addresses in Dostoevsky’s poetics when he writes ‘To introduce a parodic and polemical element into the narration is to make it more multi-voiced, more interruption-prone…’(Bakhtin 226). So what is seen in Northanger Abbey is clearly the foundation of what will follow in terms of parody and postmodern fiction. This notion is clearly advanced by Hutcheon when she writes that ‘parody–often called ironic quotation, pastiche, appropriation or intertextuality–is usually considered central to postmodernism, both by its detractors and defenders’ (Hutcheon 91).
Which brings one back again to Austen’s ‘juvenilia’ writing precisely because Northanger Abbey has been linked with its predecessor, Susan. One must be puzzled by such a categorisation since it too begs the question: What makes it juvenilia? Is it the writing itself in relation to the more ‘mature’ works such as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility or the fact she wrote it at such a young age? Perhaps in terms of content one might consider Northanger Abbey to be the stuff of juvenilia, but in terms of a poetics, of a novel poetics, it is clearly in the category of pre-postmodern works (what Hassan has called ‘jocose prepostmodernism’) such as Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy, DeMaistre’s Un Voyage Autour de Ma Chambre and Machado de Assis’s The Posthumous Memoirs of Braz Cubas. And if one then categorizes Northanger Abbey in that fashion, then the poetics of the novel are certainly as innovative as anything written before Northanger Abbey or after it.
What one discovers about Northanger Abbey is that it is really a tripartite novel: on one level, it is a very stylistic novel that parodies the gothic novel made popular in the late eighteenth century by Walpole and Radcliffe, the latter of whom is mentioned directly and whose characters are alluded to; on another level we have a Bildungsroman about Catherine Morland, a heroine who is about as anti-heroic and pedestrian as any heroine in literary letters can be; and on yet another level we have a novel that is clearly intent on undermining both the reader’s expectations of what a novel is supposed to look and read like and a novel that undermines Catherine’s own expectations as a reader of her own story. So the text is operating on several different planes and yet commingles each of them in a skilfully laconic way.
Chapter I opens simply with the line, ‘No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine’ (Austen 9). What this line does in the way of formulating a structure for the entire novel is that it puts the reader on notice that this is not going to be a usual heroine and, by extension, it will not be a usual novel. In the great realistic tradition, Austen starts to sketch our heroine by writing, ‘She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features–so much for her person; and not less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond of all boy’s plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush’ (Austen 9). And more: ‘But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives’ (Austen 11). What such a presentation establishes is that the notion of a heroine, as she was so characterized at the time, was being undermined. The line ‘so much for her person’ is in direct contrast to the process of characterisation popularly employed at the time. In other words, the extradiegetic approach Austen takes is clearly differentiated from a diegetic approach one might find in Scott.
As Austen continues to write, a number of quotes, all of which relate to the Austenian notion of what a heroine (at least this kind of heroine) is supposed to be, manifest themselves:
‘From Pope, she learnt to censure those who
‘bear about the mockery of woe’.
From Gray, that
‘Many a flower is born to blush unseen;
And waste its fragrance on the desert air’.
From Thompson, that
‘It is a delightful task
To teach the young idea how to shoot’.
And from Shakespeare she gained a great store of information– amongst the rest, that
‘Trifles light as air,
Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong,
As proofs of Holy Writ’.
‘The poor beetle, which we tread upon,
In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
As when a giant dies’.
And that a young woman in love always looks
‘like Patience on a monument
Smiling at Grief” (Austen 11-12)
The quotes (even though the Gray and Thompson are misquotes) all tend to shape the direction of the story in terms of its plot, as well as its structure. From Pope, expect to make a mockery of woe; to expect things to happen; from Gray, expect discouragement; from Thompson, expect experience to insure a loss of innocence; from Shakespeare, expect to be talked about through rumour; from the beetle, expect suffering; and from a young woman, expect the sorrows of love. In a way, the quotations act as plot precursors (similar to what Lispector does in The Hour of Star); namely, the prefabrication of the plot of the story, the quest of its heroine, is alluded to in the subtext of the quotes she uses prior to the commencement of the primary ‘storyline’. With the line, ‘But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way’ (Austen 12) one detects Austen directing the reader towards Catherine’s experiences with a potential suitor.
But these things will not necessarily happen through a natural causality, rather, through a kind of contrived causality which Austen baldly manipulates and announces in precise, self-reflexive, terms; and the difference between a natural causality and a contrived causality is one of the major differences between ‘realistic’ fiction and ‘postmodern’ fiction. ‘In evoking the expectations of an audience for the imitation of a certain work only to ‘disappoint’ or shock the reader with another text, parody has also enabled the author to attack reader expectations for imitative or representational works. And through such parody, criticism of representational art has hence often been related to the social historical context of the reader’s world’ (Rose 185).
