Jane Austen was born in 1775 in a small village of Stevenson in Hampshire. She was the seventh of eight children and was educated mostly at home. She enjoyed the countryside which is reflected in many of her novels, including Northanger Abbey. Austen was one of the earliest British female novelists and became one of the most well known of her time. Her novels were, and are still, popular for their wit and satirical look at upper- class society in England. Her novels has a descriptive style, often with intrusive narrative and ironic tone.
She wrote for arts sake and without the interference of politics and movements of the time. Her characters were ordinary and the language reflected that of everyday life. Jane Austen's uneventful life led to her pessimistic view of middle-class society and the cynicism seen in her novels. She wrote in a time of political turmoil, in the early 1800's the Napoleonic wares were making some monarchs nervous and as a result some censorship of literature occurred. Austen's books were aimed at women as women were the only people who were socially allowed to read novels. Austen's books were considered pure entertainment with no thought to politics or important issues.
However, they would not be read by all women, as at the time the middle-class women were generally the only women who had sufficient education to read and understand novels. Middle-class women would also have the money to afford books and the leisure time to read them. In terms of literature, Austen wrote in the period, described as 'Romantic Agony.' The Romantic period of literature occurred from the 1730's to the 1830's. Although many say her plots were too involved with society and human interaction to be part of the Romantic genre. Her novels, although important in the history of British fiction cannot be classified in any particular literary movement.
Her books were considered aimed at women for entertainment purposes with no real thought to politics or reality. It was in this Romantic period that Northanger Abbey was written. It is a playful, short novel and was one of Austen first works. It was written in 1798 but was not published until 1818. In the novel, Austen uses parody to portray a humorous version of a gothic novel. She mocks the improbable plots and characters of typical gothic novels.
The novel explores the social downfalls of people. She looks at the literature of the time and compares it to real life showing where the novels fault. Northanger Abbey developed into a book on Austen's favourite theme, a young woman learning the complexities of adult social life. The young woman is Catherine Moorland, who comes from the comfortable family of a village clergyman.
Catherine is, like Austens usual characters, a ordinary girl. 'Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl, she is almost pretty. ' This shows she is not a beautiful women, she is just ordinary. This makes her quest to be a heroine more of a challenge. Catherine is invited to Bath by her wealthy friends, Mr. and Mrs.
Allen. In Bath she meets Isabella Thorpe. Isabella is a beautiful girl 'the handsomest' who Catherine likes immediately. Isabella is encourages Catherine's interest in romantic fantasies and fictions.
After Isabella is engaged to James Moorland (Catherine's brother), she tries to start a romance between Catherine and her brother, John Thorpe ' her [Catherine] judgement was further brought off by Isabella assuring her', although Catherine would prefer Henry Tilney, the son of General Tilney of Northanger Abbey. Under the impression (encouraged by John Thorpe) that Catherine is wealthy, General Tilney invites her to stay at Northanger Abbey. At the Abbey Catherine's imagination runs wild: she becomes convinced that General Tilney had murdered his late wife and that Northanger Abbey is like the setting of a gothic novel. John Thorpe tells the General that Catherine is totally without wealth and has deceived the him so General Tilney returns suddenly from London and orders her to leave the abbey, she is humiliated. Meanwhile, Henry Tilney's brother, Captain Tilney, has flirted with Isabella Thorpe and caused her to break off her engagement to James Morland. But Captain Tilney is not taken in by Isabella, and she is left without a husband.
Eleanor Tilney's marriage to a viscount and the discovery that Catherine will have a reasonable income calm the Generals anger and then Henry explains the misunderstanding to Catherine's family, so in the end the marriage both Catherine and Henry have desired finally takes place. There are three main settings in Northanger Abbey: Fullerton, Bath and Northanger Abbey itself. They all have an influence in someway on the characters and events of the book. Fullerton is the starting point of the novel and of the main character, Catherine Moorland. 'Fullerton, the village in Wiltshire where the Morland lived' is the only information about the location of the village we are told.
Despite it being the starting setting it is the setting we learn the least about. It is a fictitious village were Catherine grew up with her family. Fullerton is a dull, very small place which Catherine doesn't find exciting and clearly neither do the Allen's as they spend much time away from Fullerton, in Bath. Mrs Allen can identify that 'adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village.
