Austen's Northanger Abbey and Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner

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The Uncanny Works of Austen's Northanger Abbey and Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner

In order to discuss the literature of the uncanny we must first be able to define "uncanny", and trying to grasp a firm understanding of the term "uncanny" is problematic; since as accepted reference works such as the Oxford English Dictionary filter down into popular culture the meaning subtly alters, or becomes drawn towards only one aspect of what was originally a much broader definition. To illustrate this, the Oxford Complete Wordfinder, Reader's Digest (1999), defines: "uncanny adj. seemingly supernatural; mysterious * see EERIE" and my word-processor contributes:

meanings for "uncanny" : weird; "Of a mysteriously strange and usually frightening nature" (Word 2002 Thesaurus, allegedly adapted from the Oxford Thesaurus and Roget's 2nd: The New Thesaurus.)

The OED, the source from which both of these definitions ultimately are derived, takes its associations somewhat further, and there are decided connotations of the perilous and mystic:

"mischievous, malicious ... not to be trusted ... associated with supernatural arts or powers ... dangerous, unsafe" (lecture handout notes), but even considering this it is difficult to come to a decisive, all-encompassing definition of what constitutes 'uncanny literature', because to be concerned with the unknown, the subject matter must by its very nature be imprecise. What is suggested becomes far more important than what is actually said. An excellent illustration of this is the work of that master of cosmic otherworldliness, H.P. Lovecraft. (Typical extract from an e-text of his short story, The Outsider: "I beheld in full, frightful vividness the inconceivable, indescribab...

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...ssible engagement with the text, it is also an invited one, because a great deal of the value of the text lies in presenting an unsettling and subtle variation upon a known theme or situation. Mastery of the literary genre depends upon a clear knowledge not only of recurrent themes and styles of the form (which exist to be perpetuated in continually evolving manner, much more so than in other genres), but of human nature and the psychological triggers which create in readers a spirit of curiosity. One might think that such a device was inherent to any form of writing of any quality, and whilst this is true, there is a much more marked difference between formulaic uncanny and gothic fiction than that of other genres.

Works Cited

Confessions of a Justified Sinner, James Hogg, Everyman, 1998.

Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen, Oxford World's Classics, 1998.

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