In Chapter II, new postures develop relative to the structure and the narrator takes significant steps to be a part of the story. This happens from the outset with ‘In addition to what has been already said of Catherine Morland’s personal and mental endowments, when about to be launched into all the difficulties and dangers of a six weeks’ residence in Bath, it may be stated, for the reader’s more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be, that her heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind–her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty–and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is’ (Austen 13).
Austen constantly supports this incursion with such lines as: ‘supposed to be’; ‘must, of course’; plus the use of authorial plot queries such as ‘Who would not think so?’ The Shklovskian directive of ‘laying bare the device’ (which was a response to Sterne’s Tristram Shandy) allows Austen to address the reader and by so doing undermines the alleged objectivity of the text. For what does it mean for her to use such phrases as ‘supposed to be’ or ‘must, of course’? These would not be spoken in a novel that was taking itself seriously; but since Austen is writing something that attempts to undermine that kind of novel, the allusion only tends to augment the undermining. As David Lodge has pointed out in his essay ‘Jane Austen’s Novels: Form and Structure,’ ‘In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen played a delightful (and risky) double game with both the conventions of the sentimental novel and the conventions of traditional romance that were beginning to reinvade it through the contemporary cult of the gothic’ (Grey 167-68).
As early as the first chapter the reader is put on notice that s/he will constantly be denied an expected passage of time, an expected development of the main character, an expected ‘reading’ of the text. In short, a proper expectation of what alleges to be a novel. Iser has written that ‘Whenever we analyze a text, we never deal with a text pure and simple, but inevitably apply a frame of reference specifically chosen for our analysis’ (Iser 53). That ‘frame of reference’, Iser goes on to say, is ‘the basic and misleading assumption [is] that fiction is an antonym of reality’ (Iser 53). But if fiction is not the opposite of reality, but a means of telling us something about reality, then why is a specific type of text seemingly valorized above all others? That is to say, the plot moves through the ‘successive arousal, and selective satisfaction, of literary expectations’ (Lerner 50). These expectations are ‘aroused’ by previous readings of previous texts which have also gone by the name ‘novel’ but in which case something did, in fact, happen. But if one’s expectations are constantly denied, what, then, does that do to the text at hand?
In Chapter II Austen writes: ‘Under these unpromising auspices, the parting took place, and the journey began. It was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. Neither robbers nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero. Nothing more alarming occurred than a fear on Mrs. Allen’s side, of having once left her clogs behind her at an inn, and that fortunately proved to be groundless’ (Austen 14). So the utilisation of what one might expect to happen has been once again been undermined and the reader is left in doubt as to whether anything will happen at all in the entire novel. Austen continues with an obligatory description of Mrs. Allen and the balance of the chapter moves towards a climax at a dance during which, of course, nothing eventful happens. So what Austen is clearly composing here relative to the novel she’s writing and to the novels to which she is alluding is that she sets up situations ‘intentionally’ (no fallacy intended) to undermine them which makes the novel a thoroughly pre-postmodern text in that ‘it does seem to deny the reader any sure ground for interpretation and discrimination and to make explicit the impossibility of getting the world into a book’ (Grey 168).
This process continues until we get to p. 23 when the narrator writes ‘Whether she thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained (my italics); but I hope it was no more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most’ (Austen 23) gives the pretence of objectivity since it issues a pose of ignorance (i.e. ‘cannot be ascertained’ and ‘I hope it was no more…’). Both statements assume a stature of presumed uncertainty which, given their relative posture in relation to the pose already taken by Austen, are virtually dispelled in Chapter V.
By the time we reach Chapter IV, the pattern of expectation denied has been clearly foregrounded. "With more than usual eagerness did Catherine hasten to the Pump-room the next day, secure within herself of seeing Mr. Tilney there before the morning were over, and ready to meet him with a smile:–but no smile was demanded–Mr. Tilney did not appear’ (Austen 23). The chapter continues to characterize both Mrs. Allen as the philistine she is and the characters of the Thorpes before concluding with "This brief account of the family is intended to supersede the necessity of a long and minute detail from Mrs. Thorpe herself, of her past adventures and sufferings, which might otherwise be expected to occupy the three or four following chapters; in which the worthlessness of lord and attorneys might be set forth, and conversations, which had passed twenty years before, be minutely repeated’ (Austen 26-27). This particular passage is a brilliant bit of self-reflexive artifice that masquerades as summary and challenges what Leavis assumes to be a kind of immature writing. What Austen issues here is clearly an assault, albeit minor at this point, on the ‘fundamentals’ of novel-writing and, specifically, on character development in the Realist mode, a mode formulated and commodified by Scott. But Austen is entirely in control of her material and is obviously capable of doing the exact thing she wishes to abrogate.
