Northanger Abbey: Acquisition of Higher Delight

Illustration of Catherine Morland paper doll, by Donald Hendricks, Legacy DesignsACQUISITION 

To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.The Narrator on Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1

This is our introduction to our young heroine Catherine Morland, and it is a promising beginning. I like her immediately. Jane Austen has made her real and accessible to my expectations of a young, unpretentious girl of fifteen. She could be the girl next door!

and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books – or at least books of information.

Remind you of anyone you know? A little sister, a daughter, or yourself?

 – for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them (books), provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. 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.

A heroine in training! I know a few of those. What teenage girl (or adult) does not dream of being the heroine of her own life? It’s interesting to observe how different generations over the years attach to role-models. Jane Austen admired poets and writers. In my day, it was ice skating champion Dorothy Hamill. Now it’s Paris Hilton. Hmm?

She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. 

No cute guys in the neighborhood. What a drag. No wonder she has her nose in a book.

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 … if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad …

Indeed! A heroine in the making needs to seek her destiny. Or create one!

The Gothic parody Northanger Abbey was written in 1798, when Jane Austen was 23 years old, and reflects her younger attitudes and views of her world. The theme of a young girl coming of age and her first experiences in society are played against the contrast of the horrific drama and exaggerated romance of the Gothic fiction genre that was so popular at the time. Our heroine Catherine Morland is about to embark on her own mythic journey of self discovery. The introductory chapter has set the scene for her “big adventure”.

Image of Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, PBS Northanger Abbey (2007)Be sure to set your watches and mark your calendars for the  Masterpiece Classic adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey, staring Felicity Jones as our young and impressionable heroine Catherine Morland, on Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm on PBS. It should prove to be a dangerously romantic evening.

*Illustration of Catherine Morland paper doll, by the very talented artist and fashion illustrator Donald Hendricks of Legacy Designs. Visit his beautiful online shop and discover his fanciful and charming illustrations of classic literary figures and contemporary celebrities. 

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  1. Pingback: Northanger Abbey: Our Hero Henry Tilney « Austenprose

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