Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Guest Bloggers Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons Chat about Gothic Classics: Day 17 Giveaway!

Think of Northanger Abbey in a graphic novel format with all of its energy and Gothic allusions visually popping right off the page, and you will have a good notion of what author Trina Robbins and illustrator Anne Timmons have created in their frightfully enchanting version of Northanger Abbey included in Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen. Today both author and illustrator are joining us to chat about their inspiration and the design procession of transforming Jane Austen’s Gothic parody into a graphic novel. Enjoy!  

Writing Jane

by Trina Robbins

Imagine you’re a Jane Austen fan (not hard to do!) and you write graphic novels — and a publisher asks you to adapt a Jane Austen novel into graphic novel form.  The result, of course, is hog heaven!

I have actually adapted TWO Jane Austen books into graphic novel form.  The first, about five years ago, was for Scholastic, for their series of graphic novel adaptations for classrooms. I picked one of my two favorite Austen novels, Emma, to adapt into a twenty-seven page graphic novel.  But because I was writing for elementary school kids, there were constraints.  Sex does not exist in elementary school rooms, so Harriet could not be a “natural daughter.”  Kids would have wondered what that meant, and any explanations would have produced letters from angry parents.  So I turned her into an orphan.  Emma and Harriet could not be waylaid by gypsies, either, because representing gypsies as criminals is racist, so they simply became a group of rough men who demanded the girl’s purses.

Nonetheless, I got fan mail from elementary school kids, addressed to “Ms. Jane Austen and Ms. Trina Robbins,” saying how much they liked the book.  I answered all the letters, telling the young readers that I was sorry to inform them that Jane Austen had died over two hundred years ago, but that if they liked the comic, perhaps someday they might read the book.

Then Tom Pomplun, editor of Graphic Classics asked me to adapt Northanger Abbey, which just so happens to be my OTHER favorite Austen novel (Northanger Abbey and Emma are her two funniest!), to be illustrated by Anne Timmons, with whom I’ve worked on so many other comics (including our own series, GoGirl!) that I can call her my partner in crime.  And in forty pages with no constraints!

Adapting any classic novel (I also adapted Bronte and Dickens for Scholastic) is like solving a delightful puzzle — what to keep, what to leave out. My first step is to buy the oldest, cheapest, most used softcover edition I can find.  I take a highlighter and a black felt-tip marker to it, highlighting the parts I want to keep, blacking out the parts that have to go. I can’t begin to describe how much it goes against the grain for me to mark up a book like that!

Working with Anne Timmons is a pleasure!  When I describe something, she understands perfectly and draws exactly what I had in mind.  Northanger Abbey is drawn in a cute and lighthearted style because that’s the way I see the book.  Catherine is young, naive, and big-eyed.  And she is a hopeless romantic, so some scenes, such as when Catherine runs in tears from Henry, who has just dressed her down because of her suspicions about his father, or when she lies in bed weeping because the General has ordered her to leave in the morning, might have come from some romance comic.

And Anne, bless her,  understands the fashions!  In the past, I have had dreadful experiences working with male artists (none of whom I chose) who never looked at the reams of fashion reference I always send with my scripts, obviously thinking that if you drew the female characters in long skirts, that was good enough.  And you know how important the right clothes are in a Jane Austen novel!  I’m sure we all agree that the worst Austen movie adaptation ever was that Greer Garson Pride and Prejudice, where for some bizarre reason, the producers decided to change the time period to the 1840s or 1850s.

Currently, Anne and I are working on an adaptation of Little Women, for the same publisher.  I couldn’t be happier!

Catherine Morland & Isabella Thorpe read Gothic novels in the
Gothic Classics edition of Northanger Abbey (2007)

Illustrating Jane

By Anne Timmons

I was just thrilled when Tom Pomplun, publisher of Graphic Classics, asked Trina and I to work on Northanger Abbey! Trina and I have illustrated other books for the Graphic Classics line including a story for their Jack London anthology.

I was familiar with Jane Austen’s work but I had never drawn the Regency period before. I did quite a bit of research by Google-ing a lot of the costume websites. There’s a vast array of websites that contain such concise and detailed information. For example, I needed to look up what a carriage would look like in the early 1800s. And certainly, the costumes and interiors needed to be close to that time period. Lots of Northanger Abbey was set in Bath so there’s a lot of the Georgian style of architecture.

After reading the original story, I received Trina’s adapted script. I laid out the entire story in small roughed out panels, also know as thumbnails. They gave me an idea of what the page would look like. Then I drew the story in pencil. I emailed the files to Trina and Tom to look over. After they gave me suggestions and advice, I inked over the pencils and scanned the finished art. Once the art was a digital file, I could email it to the publisher who did the lettering.

One of my favorite scenes to draw was the walk at Beechen Cliff. There is a lot of excitement leading up to this moment. The fact that Catherine had to wait for more favorable weather so it would be easy on her clothes and shoes. To finally be able to walk on a dry spring day, (and not be confined indoors), would have been a wonderful experience. In my research, I discovered that the fabrics used in the gowns were often made of muslin – a very thin material. It may have been in layers but not exactly warm enough for cold weather! The Regency period was influenced by the styles of the Roman Empire. Lots of high waists and hair pulled up off the face and neck. Trina’s descriptions offer what the character may look like and I had a great time with the embellishments!

I also had a lot of fun drawing the scene where Catherine scares herself as she tries to open the cabinet in her room.

Trina and I are currently working on a graphic novel adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s, Little Women which will be coming out in 2009. I will be, once again in a “Historical Costume Heaven!”