The abrogation turns into something much different in Chapter V, but not before the expectation denied continues for one discovers Catherine once again searching Bath for Tilney, but "He was no where to be met with; every search for him was equally unsuccessful, in morning lounges or evening assemblies; neither at the upper nor lower rooms, at dressed or undressed balls, was he perceivable; nor among the walkers, the horsemen, or the curricle-drivers of the morning. His name was not in the Pump-room book, and curiosity could do no more. He must be gone from Bath’ (Austen 27-28). The reader’s undeniable thirst for a kind of completion, at least temporary satisfaction, is once again denied, deviated, if you will, and this ‘deviation is bound up with the expectations of the reader’ (Iser 89). In addressing what he calls ‘expectation norms’, Iser speaks of a repertoire of social norms and literary references that supply the background against which the text is to be reconstituted by the reader (Iser 89). If these expectations are denied they will inevitably produce a kind of tension in the reader and, in some cases, a hostility towards the text. It is not coincidental that these denials of expectation come prior to one of the clearest examples of authorial self-consciousness in English literature.
In Chapter V Austen continues with some rather vapid conversation ‘for Mrs. Thorpe talked chiefly of her children, and Mrs. Allen of her gowns’ (Austen 28) as a kind of prelude to addressing the intimate relationship between Catherine and Isabella and how their friendship was defined so much so that ‘they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together’ (Austen 29). And here, at length, is where Austen’s major abrogation begins:
‘Yes, novels;–for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding–joining with their greatest 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. Alas! if the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried. From pride, ignorance, or fashion, our foes are almost as many as our readers. And while the abilities of the nine-hundredth abridger of the History of England, or of the man who collects and publishes in a volume some dozen lines of Milton, Pope, and Prior, with a paper form the Spectator, and a chapter from Sterne, are eulogized by a thousand pens,–there seems almost a general wish of decrying the capacity and undervaluing the labour of the novelist, and of slighting the performances which have only genius, wit, and taste to recommend them. ‘I am no novel reader–I seldom look into novels–Do not imagine that I often read novels–It is really awful well for a novel.’–Such is the common cant.–’And what are you reading, Miss—-?”Oh! it is only a novel!’ replies the young lady; while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame.–’It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda;’ or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language. Now, had the same young lady been engaged with a volume of the Spectator, instead of such a work, how proudly would she have produced the book, and told its name; though the chances must be against her being occupied by any part of the voluminous publication, of which either the matter or manner would not disgust a young person of taste: the substance of its papers so often consisting in the statement of improbable circumstances, unnatural characters, and topics of conversation, which no longer concern any one living; and their language, too, frequently so coarse as to give no very favourable idea of the age that could endure it’.
And so ends what must be called ‘the diatribe’ albeit controlled. One must not be lead into believing the myth of the implied author here. This excerpt is more than mere fictional prose, but, in its own way, is Austen’s manifesto about the novel, if not novel writing. ‘That no species of composition has been so much decried’ is not the mockery of a writer set on writing a family joke. There is no irony in this excerpt; Austen is not poking self-referential fun at herself. She is devoutly taking a stand for the ‘sorority’ of novelists and that ‘[we] should not desert one another; [since] we are an injured body’. She addresses ‘our production’, ‘our readers’, ‘our foes’, the ‘labour of the novelist’, and his/her ability to display ‘the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humor’. Nothing in this excerpt is lacquer for the prose poseur or for one simply intent on writing ‘chop-shop’ fiction. Not coincidentally, ‘Radcliffe too aims to challenge the relegation of the romance or novel to the realm of low culture by her imitations of the Odes of Collins, and other ‘graveyard’ poets, which are interspersed through the texts of all her works’ (Radcliffe, Sicilian xiii). In that sense, if no other, Austen and Radcliffe are sisters. But what Austen does here in a way relates to the Advertisement addressed at the outset of the novel. For it does, outrageously, suggest and distinguish a difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between the ‘labour of the novelist’ and the appositeness of those (for example, publishers) who might want to deny them.
In a very revealing letter written to Anna Austen (10 August 1814), Austen writes, ‘Your Aunt C[assandra] does not like desultory novels, & is rather fearful yours will be too much so, that there will be too frequent a change from one set of people to another, & that circumstances will be sometimes introduced of apparent consequence, which will lead to nothing.–It will not be so great an objection to me, if it does. I allow much more Latitude than she does….’ (Chapman 396). And apparently so she did. The abrogation comes at a point in the chapter that takes the reader clearly by surprise coming as it does in medias res and ends abruptly with no allusion to what has preceded it (i.e. the Catherine-Isabella relationship) and no apology for having written it. In that way, it is very much like another abrogation written a century-and-a-half later by yet another resident of Lyme Regis: ‘You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work , so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for amusement…Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is’ (Fowles 98). The similarities between these two excerpts are notable in that Austen has knowingly undermined the linear progression of the novel just as Fowles was to have done in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Austen has acknowledged the artifice of the novel from the first sentence of the first chapter, but clearly registers a self-reflexive posture in Chapter Five that not only denies the reader’s expectation, but repositions the state of the novel in a uniquely different way.