She must seek them abroad'. This seems to be particularly true in Fullerton, as there are no boys or people of Catherine's age and class around. This makes Catherine naive as she has no experience of friends and the opposite sex 'There was not a family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a boy... not one young man whose origin was unknown'.
It is the lack of experiences available in Fullerton that leads to Catherine's trip to Bath. If the dullness of Fullerton did not leave Catherine wanting more excitement then there would be no need to go to Bath in search of it. It is due to Fullerton that all the following events of the book take place. It is a setting, possibly only created to get the story going and to give reason for the following events.
Catherine is clearly very aware of the countryside of Fullerton, she has knowledge of farmyards as 'drawing of trees, hens and chickens' implies she watches these creatures and is very homely. She seems unaware of what is going on in the world outside of Fullerton. This makes her naive and gullible, leading to her need time to adjust to new ways of life in places such as Bath and Northanger Abbey. Fullerton also affects Catherine's character in that she is constricted to mingling with just one or two other families in the village due to the class system and prejudices of the period. This means she is a very sheltered person and trusts people who should perhaps not be trusted such as Isabella Thorpe. Having only mixed with such few people she is incapable of recognising bad in people and is very naive.
People such as the Tilneys who have travelled and mixed in social places are not fooled by people as Catherine is, this is shown went they are not deceived by Isabella. Another major affect the restricted life of Fullerton has on Catherine is her naivety towards the advances of men. She is unable to tell when she is falling in love with Henry Tilney and does not recognise the romantic advances of John Thorpe. She believes John is just polite and friendly, however if she had been brought up in a more social society she would have been able to recognise his intentions. Bath is the setting we a shown next, it is a real place unlike Fullerton. In times in which 'Northanger Abbey' is set people went to Bath mainly for social interaction and sometimes for health reasons.
, water from Bath was believed to cure gout. People went to gain acquaintances and to show off. Catherine, like most who visited, goes to Bath in search of adventure, there are a lot more people in Bath than in Fullerton 'the season was full, the room crowded'. Unlike Fullerton Bath has no real social stability. It is an artificial resort which revolves round fashion: of dress, dance and society. The people in Bath are all strangers so it is easy to deceive people, it is this and Catherine naivety which makes it so easy for Catherine to be deceived by Isabella for so long.
If Isabella tried her scheming in Fullerton she would be found out and would have a reputation for it but in Bath Catherine is completely taken in 'felt grateful, as well she might, for the chance which had procured her such a friend'. In Bath, Catherine gains friends such as the Tilneys and the Thorpe and for the first time she becomes aquatinted with men her own age. Bath clearly has a great influence on the book as it where Catherine meets the man she will go on to marry. Bath also reveals a lot about the social life of the time. We see that at the balls when a women dances with a man they are bound for the night and it is not acceptable to dance with many different partners.
Catherine for example was 'engaged for the whole evening' when she went to the ball. Bath, as a setting, is very influential on the characters there. Particularly Catherine as she is influenced in that it is due to the lifestyle of Bath that she matures and loses some of her innocence and naivety. When she first arrives in Bath she 'had too much good nature to make and opposition'' and accepted Bath and the behaviour of the characters there however after time she began to realise that some people were not as nice as she believed and she grew to become aware that not everyone had honourable intentions. The reader can clearly see which characters and trustworthy and which are not much more quickly than any of the character realise.
This is shown when Catherine believes John Thorpe to be honourable but the reader can see clearly that he is not. The plot and the characters are developed in Bath and Catherine's friendship with the Tilneys leads her on the next setting of the book, Northanger Abbey. Northanger Abbey is the home of General Tilney and despite being the title is not really a central place for the book. Catherine is invited to stay and she travels there with Henry. There is a difference between the Abbey as Catherine's sees it, through the eyes of a gothic book lover, and how it really is. On the way to Northanger Abbey, Henry, who knows of Catherine's wild imagination makes the story which he tells to Catherine, appeal to her fanciful imagination as much as he can.
