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Northanger Abbey’s Form

Victoria Elliott | Wednesday May 16, 2012


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The Difference Between Parody and Satire

Satire is a genre, which mocks vices and follies with the intent of making a social point, and improving its target by shaming people into changing. A parody is an imitation of a specific work or type of work, with satirical or ironic intent, but aimed at the art form or text type which it imitates. Northanger Abbey is both a parody (of Gothic texts in general and The Mysteries of Udolpho in particular) and a satire (on gentle society, on readers and on young romances).

Austen uses a particularly direct form of address in Northanger Abbey, with a knowing wink towards the reader. There is a clear acknowledgement throughout that this is a novel – the ironic discussion of Catherine’s suitability as a heroine begins it, and this is carried through to the end of the book, as Austen tells us the unromantic reason for Henry’s attachment to Catherine – namely, she liked him first – which is ‘dreadfully derogatory of a heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.’ In the last page of the novel she refers to it as a ‘fable.’ This open acknowledgment of the fictional nature of the work is mirrored by the discussion of books and readers, particularly between Henry and Catherine, which Austen uses to defend novels and novel readers. She also mocks, however, the expectations of Catherine, who uses her reading as a preparation for life, but discovers that real life is neither so exciting, nor so dramatic as fiction. Hence the much more prosaic danger she faces of travelling across country on the post, un-chaperoned.

The book itself is structured in two halves – the original two volumes of the novel. The first half is the Bath half, which is a more conventional social satire, dealing with Isabella and her flirtation, the...

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