From that moment on, the reader can expect nothing in the way of what one might expect to expect and Austen makes that clear in almost every subsequent chapter. When Chapter VI begins there is not even a hint of the diatribe written in Chapter V. She picks up the thread of the narrative where she left off prior to the diatribe and maintains the mode of expectation denied or, in contrast, unexpectation met, throughout. For example, Catherine unexpectedly meets her brother, James, in Bath; when she first meets Tilney he does not dance with her; on a carriage ride with Thorpe, ‘they went in the quietest manner imaginable, without a plunge or a caper, or any thing like one’ (Austen IX); a trip to Blaize Castle is unremarkable; expecting to see Miss Tilney at her window, Catherine sees no one; and finally we read in Chapter XIV that, ‘The Tilneys called for her at the appointed time; and no new difficulty arising, no sudden recollection, no unexpected summons, no impertinent intrusion to disconcert their measures, my heroine was most unnaturally able to fulfil her engagement, though it was made with the hero himself’ (Austen XIV). In short, whatever one might expect to happen to our heroine, it does not.
Finally, after six weeks in Bath (which, coincidentally, is where Radcliffe spent much of her youth) and after 115 pages (or over half the novel) Northanger Abbey is finally mentioned in the context of Catherine’s visit. ‘Northanger Abbey!–These were the thrilling words, and wound up Catherine’s feelings to the highest point of ecstasy’ (Austen 115). And with the invitation comes Catherine’s inevitable expectations about the abbey itself. ‘With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant. Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach, and she could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun’ (Austen 117). Not only are the speculations grounded in the fiction she has read (for example, Radcliffe), but the speculations foreground the reader for the possibility of a gothic betrayal. That is, like Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) Catherine’s focus is on ‘the castle or great house as a field of force for its usurping tyrant, and as simultaneously a harbourer and revealer of secrets’ (Radcliffe, Sicilian ix); however, the reader has already been put on notice that whatever is deemed to be Gothic is merely Catherine’s fiction and Austen’s metafiction. Northanger Abbey becomes, as the ‘critical space’ a mantissa in that it is and has been supplemental, almost ancillary, to the diegetic pose that Austen has presented.
To underscore the difference in poetic structure between Austen and Radcliffe, we can use a ‘classic’ of gothic scenery from The Mysteries of Udolpho:
‘On the other side of the valley, immediately opposite to the spot where the traveller’s rested, a rocky pass opened toward Gascony. Here no sign of cultivation appeared. The rocks of granite, that screened the glen, rose abruptly from their base, and stretched their barren points to the clouds, unvaried with woods, and uncheered even by a hunter’s cabin. Sometimes, indeed, a gigantic larch threw its long shade over the precipice, and here and there a cliff reared on its brow a monumental cross, to tell the traveller the fate of him who had ventured thither before. This spot seemed the very haunt of the banditti; and Emily, as she looked down upon it, almost expected to see them stealing out from some hollow cave to look for their prey. Soon after an object not less terrific struck her,–a gibbet standing on a point of rock near the entrance of the pass, and immediately over one of the crosses she had before observed. These were the hieroglyphics that told a plain and dreadful story’ (Radcliffe 54).
Radcliffe’s work is notable for its exceptional use of picturesque description, the type of description that will be advanced by Balzac and Turgenev. Her scenes are ‘painted with care because Radcliffe wants us to see it and to understand it with her. The understanding, however, is more complicated than it might at first seem. This is a sublime setting, one that is meant to inspire a mood of awe. The adjectives are selected to establish mood rather than describe in any specific way–they depict the scene less than they create a response to it….The language is gauged much more for effect than for meaning’ (Haggerty 23). But here, too, Austen attempts to achieve a kind of Radcliffean enterprise only to deny it. As Catherine approaches Northanger Abbey, Austen purposefully begins with a kind of gothic discourse relative to scene only to counterwrite it. Not only that, but in two sentences she links the expectation with the realization; the gothic discourse with the parodic gothic discourse.
One can also contrast this presentation of ‘the critical space’ with either Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho or her A Sicilian Romance in which the critical space of the chateau of Monsieur St. Aubert and that of the Mazzini castle are mentioned on the first page and the narrative about them is taken up immediately. But in Northanger Abbey, not only is the critical space mentioned after half the novel, but it is as quickly dispatched since Austen says nothing about it again for another three chapters. So while the reader may be expecting the abbey to take over as the focus of the fictional discourse, Austen once again returns to describing the pedestrian activities of her mundane characters.