Further Reading

  • Read an interview of Trina Robbins at Jazma Online
  • Read a review of Gothic Classics at Publishers Weekly
  • Read a review of Gothic Classics at AustenBlog
  • Visit author Trina Robbins web site
  • Visit illustrator Anne Timmons web site
  • Purchase Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 17 Giveaway

Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen (2007) 

Which includes Northanger Abbey

Adapted by Trina Robbins and illustrated by Anne Timmons

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen (2007)

Upcoming event posts
Day 18 – Oct 28          Group Read NA Chapters 25-28
Day 19 – Oct 29          Gothically Inspired
Day 20 – Oct 30          Group Read NA Chapters 29-31
Day 21 – Oct 31          Go Gothic Wrap-up

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Guest Blogger James Jenkins of Valancourt Books Chats About Horrid Novels: Day 12 Giveaway

Please join us today as James Jenkins, Gothic fiction authority and publisher of Valancourt Books chats with us today about the Gothic novels that influenced Jane Austen to write her novel Northanger Abbey, and the seven “horrid novels” recommended by her character Isabella Thorpe to our young heroine in the making Catherine Morland. 

” ‘Valancourt? and who was he?’ cry the young people. Valancourt, my dears, was the hero of one of the most famous romances which ever was published in this country. The beauty and elegance of Valancourt made your young grandmammas’ gentle hearts to beat with respectful sympathy. He and his glory have passed away. Ah, woe is me that the glory of novels should ever decay… Inquire at Mudie’s, or the London Library, who asks for ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’ now? Have not even ‘The Mysteries of Paris’ ceased to frighten? Alas! our best novels are but for a season…” – William Makepeace Thackeray 

“Dear creature! how much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read The Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

“Have you, indeed! How glad I am! – What are they all?”

“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocket-book. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”

“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?”

“Yes, quite sure; for a particular friend of mine, a Miss Andrews, a sweet girl, one of the sweetest creatures in the world, has read every one of them.” – Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey 

As can be seen from the two quotes above, from two of the greatest novelists in English, the Gothic genre was tremendously popular and influential in late 18th and early 19th century England.  I am grateful to Laurel Ann for the opportunity to contribute to her blog my thoughts on the Gothic genre, its popularity in Austen’s time, and its continued relevance today.  And, of course, since this is primarily a blog about Jane Austen, I will give a brief introduction to the “horrid novels” mentioned in Northanger Abbey

Brief Overview of the Gothic in Austen’s Era 

The Gothic novel was hugely popular in Jane Austen’s time.  Although it has its roots in Shakespearean plays like Hamlet and Macbeth as well as earlier sources, the Gothic novel really began with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764).  In Otranto, the tyrant Prince Manfred is anxious to continue his family’s rule of Otranto, but his plans are strangely thwarted when his son is inexplicably found crushed to death beneath a giant black helmet.  Left with no son to continue his line, Manfred engages in a series of black deeds, attempting to divorce his wife and rape his son’s fiancée, but is ultimately defeated by a curse, with the principality going to its true owner, the peasant Theodore. 

But although Otranto was extremely popular (and remains so – it has rarely, if ever, been out of print), it did not of itself touch off the explosion of Gothic literature.  It was not till The Old English Baron (1778) appeared and gained popularity that the Gothic became a viable genre.  And some years later, the greatest exponent of Gothic fiction, Ann Radcliffe, made her debut in 1789 with The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, and went on in the 1790s to pen the runaway bestsellers The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian, which Austen refers to in Northanger Abbey.  Radcliffe’s popularity and influence cannot be overstated.  The extent of her readership can perhaps be best compared to that of another female Gothic author who came almost exactly two centuries later, J. K. Rowling.  As Radcliffe’s novels flew off the shelves, a number of other writers imitated her methods and wrote hundreds of Gothic novels, most of them derivative, but some, like M. G. Lewis’s The Monk (1796), showing remarkable talent and imagination.  The Gothic continued to be the dominant genre in popular fiction through the first two decades of the 19th century, gradually petering out around the time Austen’s Northanger Abbey was finally published in 1818.  Most scholars consider Charles Robert Maturin’s extravagant masterpiece Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) to mark the end of the Gothic genre, although in reality the Gothic did not die: it merely adapted into new genres-penny dreadfuls like Varney the Vampyre (1847) and the later Victorian sensation and detective novels by authors like Le Fanu, Wilkie Collins, and Richard Marsh. 

“Valancourt” and Valancourt Books 

What is strange, though, is that despite the incredible popularity of Gothic novels in their own day and the resurgence of scholarly interest in the Gothic in the late 20th century, the vast majority of these works remained out of print and accessible only on microfiche or in a few rare book collections.  Fans and students of the Gothic novel could obtain Radcliffe’s works and a small handful of other Gothics in editions from Oxford University Press or Penguin, but after reading these few texts, it was impossible to find others.  It is for this reason that I founded Valancourt Books: to restore access to these wonderful books at affordable prices.  The press is named after Valancourt, the hero of Radcliffe’s Udolpho (and also the name of my cat), and is also inspired by the Thackeray quote above.  We believe that the great novels of the past still have the power to thrill and interest modern readers and should remain in print.  The press was founded in late 2004 and now has nearly 70 titles in print, including not only Gothic novels, but also rare sensation and supernatural novels from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

