Critics as well as the characters in the novel Northanger Abbey have noticed Catherine Morland's artlessness, and commented upon it. In this essay I have chosen to utilise the names given to Catherine's unworldliness by A. Walton Litz in Jane Austen: a Study of her Artistic Development, and Christopher Gillie in A Preface to Jane Austen. Litz refers to "what the eighteenth century would have called the sympathetic imagination, that faculty which promotes benevolence and generosity" (Litz, p. 67). Gillie calls this same quality "candour", and states the importance of it to Jane Austen herself, gleaning a definition of it from one of Austen's own prayers:
Incline us, oh God! to think humbly of ourselves, to be severe only in the examination of our own conduct, to consider our fellow-creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity which we would desire from them ourselves (cited in Gillie, p. 22).
Both critics recognise that Catherine's possession of this quality is problematic; it is desirable, but it must also be regulated if a heroine is not to be frequently duped by the harsh world. Both Gillie and Litz also acknowledge that an investigation of this enigma is at the heart of all Jane Austen's work.
I believe that the exploration of this fundamental conundrum is at the core of Northanger Abbey, and that this should be so dismisses the claims of those who believe that the lessons Catherine learns in the Gothic section of the novel are thematically most important. I maintain that Northanger Abbey is not merely a curiosity, a burlesque of the Gothic style, a remnant which looks back to the parodic style of much of the juvenilia....
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For instance, Marvin Mudrick, Jane Austen: Irony as Defence and Discovery, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952).
Peter L. De Rose and S. W. McGuire, A Concordance to the Works of Jane Austen, (New York: Garland Publishing, 1982).
Northanger Abbey, p. 56.
Northanger Abbey, p. 18, and Northanger Abbey, p. 206.
Northanger Abbey uses "artless" three times in two volumes; Emma uses "artless" four times in three volumes. [
J. F. Burrows, Computation into Criticism: a Study of Jane Austen's Novels and an experiment in Method, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1987).
See Northanger Abbey, pp. 22-23.
See Northanger Abbey, p. 92, pp. 110-112. [Back] See Northanger Abbey, p. 30.
"That a young lady should be in love, and the love of the young man undeclared, is an heterodoxy which prudence, and even policy, must not allow" (Johnson's Collected Works, V. 168).
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