It is not until Chapter XX when Austen finally pairs Catherine with Tilney during the journey to the abbey that Tilney says, ‘You have formed a very favourable idea of the abbey’ . ‘To be sure I have. Is not it a fine old place, just like what one reads about?’ (Austen 130). Which allows Tilney to play off on the whole notion of reading and reader’s expectations by saying, ‘And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as ‘what one reads about’ may produce?–Have you a stout heart?–Nerves fit for sliding pannels and tapestry?’ (Austen 130) and which prompts Tilney to continue for several pages in a discourse that is not unlike the form of Gothic discourse, but written in the active present:
‘No we shall not have to explore our way into a hall dimly lighted by the expiring embers of a wood fire–nor be obliged to spread our beds on the floor of a room without windows, doors, or furniture. But you must be aware that when a young lady is (by whatever means) introduced into a dwelling of this kind, she is always lodged apart from the rest of the family. While they snugly repair to their own end of the house, she is formally conducted by Dorothy the ancient housekeeper up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it about twenty years before. Can you stand such a ceremony as this? Will not your mind misgive you, when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber–too lofty and extensive for you, with only the feeble rays of a single lamp to take in its size–its walls hung with tapestry exhibiting figures as large as life, and the bed, of dark green stuff or purple velvet, presenting a funeral appearance. Will not your heart sink within you?’ (Austen 131).
Tilney’s gothic discourse continues until they reach the outskirts of the abbey at which point Austen writes:
‘…and every bend in the road was expected with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows. But so low did the building stand, that she found herself passing through the great gates of the lodge into the very grounds of Northanger, without having discerned even an antique chimney’ (Austen 133).
Expectation denied once again, Catherine is led to her chamber where we read:
‘An abbey!–yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey!–but she doubted, as she looked around the room, whether anything within her observation, would have given her the consciousness. The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste. The fire-place, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china. The windows, to which she looked with peculiar dependence, from having heard the General talk of his preserving them in their Gothic form with reverential care, were yet less what her fancy had portrayed….To an imagination which had hoped for the smallest divisions, and the heaviest stonework, for painted glass, dirt and cobwebs, the difference was distressing’ (Austen 134).
Distressing indeed for Catherine, but this is truly a marvellous chapter because it works so effectively in creating and maintaining the notions of expectation denied. As it augments the parody of the Gothic convention it simultaneously brings Catherine more into the world of experience. This notion is emphasized at the beginning of Chapter XXI with ‘A moment’s glance was enough to satisfy Catherine that her apartment was very unlike the one which Henry had endeavoured to alarm her by the description of’ (Austen 135). Alas, this apartment confounds expectations. It contained neither tapestry nor velvet; the walls were papered, the floor was carpeted; the windows were neither less perfect nor more dim than those of the drawing-room below; the furniture was handsome and comfortable and the air of the room altogether far from uncheerful (Austen 135). In short, the abbey was too pleasant for one’s expectations and with that pleasantness came a denial of mood and mood is what one expects most of in Gothic novels.
But the genuine tremor one feels upon reading a gothic novel is found in the manipulation of tension and terror. In two very similar situations we have Radcliffe and Austen working at point and counterpoint.
‘A return of the noise again disturbed her; it seemed to come from that part of the room, which communicated with the private staircase, and she instantly remembered the odd circumstance of the door having been fastened, during the preceding night, by some unknown hand. Her late alarming suspicion, concerning its communication, also occurred to her. Her heart became faint with terror. Half raising herself from the bed, and gently drawing aside the curtain, she looked towards the door of the stair-case, but the lamp, that burnt on the hearth, spread so feeble a light through the apartment, that the remote parts of it were lost in shadow. The noise, however, which, she was convinced, came from the door, continued. It seemed like that made by the undrawing of rusty bolts, and often ceased, and was then renewed more gently, as if the hand, that occasioned it, was restrained by fear of discovery. While Emily kept her eyes fixed on the spot, she saw the door move, and then slowly open, and perceived something enter the room, but the extreme duskiness prevented her distinguishing what it was. Almost fainting from terror, she had yet sufficient command over herself, to check the shriek, that was escaping from her lips, and, letting the curtain drop from her hand, continued to observe in silence the motions of the mysterious form she saw’ (Radcliffe 261).
Radcliffe attempts to maintain a kind of static tension throughout the piece, adding layer upon layer until, finally, Emily sees Count Morano. Expectation is not denied here. There is a kind of ‘gothic payoff’ in that what she sees does, in fact, exist. That is, there is a person in her room and it is, in fact, Morano who expresses his love for her albeit in a rather perverse way.
Austen counters by writing: ‘The night was stormy; the wind had been rising at intervals the whole afternoon; and by the time the party broke up, it blew and rained violently. Catherine, as she crossed the hall, listened to the tempest with sensations of awe…’ (Austen 138-139). Once Catherine is securely ensconced in her room, Austen begins in earnest, to undermine the Gothic method, but with a resoluteness of wry humour.