The Northanger Abbey Horrid Novels 

Until early in the 20th century, critics assumed that Austen had invented the titles of the “horrid novels” in order to satirize similarly (and extravagantly) titled Gothic novels.  How was it possible only 80 years or so after Austen’s death that the world could have forgotten that the horrid novels had ever existed?  It has to do partly with the way in which popular fiction was created and consumed in Austen’s time.  Few people at that time could afford to purchase their own books, so most people subscribed for a small fee to a circulating library, which stocked all the current popular fiction, just as our free public libraries do today.  While today most books are published in a single volume, in Austen’s time, novels were divided up over three or four volumes (or sometimes as many as seven!).  This enabled multiple borrowers at a circulating library to be reading the same novel at the same time.  We know this is how Austen herself read the horrid novels, for she writes in her journal that, “Father is reading the Midnight Bell, which he has got from the library, and mother sitting by the fire.”  Presumably she read it after he had finished.  But unfortunately, the horrid novels, like other popular fiction of the period, were passed from hand to hand so many times and were constructed of fairly flimsy materials, such that the books were literally read to pieces and discarded. 

However, in the early 20th century, it was discovered that the horrid novels really existed, and Michael Sadleir was the first to acquire the complete set, when he finally tracked down the most elusive of the seven, Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan of the Rhine (1798).  In the 1920s, Montague Summers attempted to republish the whole set, but only two of the novels ever appeared.  In 1968, Devendra Varma oversaw an edition of the seven novels, published by the Folio Press and now virtually unobtainable.  Valancourt Books is now in the process of republishing these seven elusive works; five have already appeared. 

Critics have differed on Austen’s purpose in selecting these seven novels for mention in Northanger Abbey.  Most critics argue that she was simply ridiculing them.  I think, though, this is a short-sighted view.  If she had merely wanted to express disdain for trashy novels, she could have picked, for example, a truly bad novel like The Animated Skeleton (1798).  In fact, the novels she chose are among the best and most interesting of the Gothic novels.  In some respect, then, we can see Austen as an early literary critic, in singling out the Gothic novels she and her father had read and enjoyed. 

Without further ado, the following are the horrid novels.  The first five are in print in scholarly editions from Valancourt Books; the final two will appear in 2009. 

Castle of Wolfenbach (1793) by Eliza Parsons 

Parsons was comparatively old when she began publishing.  She was driven to write to support her family after her husband died prematurely when his business failed.  She churned out novels and plays in great quantity, including the important early Gothic Castle of Wolfenbach.  In Wolfenbach, young Matilda Weimar’s lecherous uncle tries to rape her, so she flees and takes up residence in a haunted castle.  The castle turns out not to be haunted, after all: the supposed ghost is the Countess of Wolfenbach, shut up for eighteen years by her murderous husband.  As the novel unfolds, both women must avoid their cruel persecutors, and Matilda must uncover her own true parentage so she can marry her lover. 

Clermont (1798) by Regina Maria Roche 

Roche was an Irish novelist who was often compared-not usually favourably-with Radcliffe.  In Clermont, Madeline Clermont lives with her reclusive and mysterious father until she goes to live for a time with his old friend, the Countess de Merville.  But her happiness quickly turns to terror when ruffians attack the gentle Countess, and Madeline is assaulted in a gloomy crypt. And to make matters worse, a sinister stranger appears, threatening to reveal the bloody truth of Clermont’s past unless Madeline marries him. Can she avoid the snares of her wily pursuers, solve the mystery of her father’s past, and win the love of her dear De Sevignie? 

The Mysterious Warning (1796) by Eliza Parsons 

The good old Count Renaud is dead, and his will makes the degenerate Rhodophil his heir, disinheriting his other son Ferdinand, who has married against his father’s wishes. Rhodophil promises to share his new riches with his younger brother and his wife Claudina, but Ferdinand hears a mysterious voice from beyond the grave, warning him to flee his brother and his wife to save himself from sin and death! 

Ferdinand obeys the supernatural warning and sets out to find fortune and adventure. In the course of his quest he will encounter a recluse in a ruined castle with a horrible secret, find himself captured and imprisoned by the Turkish army, and encounter one of Gothic literature’s most depraved female characters, the monstrous Fatima. 

The Necromancer; or, The Tale of the Black Forest (1794) by “Peter Teuthold” 

The Necromancer is a translation of various German stories, spliced together, and consists of a series of interconnected tales, all centering on the enigmatic figure of Volkert the Necromancer. Filled with murder, ghosts, and dark magic, and featuring a delirious and dizzying plot that almost defies comprehension, The Necromancer is one of the strangest horror novels ever written. “For magniloquent descriptions of ‘horrid’ episodes, for sheer stylistic fervour in the handling of the supernatural, the work can rank high among its contemporaries.” Michael Sadlier


The Midnight Bell (1798) by Francis Lathom 

Young Alphonsus Cohenburg enters his mother’s bedroom and finds her covered in blood. She tells him his uncle has murdered his father, and orders him to flee Cohenburg castle forever to save his own life! A disconsolate exile, Alphonsus wanders the earth seeking the means of survival, first as a soldier, then a miner, and finally as sacristan of a church, where he meets the beautiful Lauretta. They wed and establish a home together, and everything seems to promise them a happy future. But their domestic tranquillity is shattered, when a band of ruffians kidnaps the unfortunate Lauretta! Alphonsus must solve the mystery of Lauretta’s disappearance and the riddle of his mother’s strange conduct. And when he hears that ghosts inhabit Cohenburg castle, tolling the great bell each night at midnight, the mystery only deepens…. 