Though Catherine does not take this in the sarcastic way it is said and she doesn't learn from the mistakes she makes regarding the contents of the antique chest and of the cabinet in her apartment. Although the house was 'far from uncheerful' while she is there Catherine is determined to find a dark mystery. Although she is eventually put right on all parts 'My mothers illness... was sudden...
from our own observation we can bear witness to her having received every possible attention which could spring from the affection of those about horror which her situation in life could command' and she finally can see it was all her own invention and is in no way the reality of Northanger Abbey, or its civilised owners 'with tears of shame she ran off to her own room.' She gained her wild imagination from reading books such as ' The Mysteries of Udolpho' which was a gothic novel, exactly the type Austen was mocking. This experience matures Catherine greatly, she learns that life is not like it is in books and that people aren't always what they seem. This may have come in handy for her while she was in Bath with the likes of Isabella. Her ignorance here reflects back to her sheltered upbringing in Fullerton. She took Henry completely seriously in what he said on their trip and twisted events and imagined until she had made a sinister story.
If she had not grown up with everything so simple and everyone trustworthy she would be more objective at this point and would have realised Henry was not serious. Northanger Abbey also draws Henry and Catherine together and in the peacefulness they get to know each other, in Bath there had always been so much going on and Catherine had spent much of her time dressing, now they were somewhere here this what not necessary so they could enjoy each other company. The book concludes in Fullerton, Catherine's home town. It is a traditionally happy ending where the readers discovers the fate of the main characters. The novel ending in a quiet place is significant as it means the characters are relaxed and not acting as they would be in somewhere like Bath. Catherine and Henry marry, but this is because he finds her at her home in Fullerton.
Due to the social situation it would not have been right for Catherine to go back to see Henry. She had to wait for him to find her. All we learn in this final visit to Fullerton is that Catherine must be from a rich family as the have an 'orchard' which means they must have a comfortable house. We know the General realised this too and allowed the marriage to occur. Jane Austen's change of locations show clear stages of transition in the narrative of the book. In Fullerton, the starting point of the novel, Catherine is just a naive child.
To have an adventure she must leave her country surroundings. In Bath she finds amusement but learns of the shallowness of the world. In the quiet and comfortable setting of Northanger Abbey (once her speculation of Mrs Tilneys fate has passed) she finds friendship even though it its a small quiet place, unlike Bath where she went for excitement and friendship. It is here, in reflection, that Catherine sees the full extent of Isabella's trickery. Catherine then returns to Fullerton, were despite the dullness she finds comfort and in the end, the adventure comes to her when Henry comes to apologise and propose. So we can see that you don't need to go searching cities for adventure as it can find you anyway.
We can see that the settings reflect the events of the novel and if you analyse to book you can see Austen's views on the settings by the events and character she has placed at each one. In Fullerton we see the quiet, family life and the happy ending. It is associated with good, honest characters and turns out to be the place where the best thing happens for Catherine. The characters from Fullerton are looked at much more positively and although bad things happen to them they always pull through in the end. This is shown when James Morland if deceived by Isabella.
This shows that Austen has the view that the country villages are traditionally good places with good people. Bath is where we meet Isabella who is shallow and deceitful 'she has made me miserable forever' and basically a bad character 'what could be meant by such unsteady conduct'. This shows she is untrustworthy and unreliable. This reflects Austens views that Bath is a bad place. I think Austen has these views because she grew up in a small village (probably like Fullerton) and loved the place and then had to move to Bath which she hated.
So when she writes about these places her feeling towards them come out. She looks at Bath with a negative outlook, reflected in the unlikeable characters and she looks at Fullerton with a positive one, reflected in the happy ending that takes place there and the happy family life. She looks at life at the Abbey rather neutrally, it is the setting of Catherine realising life isn't like books. Overall the settings of Northanger Abbey create an undertone for the story.
The bad characters are associated with the city and the good characters and events are associated with the county. We can see Austen's views on the settings clearly. The settings are essentially very important as the story and characters seem to be based around them. It is interesting how the settings are so important to the story and yet in this novel we learn very little detail about them.
Everything we know is assumed from the speech and psychical information we are told. It is clear that the settings of 'Northanger Abbey' create structure for the story and it is the variety of setting that Austen chose that made the plot and the characters of 'Northanger Abbey' develop.