‘The window curtains seemed in motion. It could be nothing but the violence of the wind penetrating through the divisions of the shutters; and she stepped boldly forward, carelessly humming a tune, to assure herself of its being so, peeped courageously behind each curtain, saw nothing on either low window seat to scare her, and on placing a hand against the shutter, felt the strongest conviction of the wind’s force. A glance at the old chest, as she turned away from this examination, was not without its use; she scorned the causeless fears of an idle fancy, and began with a most happy indifference to prepare herself for bed….Catherine, having spent the better part of an hour in her arrangements, was beginning to think of stepping into bed, when, on giving a parting glance around the room, she was struck by the appearance of a high, old-fashioned black cabinet, which, though in a situation conspicuous enough, had never caught her notice before….The key was in the door, and she had a strange fancy to look into it….She paused a moment in breathless wonder. The wind roared down the chimney, the rain beat in torrents against the windows, and everything seemed to speak the awfulness of her situation….Again, therefore she applied herself to the key, and after moving it in every possible way for some instants with the determined celerity of hope’s last effort, the door suddenly yielded to her hand: her heart leaped with exultation at such a victory, and having thrown open each folding door, the second being secured only by bolts of less wonderful construction than the lock, though in that her eye could not discern anything unusual, a double range of small drawers appeared in view, with some larger drawers above and below them; and in the centre, a small door, closed also with a lock and key, secured in all probability a cavity of importance. Catherine’s heart beat quick, but her courage did not fail her. With a cheek flushed by hope, and an eye straining with curiosity, her fingers grasped the handle of a drawer and drew it forth. It was entirely empty. With less alarm and greater eagerness she seized a second, a third, a fourth; each was equally empty. Not one was left unsearched, and in not one was anything found’ (Austen 140-141).
Austen balances the prose with an exactness of tension worthy of the best exponents of the genre. In a way, the text is a challenge for Austen to see if she can mimic the Gothic method and she does so quite handily. She also prepares the reader for an expectation worth fulfilling. There must be a payoff. And there is, but the payoff is not an expected payoff. The payoff yields nothing. But Austen doesn’t repair to idle narrative at that point. Satisfied that she has alarmed the reader’s interest only to disarm the reader’s interest she repeats the process.
‘Her quick eyes directly fell on a roll of paper pushed back into the further part of the cavity, apparently for concealment, and her feelings at that moment were indescribable. Her heart fluttered, her knees trembled, and her cheeks grew pale. She seized, with an unsteady hand, the precious manuscript, for half a glance sufficed to ascertain written characters; and while she acknowledge the awful sensations this striking exemplification of what Henry had foretold, resolved instantly to peruse every line before she attempted to rest. The dimness of the light her candle emitted made her turn to it with alarm; but there was no danger of its sudden extinction; it had yet some hours to burn; and that she might not have any greater difficulty in distinguishing the writing than what its ancient date might occasion, she hastily snuffed it. Alas! It was snuffed and extinguished in one. A lamp could not have expired with more awful effect. Catherine, for a few moments, was motionless with horror. It was done completely; not a remnant of light in the wick could give hope to the rekindling breath. Darkness impenetrable and immovable filled the room. A violent gust of wind, rising with sudden fury, added fresh horror to the moment. Catherine trembled from head to foot. In the pause which succeeded, a sound like receding footsteps and the closing of a distant door struck on her affrighted ear. Human nature could support no more. A cold sweat stood on her forehead, the manuscript fell from her hand, and groping her way to bed, she jumped hastily in, and sought with some suspension of agony by creeping far underneath the clothes….The storm still raged, and various were the noises, more terrific even than the wind, which struck at intervals on her startled ear. The very curtains of her bed seemed at one moment in motion, and at another the lock of her door was agitated, as if by the attempt of somebody to enter. Hollow murmurs seemed to creep along the gallery, and more than once her blood was chilled by the sound of distant moans. Hour after hour passed away, and the wearied Catherine had heard three proclaimed by all the clocks in the house before the tempest subsided or she unknowingly fell asleep" (Austen 141-142).
So ends Chapter XXI with Catherine in the throes of unnameable horrors. But there has been no gothic payoff here since the reader is delayed from discovering what, in fact, is contained in the manuscript. With the exactness of a serial writer (if not the calculation of a Hitchcock) Austen delays the payoff. Early in Chapter XXII we discover what the manuscript actually contains: ‘An inventory of linen, in coarse and modern characters. She seized another sheet, and saw the same articles with little variation; a third, a fourth, and fifth presented nothing new. Shirts, stockings, cravats, and waistcoasts faced her in each. Two others, penned by the same hand, marked an expenditure scarcely more interesting, in letters, hair-powder, shoe-string, and breeches-ball’ (Austen 143). So not only is the expectation denied in terms of the gothic payoff, but when there is a payoff the realization is not worth the price of the expectation in the first place.