One of the most prolific authors of the time, and arguably the first queer novelist, Lathom is a fascinating figure who has been unfortunately neglected. 

Horrid Mysteries (1796) by Karl Grosse 

Perhaps the best description of this novel is that of Professor Fred Frank, who wrote, “Certainly no novel to survive from the Gothic period is stranger, darker, or more precipitously irrational than Horrid Mysteries.  Its convolutions of plot are matched by a grim potency of style as found in the memorable descriptions of Elmira’s enforced containment in a coffin during one of her three deaths.”  As Sadleir wrote, it is “a strange, wild work, dealing unashamedly in the supernatural, written with a lurid if inconsequent power…certainly it is the most defiantly fantastic of any novel of the period.” 

The Orphan of the Rhine (1798) by Eleanor Sleath 

Sleath is perhaps the most mysterious of the Northanger novelists.  Virtually nothing is known of her, except that she published five novels, all of them rather long, in addition to a children’s book called Glenowen; or, The Fairy Palace (1814), which has been called the first sustained fantasy story for children in English.  

In Orphan of the Rhine, the young orphans Laurette and Enrico set out for the Castle of Elfinbach to solve the mystery of their parentage.  Heavily influenced by Radcliffe, and consisting of a number of inset narratives, Orphan was summed up by Sadleir as “a strangely attractive absurdity, which excites a sort of sugary fascination over the reader.” 

James Jenkins

Valancourt Books 

Thanks James for a great introduction to Gothic fiction and its influence on author Jane Austen. I am looking forward to the publication next year of the last two novels in the ‘Northanger Horrid Novels’, Orphan of the Rhine and Horrid Mysteries. Readers will be interested to know that you can also purchase the other three Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey, The Italian through Valancourt books, and The Monk and The Mysteries of Udolpho published by Oxford Univeristy Press. 

Further Reading

  • Visit Valancourt Books
  • Read my post “All They All Horrid?” on the Gothic novels in Northanger Abbey
  • Read about the ‘Northanger Horrid Novels’, at Wikipedia
  • Read about The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho by Margaret (Mags) Sullivan
  • Check out The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction (2002)  

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 12 Giveaway

The Mysterious Warning

by Eliza Parsons, Valancourt Books (2007) 

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of Eliza Parson’s The Mysterious Warning, published by Valancourt Books (2007) (US residents only) 

Upcoming event posts
Day 13 – Oct 21          Group Read NA Chapters 18-21
Day 14 – Oct 22          Book Review – OWC NA
Day 15 – Oct 23          Group Read NA Chapters 22-24
Day 16 – Oct 26          Book Preview – OWC Udolpho

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: Guest Blogger Isabella Thorpe Chats about Horrid Movies


Austenprose received a misdirected letter from Isabella Thorpe in the post this week intended for her dearest friend Catherine Tilney nee Morland. Since she discusses the two movie adaptations of Northanger Abbey, we thought it quite timely and decided to include it as a guest blog during Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey. Enjoy!   

Putney, October-

My dearest Catherine,

It is an age since I heard from you; I have received no reply to my last, but I suppose you are too happy with your Mr. Tilney to remember poor me. I saw the news of your marriage announced in the papers and I am sure you are amazingly lucky, for you were a girl as portionless as myself, and we all know what is the wealth of the General. My brother John (who still pines for you amazingly, you know, and would be charmed to wait upon you at Woodston at any time) has told me all the particulars he heard at Oxford, how the General threw you into the street, but that it was all made up in the end. Well, my dear, it may be a fine thing to be married into such amazing wealth, but I would not marry into that family, all eaten up with temper and pride as they are, for any consideration. The General is a perfect monster, as wicked as any we used to read about in our delightful horrid novels, do you remember those dear, long-ago days when we were such friends, Catherine?  I swear I long to renew our friendship; you always were the sweetest girl, not another of your sort is to be seen in all the world, I can assure you.

I always read about weddings, having nothing else to do here in Putney, which is the most amazingly disagreeable place in the world.  Picture to yourself the being confined with only my mother and sisters, who are insipid enough. My bloom is being thrown away, and unless we can go back to Bath next spring, I fear I will have no chances at all. Beauty does not last long, you know, and mine is of a peculiar sort that is not much admired by the villagers hereabouts, though in Bath, I admit, I had a certain amount of attention. I have never ceased to hate that odious Captain Tilney, whom I cannot call anything else, in all honesty, even if he is your brother-in-law now.  Confess, Catherine, he is one of the worst of the fickle sex, and I have no doubt that he has made many a girl miserable since we parted. Not that he made me so; I would not wish him to think I was such a fool as to care whether he stayed in Bath or left. A coxcomb like that has no heart. Does Captain Tilney visit you at Woodston? I wonder that he and your Mr. Tilney can get along at all, they are so very different; but perhaps, being brothers, your beloved sometimes thinks it proper to invite him. Though if I were the Captain, I should rather spend my idle days with my sister the Viscountess, than visit your little parsonage, or worst of all, be driven to haunt Northanger Abbey.

Do write, my sweetest Catherine, and tell me all the news. Are you expecting a little one yet?  I would suppose so, as that might be a reason why you have not written to me.  I cannot bear to think that your affection might have diminished; mine certainly has not.  Do you remember the frolics we had together, at the Play and the Rooms, and how we quizzed your Mr. Tilney and my brother and all our wicked beaux?  Oh Catherine, I never before encountered such a heart as yours, and I never shall again. There was only one heart I ever met to match it – and that was the heart of your dear brother.  Dear James! I have thought of him ten thousand times, and how I long to hear of him, you cannot conceive.  I am in the most hideous agony, from my painful ignorance.  I can only hope that your tenderness of heart will take pity on me and write a minute description of his health, and how he is occupying himself without poor me to tease him, and if he is married?  I have seen nothing about it.

