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Northanger Abbey’s Language

Victoria Elliott | Wednesday May 16, 2012

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Overview | Context | Form
Characters | Themes | Setting | Language

Austen is well known for her mastery of free indirect discourse, her omniscient third person narration and her heavy use of irony. Northanger Abbey demonstrates all of these things, but is evidently the work of a less experienced author, despite its posthumous publication date. This is partly seen in the more intrusive authorial voice, and the clear acknowledgment of the fictional nature of the ‘fable’. Northanger Abbey is also the most intentionally humorous of her works, and its form as a parody reflects more closely the works of her juvenilia.

Free indirect discourse is evident throughout the book, particularly in Catherine’s voice, in order to capture the contrast between what we, and the author, know, and what she does. Catherine’s thoughts, potentially spoken aloud, are interwoven with passages which contain both her thoughts and Austen’s commentary on them. It is particularly noticeable in the Gothic sections where Catherine is exploring various items of furniture (the blanket chest and the Japan cupboard). This enables the full exploration of the humorous potential for the reader of Catherine’s imaginative flights of fancy, and also reveals her real good nature. She is also very honest with herself, which is a further means of endearing her to us, given that she is not the most likely heroine.

AQA LITA3: Love through the Ages

  • Reflects the rise of the romantic novel (both in subject and in its existence).
  • Young women readers can be seen to have been highly influenced by the thematic aspects of these novels in their own expectations of life – the contrast between the conventions of novels and real life (e.g. Catherine’s character and the ‘romance’ between her and Henry) indicates the folly of expecting life to be like a novel.
  • Late 18th/ Early 19th thoughts relating to marriage and love – love is important but so is...

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