One might ‘expect’ that Austen has had enough of the process of dissimulation, but she hasn’t. In Chapter XXIII she sets up yet another scene to be misperceived. Catherine is treated to a tour of the house by Eleanor Tilney and ‘believed herself at last within the reach of something worth her notice; and felt, as she unwillingly paced back to the gallery, that she would rather be allowed to examine that end of the house than see all the finery of all the rest. The general’s evident desire of preventing such an examination was an additional stimulant. Something was certainly to be concealed…’ (Austen 155). Eleanor plans to take Catherine to see the room of her dead mother, ‘a room in all probability never entered by him [the general] since the dreadful scene had passed, which released his suffering wife, and left him to the stings of conscience’ (Austen 155).
To Catherine’s question, ‘You were with her, I suppose, to the last’? Eleanor Tilney responds that she died before she came home. ‘Catherine’s blood ran cold with the horrid suggestions which naturally sprang from these words. Could it be possible? Could Henry’s father—? And yet how many were the examples to justify even the blackest suspicions! And, when she saw him in the evening, while she worked with her friend, slowly pacing the drawing-room for an hour together in silent thoughtfulness, with downcast eyes and contracted brow, she felt secure from all possibility of wronging him. It was the air and attitude of Montoni! What could more plainly speak the gloomy workings of a mind not wholly dead to every sense of humanity, in its fearful review of past scenes of guilt?’ (Austen 156) All of these examples play into that pioneering work of the Gothic, Walpole’s The Castle of Otronto, in which are woven ‘most of the main elements of this form of fiction, notably the supposedly Gothic castle, with its subterranean passages, the supernatural events, the lonely heroine and the elderly aristocratic villain, heartlessly domineering’ (Radcliffe, Udolpho viii). Each of these items has been systematically defused by Austen. The Gothic castle is neither Gothic nor a castle; there are no subterranean passages; the supernatural events are all porously explainable; and the lonely heroine isn’t lonely which leaves the elderly aristocratic villain, in the person of General Tilney, as Catherine’s last recourse to salvage her neo-Gothic cause in this most uneventful anti-Gothic novel.
With the family early to bed, Catherine supposes that something nefarious is planned.
‘There must be some deeper cause: something was to be done which could be done only while the household slept; and the probability that Mrs. Tilney yet lived, shut up for causes unknown, and receiving from the pitiless hands of her husband a nightly supply of coarse food, was the conclusion which necessarily followed. Shocking as was the idea, it was at least better than a death unfairly hastened, as, in the natural course of things she must ere long be released. The suddenness of her reputed illness, the absence of her daughter, and probably of her other children, at the time–all favoured the supposition of her imprisonment. Its origin–jealousy perhaps, or wanton cruelty–was yet to be unraveled’ (Austen 157).
Austen sets up the reader for what is to follow in Chapter XXIV though as the chapter opens we read that, ‘The next day afforded no opportunity for the proposed examination of the mysterious apartments’ (Austen 168). This tactic is merely meant to defer expectations not deny them, the denial is yet to come for many things transpire in Catherine’s head since ‘Catherine had read too much not to be perfectly aware of the ease with which a waxen figure might be introduced, and a suppositious funeral carried on’ (Austen 159). She finally finds herself alone in the gallery and clandestinely secures her way into Mrs. Tilney’s apartments.
‘She beheld what fixed her to the spot and agitated every feature. She saw a large, well-proportioned apartment, an handsome dimity bed, arranged as unoccupied with an housemaid’s care, a bright Bath stove, mahogany wardrobes, and neatly painted chairs, on which the warm beams of a western sun gaily poured through two sash windows!….She could not be mistaken as to the room; but how grossly mistaken in everything else!–in Miss Tilney’s meaning, in her own calculation! This apartment, to which she had given a date so ancient, a position so awful, proved to be one end of what the general’s father had built’ (Austen 161-162).
Austen constantly alludes to Catherine’s being ‘well read’, but the fact is all of her clever speculations based upon her prior readings have resulted in false allegations. Not only is the entire oeuvre of her speculations patently incorrect, but to compound the problem she is discovered by no one other than Henry Tilney while snooping in Mrs. Tilneys apartment. ‘At that instant a door underneath was hastily opened; someone seemed with swift steps to ascent the stairs, by the head of which she had yet to pass before she could gain the gallery. She had no power to move. With a feeling of terror not very definable, she fixed her eyes on the staircase, and in a few moments it gave Henry to her view’ (Austen 162). At that point, Catherine compounds the false assumptions with the embarrassment of telling Tilney what she is doing there and why. Her motives merely make her appear even more naive than Tilney had imagined her to be and provoke a panoply of guilt-ridden anxieties which for Catherine could only result in the end of the romance. Chapter XXV begins: ‘The visions of romance were over. Catherine was completely awakened. Henry’s address, short as it had been, had more thoroughly opened her eyes to the extravagance of her late fancies than all their several disappointments had done. Most grievously was she humbled. Most bitterly did she cry’ (Austen 165-166).