The fashions are more hideous than ever, this autumn, I collect from my reading, since I never see a fashionable creature from one end of Putney to the other. I have picked and torn apart all my turbans, in an effort to contrive some new bandeaux, in which I believe I have not been altogether unsuccessful; it is amazing how every other girl in town copies them, but they all do not have the knack of wearing them becomingly, as I have.

Do you know, Catherine, that even though horrid novels are impossible to obtain in this wretched town, some enterprising man has put up a Pan Opticon device, and I have seen two remarkably horrid picture shows!  Oh, they were more dreadful than Udolpho, and The Monk, and Children of the Abbey, all together!  And do you know what they were?  Why, they were tales of girls in Bath, that were so amazingly close to our own selves and circumstances, you would swear the authoress was listening over our shoulders to our intimate conversations!  Let me tell you about them.

Katherine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland

The first of these horrid pictures was painted, they say, in 1986, if you can believe such a thing.  I was shocked speechless at my first sight of the heroine: she is the most hideous girl I ever saw, with popping eyes and a crooked nose, and I thought I had taken leave of my senses, that anyone could think that was my appearance. But no, for some strange, inexplicable reason, they have made you the heroine, and this remarkably plain girl, Katherine Schlesinger, is meant to represent you!  You are certainly not flattered in the least, I can tell you. I cannot think how this actress has been chosen to portray you, in all your sweetness and prettiness; unless the maker of the piece took too seriously those lines of Miss Austen’s:  “She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features.”  They do not seem to realize that was a description of you at ten, and that by seventeen you were quite a pretty girl. Sure Miss Schlesinger is not unpretty, but with those affected curls she looks like an Italian harlot.  And with that nose and chin, she could play the young Queen Victoria, which is not a compliment.

Peter Firth as Henry Tilney

But worse is in store. Never could I have believed that an actor who is squat and plain, with blond balding locks, and a self-important air, seemingly about five and thirty years old, could ever be selected to portray your Henry, who is tall, and dark, and young, and altogether really very handsome.  This fellow, Peter Firth, is a smug priss, old enough to be your father. It is such a vile piece of miscasting as to spoil the picture in every possible way.

Googie Withers as Mrs. Allen

Cassie Stuart as Isabella Thorpe

The other actors are better cast: Googie Withers is your Mrs. Allen to the life, and Robert Hardy is a most magnificent General.  I had to hide my face, to be sure, when that Cassie Stuart was playing me.  To be sure she is a pretty girl, as she would have to be, with a plentitude of golden curls; but she has always the same inane giggle, and that, you know, is not like myself at all.

Henry Tilney sings?!?

If you can ignore the casting of the lead parts (though to be sure that is not an easy thing to do), this is a very pretty Northanger Abbey.  The Rooms look very natural, and the music and dancing are particularly good: Peter Firth, for all he looks like a Scottish butler, sings enchantingly (that must be why he was chosen, and a very poor reason too, since Henry Tilney does not sing in Miss Austen’s book, so why chuse an ugly, middle aged, songster to play him?). I never saw such graceful country dancing, but it does not last long enough. Every thing else lasts much too long, however, and when you, Catherine, or rather that thyroid-eyed girl with greasy curls was rummaging through the trunk at Northanger (in a night scene that was inexplicably brilliantly lit), I thought I would go to sleep, if she would not.

Catherine and Mrs. Allen take the Baths

There is one effect that I love in this picture, perhaps my favourite in any Austen panopticon performance (and I have seen them all, as there is nothing else to do here in Putney), and that is the scene with the ladies and gentlemen wandering like automatons chest deep in the steaming Roman Bath waters.  It is a most magnificently surreal image, the fanciful hats, the wet gowns, the walking through water, though of course it is like nothing that ever happened on this earth.  We never got our gowns wet in such a way, you remember, though some invalids were dipped; and the 2007 picture is far more realistic in the way its ladies and gentlemen merely sip the waters.

Elaine Ives-Cameron as the Marchoiness and Robert Hardy as General Tilney

Then I must mention another strange going-on at Northanger Abbey, that you would abhor: the General has his mistress there, a masked Venetian witch who seems to have wandered in from some other film, Casanova perhaps. She has a little black servant, too, who makes up to Catherine and does cartwheels.  I have seen nothing like it these thousand ages. It puts me in mind of my own brother’s description of Camilla, as recounted by Miss Austen:  “it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man’s playing at see-saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not.”  That is much the way I feel about this 1986 version of Northanger Abbey.  There is nothing in the world in it but a Venetian masked pocked harlot in the same room with respectable ladies (which could never happen) and a little black boy turning cartwheels.

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland

Now, my sweet Catherine, have patience, and I will tell you about the 2007 Northanger Abbey. This one is as your own Henry would describe it, “nice.” Just that. Maggie Wadey’s eccentric version, for all its bizarreness, yet uses more of Austen’s language, and has a more natural look. This one, the Andrew Davies version, is improved in only one important way: the casting. This new young Catherine, Felicity Jones, is all loveliness, with a real look of yourself, an ingenuous young thing, who conveys real feeling, just as you do, my sweet one.

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney

Her Henry is not your Henry, to be sure; he is strangely gangly, just made to play Mr. Abraham Lincoln; but JJ Feild is an unspeakable improvement over that hideous elderly chap in the other version. This Catherine and Henry manage to have some chemistry, as it is called, together, while the other pair looked all mutual aversion. In my opinion, however, the actress playing Eleanor Tilney, Catherine Walker, “stole the show,” as they say in the hideous twenty-first century. She exuded warm womanliness that informed the whole production, and filled up the chilly gaps. The General here, Liam Cunningham, was a cardboard ogre.

Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe and Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland

I have left mention of the portrayal of myself by Carey Mulligan to the last, because it deserves no better. This Isabella is a stick, your eyes glide past her on the screen because she barely registers a presence. You cannot think why the gentlemen, such as Captain Tilney and James Morland, would be falling all over her, as they certainly did with me once, did they not, my Catherine?  In short, I have never been properly represented yet, in either version; my odd character, I suppose, is very difficult to execute, but in short, I am not satisfied.

Catherine Morland in a fantasy bath scene cut from the US version

What more is there to say? The first film was a botch; the second is mighty insipid. There is little real, genuine Austen dialogue, and the tedious, metronome-like flashes of Gothic scenes, although pretty and operatic-looking, I found tiresome beyond measure, interrupting what little action there was.

Catherine Morland goes Gothic

And now, my dearest Catherine:  I hope you appreciate my describing these amazingly horrid movies for you (and they were horrider than Udolpho, were they not?  That wall-eyed troll who played my brother, William Beck, was certainly more terrifying than any skeleton of Laurentina’s could possibly be). In exchange for my telling you so much, in the goodness of your heart, do you not feel inclined to invite me to Woodston? Sure you would like a female companion to help you while away the tedium of your confinement, and your sisters are really too young for such an office.  And if your brother, or your husband’s brother, should chance to visit while I was in residence, I should not be ashamed to see them.

Your most loving friend,

Isabella Thorpe

Many thanks to Miss Isabella Thorpe who was channeled by author Diana Birchall, whose creative Austen-esque stylings can be found in her highly acclaimed novels, Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma and Mrs. Elton in America available through SourceBooks. You can also catch her weekly column Mrs. Elton Sez at Jane Austen Today if you are in need of some sage and sardonic advice, or just a good laugh.

Upcoming event posts
Day 06 – Oct 9             Group Read NA Chapters 8-10
Day 07 – Oct 13           Guest Blog – Margaret C. Sullivan
Day 08 – Oct 14           Group Read NA Chapters 11-14
Day 09 – Oct 15           Guest Blog – Kali Pappas

Diana Birchall © 2008, Austenprose.com

Northanger Abbey: No Notion of Loving Isabella Thorpe by Halves

Illustration by H.M. Brock, Northanger Abbey (1897)“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. Isabella Thorpe, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 6 

Jane Austen’s character Isabella Thorpe is a strange creature by way of a friend; an odd mixture of affability and cunning, ready to fiercely defend her new friend Catherine Morland if anyone should slight her, flatter her ego to earn her trust, and ply her with advice on romance! What an ingenious character to throw in the path of our young heroine in the making, who innocently does not know what may be “lurking behind the dreadful black veil” of new acquaintance.   

The quote above is from one of my favorite early scenes in the novel when Isabella and Catherine are developing their friendship. They have met in the Pump-room in Bath (England), and their conversation is described by the narrator as an example of their “very warm attachment, and of the delicacy, discretion, originality of thought, and literary taste which marked the reasonableness of that attachment.”

Image of Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe & Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, (2007)

Isabella and Catherine discuss topics of acute interest to young ladies, that would be pertinent even today; friends, dancing, personality, romance and men! Observe Isabella’s language. Her enthusiasm and attention to her naïve friend feeds Catherine’s insecurity and inexperience. 

(Isabella)… My attachments are always excessively strong… Now, if I were to hear anybody speak slightingly of you, I should fire up in a moment: but that is not at all likely, for you are just the kind of girl to be a great favourite with the men.” 

“Oh, dear!” cried Catherine, colouring. “How can you say so?” 

“I know you very well; you have so much animation,… Oh! I must tell you, that just after we parted yesterday, I saw a young man looking at you so earnestly – I am sure he is in love with you.” Catherine coloured, and disclaimed again. Isabella laughed. “It is very true, upon my honour, but I see how it is; you are indifferent to everybody’s admiration, except that of one gentleman, who shall be nameless. Nay, I cannot blame you” – speaking more seriously – “your feelings are easily understood. Where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of anybody else. Everything is so insipid, so uninteresting, that does not relate to the beloved object! I can perfectly comprehend your feelings.” 

“But you should not persuade me that I think so very much about Mr. Tilney, for perhaps I may never see him again.” 

“Not see him again! My dearest creature, do not talk of it. I am sure you would be miserable if you thought so!” 

“No, indeed, I should not. I do not pretend to say that I was not very much pleased with him; but while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable. Oh! The dreadful black veil! My dear Isabella, I am sure there must be Laurentina’s skeleton behind it.”

 Illustration by Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons, Gothic Classic Vol 14, (2007)

Catherine’s interest in Isabella is entirely genuine and unaffected. Her mention of Udolpho shows that she is still focused on her first love, Gothic fiction. Isabella also shares Catherine’s passion, but she uses Gothic novels as a consumable commodity, purely entertainment in between her next romantic conquest. Author Francis Warre Cornish (pg 180) describes Isabella’s interest in Catherine quite openly. 