At this point in the novel, there is a critical fictional bifurcation in that the anti-Gothic story ends and the conclusion of the Bildungsroman commences. In other words, throughout the entire novel Catherine has been on a quest and within the quest the reader has been witness to Austen’s parody of the Gothic. But with her discovery by Tilney and her revelations about the abbey come a new understanding of herself. What has been shattered in Catherine’s ethos is her innocence and the naïveté with which she had been directed. ‘The painful remembrance of the folly it had helped to nourish and perfect was the only emotion which could spring from a consideration of the building. What a revolution in her ideas! She, who had so longed to be in an abbey!’ (Austen 177).
Catherine is unceremoniously discharged from the abbey because of yet another false speculation, but this time on the part of General Tilney who mistakenly believes Catherine’s financial situation is more fluid than it actually is: an economic expectation denied. After the general abruptly and rudely dismisses Catherine from the abbey, one recognizes that she is on her way home. But where is she going and where has she been? One can see this ‘journey’ from Fullerton to Bath to Northanger Abbey to Fullerton as Catherine’s quest. In uniquely Campbellian terms there’s a clear separation, initiation and return, yet the return is very unlike her initial separation. The journey begins with major expectations and ends with a clear realization of the quotes Austen presented at the outset of the novel. For in Chapter XXIX we read:
‘Catherine was too wretched to be fearful. The journey in itself had no terrors for her; and she began it without either dreading its length or feeling its solitariness…Unfortunately, the road she now travelled was the same which only ten days ago she had so happily passed along in going to and from Woodston; and, for fourteen miles, every bitter feeling was rendered more severe by the review of objects on which she had first looked under impressions so different. Every mile, as it brought her nearer Woodston, added to her sufferings, and when within the distance of five, she passed the turning which led to it, and thought of Henry, so near, yet so unconscious, her grief and agitation were excessive’ (Austen 192-193).
So the road travelled from the abbey is not the same road she travelled to the abbey. The notion of travel and of roads is a very curious one in that many of the roads, though the same roads, become different roads. The road to the abbey was, of course, a road less travelled for Catherine; the road back, has become a road endured. But even in writing a Bildungsroman, Austen cannot avoid a self-reflexive pose which is entirely in keeping with the consistency of voice begun at the outset of the novel. Austen writes:
‘A heroine returning, at the close of her career, to her native village, in all the triumph of recovered reputation, and all the dignity of a countess, with a long train of noble relations in their several phaetons, and three waiting-maids in a travelling chaise and four, behind her, is an event on which the pen of the contriver may well delight to dwell; it gives credit to every conclusion, and the author must share in the glory she so liberally bestows. But my affair is widely different; I brink back my heroine to her home in solitude and disgrace; and no sweet elation of spirits can lead me into minuteness. A heroine in a hack post-chaise is such a blow upon sentiment, as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand. Swiftly therefore shall her post-boy drive through the village amid the gaze of Sunday groups, and speedy shall be her descent from it’ (Austen 194-195).
Which clearly clarifies the posture of the quest and of Catherine’s becoming something other than she was when she left. Her quest takes her from the rarefied atmosphere of romantic expectations, of mysterious speculations and Gothic intrigue to the more mundane atmosphere of the road of realization for ‘it was not three months ago since, wild with joyful expectation, she had there run backwards, and forwards some ten times a day, with an heart light, gay, and independent; looking forward to pleasures untasted and unalloyed, and free from the apprehension of evil as from the knowledge of it. Three months ago had seen her all this; and now, how altered a being did she return!’ (Austen 199).
Austen ties up the ‘loose ends’ of the novel as neatly as she can by directly appealing to her readers as the self-reflexive narrator then, in a self-deprecating manner, appeals to her readers with: ‘The anxiety, which in this state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity’ (Austen 210).
Then in an innovative way which not only comments on the ‘act of novel writing’, but on the diegetic level she concludes the novel by following up on probably the greatest of all mysteries in the novel: Who’s laundry list was it? ‘Concerning the one in question, therefore, I have only to add–aware that the rules of composition forbid the introduction of a character not connected with my fable–that this was the very gentleman whose negligent servant left behind him the collection of washing-bills, resulting from a long visit at Northanger, by which my heroine was involved in one of her most alarming adventures’ (Austen 210).
So Austen has thus taken the reader on a kind of ‘magical mystery tour’ in terms of plot and poetics in that she has directed the reader to take the same kind of manipulated directions as she has done so with Catherine. She has, in fact, been playing a game with the reader and ‘Most literary games rest on the strength of human curiosity–the mind’s avid desire for knowledge of outcome, for resolution of problems, in short, for "truth". A concern for pattern and harmony seems firmly related to this fundamental urge. Further, just as nature abhors a vacuum, so too does the reader abhor what might be termed a thematic or sense "void", or in fact any degree of thematic uncertainty’ (Hutchinson 21). To that end, Austen has mastered the technique and with that mastery puts to rest any notion of Northanger Abbey as being something less than a poetic achievement, something less than a mature work of art.