“Isabella’s interest in her was no doubt quickened by the fact that she admired James Morland, Catherine’s brother. For the present the friendship was all-satisfying. Isabella Thorpe is one of those females not unfrequently met with in Jane Austen’s novels, who combine an empty head and agreeable manners with a clear view of personal advantage. Some of them succeed, some fail in their object, which is to get a husband and a position. They are in the middle distance, between the heroes and the villains, between the Darcys and the Wickhams, the Elizabeths and the Lucy Steeles. Poor Catherine was so delighted with finding a friend to sympathise with her about the Mysteries of Udolpho that she did not observe how vapid, vulgar, and self-seeking her new friend was.” 

Cornish’s book entitled Jane Austen is a literary critique written in 1913. In the chapter on Northanger Abbey, he mentions this opinion in the first paragraph!  Geesh, don’t you hate it when authors say too much too soon, and spoil the plot? Isabella Thorpe may have no notion of loving people by halves, and be a gold-digger, but I will concur with her until Austen reveals otherwise! 

Image of Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe, Northanger Abbey, (2007)Be sure to catch actress Carey Mulligan, who played Isabella Thorpe in the recent adaptation of Northanger Abbey, in the premiere of My Boy Jack, airing Sunday, April 20th at 9:00 pm on Masterpiece Classic on PBS. I admire this talented young actress, and you can read further about her career on my co-blog Jane Austen Today.  

  • *Illustration “Always arm in arm when they walk” by H.M. Brock, Northanger Abbey, Frank S. Holby, New York, (1906)
  • *Illustration by Trina Robbins & Anne Timmons, Gothic Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 14 (Graphic Novel): Northanger Abbey, Eureka Publications, (2007)
  • Cornish, Francis Warre, Jane Austen, McMillan, London (1913)

Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (2007) Movie – A Review

From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress: 

“If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.”

The new ITV/Masterpiece PBS adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey aired on PBS last night. After viewing a pensive Persuasion adaptation last week during The Complete Jane Austen, I was all fired up to be shaken out of my Jane Austen adaptation stupor with a new production of Northanger Abbey. This is a lively story of youth, inexperience, and first love played against campy Gothic fiction. How could I not be revived?

So let me begin by telling you that two filmatic productions were never at such opposite ends of the Jane Austen gene pool emotionally and spiritually. What a relief to play with Catherine Morland and the other youngsters in the shallows. Continue reading “Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (2007) Movie – A Review”

Northanger Abbey: Our Hero Henry Tilney


JJ Feild as Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey 2007

“His name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance.”

In anticipation of the premiere on Sunday of the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey presented by Masterpiece PBS, I thought it helpful to introduce the hero Henry Tinley, and highlight some of his most insightful quotes and humorous passages from the novel.

I believe that Jane Austen has created her most charming, quirky, clever, and well-spoken male character of any of her heroes in Henry Tilney. In one of her few physical descriptions of her characters of any length, we are given more than a brief introduction.

The master of the ceremonies introduced to her (Catherine Morland) a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. Chapter 3

If by some happy chance, you are reading the novel or viewing the adaptation for the first time, you have quite a treat in store for yourself. Henry is the unique voice of reason and witty humor throughout the novel. When he speaks, it is usually in conversation with our heroine Catherine Morland, and he is all about winning her respect with bright and insightful little nuggets on life philosophy or personal opinion on a variety of topics! In fact, his decided views of love, marriage, dancing, history, politics, and human nature make him quite possibly Jane Austen’s strongest male character, not only because we have no doubt of his mind, but the fact that he has absolutely no trouble expressing it.

Image of cover of Northanger Abbey DVD, BBC (1986)If you have previously read the novel, or seen the 1986 BBC adaptation starring Katharine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland and Peter Firth as Henry Tilney, you are well aware of his esteemable nature and are quite possibly already a fan. He is hands down my favorite Jane Austen hero. Why? Many of Jane Austen’s heroes have fine qualities, but in my estimation, none reach the level of Henry. For who could not fall in love with a man of such “pleasing countenance” and “lively eye”; – – who dances quite well, is passionate about expressing himself with alacrity, certitude, and acumen, and happily rescues our heroine? Who indeed?

Henry Tilney on the fair sex, marriage, and dancing:

“I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.” Ch 3

“I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.” Ch 10

“Come, shall I make you understand each other, or leave you to puzzle out an explanation as you can? No – I will be noble. I will prove myself a man, no less by the generosity of my soul than the clearness of my head. I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours.” Ch 14

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.” Ch 14

“No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.” Ch 19

“At any rate, however, I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing.” Ch 22

“The world, I believe, never saw a better woman. But it is not often that virtue can boast an interest such as this.” Ch 24

Henry Tilney on life’s pleasures, convictions, horrors, and principles:

“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement – people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.” Ch 14

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Ch 14

“It is as much as should be said of anyone. To be always firm must be to be often obstinate. When properly to relax is the trial of judgment;” Ch 16

“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 panels and tapestry?” Ch 20

“If I understand you rightly, you have formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to-Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from?”  Ch 24

“You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature. Such feelings ought to be investigated, that they may know themselves.” Ch 25

“I am come, young ladies, in a very moralizing strain, to observe that our pleasures in this world are always to be paid for, and that we often purchase them at a great disadvantage, giving ready-monied actual happiness for a draft on the future, that may not be honoured.” Ch 26

“But your mind is warped by an innate principle of general integrity, and therefore not accessible to the cool reasonings of family partiality, or a desire of revenge”. Ch 27

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland and Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey (2007)

Mark your calendars and set your watches for the premiere of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, presented by Masterpiece PBS, Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm. Starring Felicity Jones as Gothic novel influenced Catherine Morland, and J.J. Feild as her hero, and ours, Henry Tilney. Watch out for the stellar performance by Carrie Mulligan as Catherine’s flip, hip mentor, Isabella Thorpe. You can read the review An Austen Heroine with a Fertile Imagination in the Los Angeles Times, and tune in to PBS for all the horrid and romantic escapades of our heroine in the making on Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm.

Read additional posts about characters and quotes in my Northanger Abbey blog archive, including my introduction to our heroine Catherine Morland entitled Northanger Abbey: Acquisition of Higher Delight. Check out my musing on that despot General Tilney at my other co-blog, Jane Austen Today, and round out the Northanger coverage at Jane Austen’s World’s post on the likable hero & heroine Catherine Morland & Henry Tilney.

Are they all horrid?

Image of the book cover to The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction (2002)HORRID

“Dear creature! How much I am obliged to you; and when you have finished Udolpho, we will read the Italian together; and I have made out a list of ten or twelve more of the same kind for you.”

“Have you, indeed! How glad I am! What are they all?”

“I will read you their names directly; here they are, in my pocketbook. Castle of Wolfenbach, Clermont, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Those will last us some time.”

“Yes, pretty well; but are they all horrid, are you sure they are all horrid?” Isabella Thorpe & Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 6

Image of the cover of The Mysteries of Udolpho (1830)This list of Gothic novels that Isabella Thorpe has so expertly compiled and presented to our heroine Catherine Morland is the so called ‘Northanger Canon’. It consists of the the 7 novels on Isabella’s list, and two that are previously read by Catherine and Isabella during the novel; – – The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. These late 18th-century Gothic novels represent the most popularly sensational and ‘horrid’ of the genre, in Isabella’s influential opinion, and worthy of her young protege’s perusal. The complete list is as follows…

Image of the book cover of The Necromancer (2007)This renown Gothic ‘classics’ list is quite famous in the Jane Austen community. It is believed to represent Austen’s own choice of the best and darkest of the genre, her support of novel reading in general, and an ironic warning of their influence by parodying them in her novel Northanger Abbey. In the post Sublime Anxiety: The Northanger Canon, at Old Grey Pony, you will be interested to learn further about the Gothic canon, and Jane Austen’s interest in them.

Austen herself enjoyed Gothic fiction, especially the work of Ann Radcliffe, but she feared that the excessive romanticism and melodrama of the books incited impressionable girls to ape the manners, coquetry and faux sentimentality of a Gothic heroine, in search of the exciting adventures they found on the page. Seeking the danger and intrigue of a novel in their everyday lives could not but breed insincerity and vanity, and in Northanger, she gives us the portrait of just such a girl in Isabella Thorpe.

Image of the book cover of Clermont, a Tale (2005)This is so insightful. I have often felt that Isabella Thorpe and her brother John are portrayed a bit out of step with proper social behaviour of the time in Northanger Abbey. Isabella is so animated in her dialogue, with her endearments and euphemisms such as “psha nonsense“, “my sweet love“, and “my dear creature“. This was Jane Austen’s way by example of showing gentle readers the affects of what ‘too’ much horrid Gothic can be on a young girl’s impressionable mind! Hah!

Image of the book cover of The Midnight Bell (2007)If you are curious as I am about how these Gothic novels influenced Jane Austen’s writing of Northanger Abbey, you will be interested to know that the good people at Mollands will be having  group read of The Midnight Bell, by Francis Lathom, starting in mid January. You can read about the book and the group read at this post on Austenblog. Check back there for an update on the start date. It is surely to be a lively and horrid discussion, so please join it!


*Image of the front cover of the Cambridge Campanion to Gothic Fiction, edited by Jerrold E. Hogle, published by Cambridge Univeristy Press, (2002)   

Much admired

Illustration by A. Wallis Mills, Northanger Abbey, 1908ADMIRED 

“Here come my dear girls,” cried Mrs. Thorpe, pointing at three smart-looking females who, arm in arm, were then moving towards her. “My dear Mrs. Allen, I long to introduce them; they will be so delighted to see you: the tallest is Isabella, my eldest; is not she a fine young woman? The others are very much admired too, but I believe Isabella is the handsomest.” Mrs. Thorpe, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 4

By Mrs. Thorpe’s boastful remarks, Jane Austen illustrates an important aspect of Regency society; – – the promotion of eligible daughters. If one looks at the energy that some of the Austen matrons like Mrs. Bennet from Pride & Prejudice, Mrs. Jennings from Sense & Sensibility, or Mrs. Allen from Northanger Abbey put into the furtherance of their ‘charge’s’ social position, one feels the fearful sense of urgency to find an appropriate match for them.

Once a young lady was formally introduced into society, she basically had three social seasons to attract and secure a husband before she was pushed aside by the next wave of new faces. The pressure to be admired and desired by eligible bachelors was intense. If a suitable husband was not engaged, she could be dismissed by society; – –  an embarrassment and financial burden to her family.

Today, women feel the pressure of their ticking biological clocks. In the Regency era, it was the press of younger women eager to take their place at the ball. 

Learn why author and Austen scholar Deirdre le Faye believes that modern readers need a thorough explanation of Austen’s milieu-Georgian and Regency Britain-in order to fully understand and enjoy her fiction, in her texturally enlightening  Jane Austen: The Real World of the Novels  available at barnesandnoble.com

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