Like other Jane Austen novels, such as Emma or Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey’s primary trajectory is the development of the main female character. Even though Catherine Morland is not a typical female Bildungsroman, her realizations in who she is and who she is becoming are very evident throughout the novel. Webster’s Dictionary defines the Bildungsroman as “a novel which traces the spiritual, moral, psychological, or social development and growth of the main character towards maturity.” In this novel, the main developments of Catherine being traced are the social, psychological, emotional, and intellectual, in addition to her growth as a fully functional lady of society. This paper will focus on Catherine Morland fitting the mold of the female Bildungsroman by way of how she learns, what she learns, and how she matures and grows wiser in the actions of people and society.
In Chapter I of the novel, Catherine is stereotyped as a person who “never could learn or understand anything before she was taught.” This helps to paint a picture of Catherine being helpless and dependent for extended emphasis or exaggeration of the trials she must go through to reach maturity and independence. For if Catherine learns through the guidance and teaching of others, her gullibility in what she is taught is heightened, therefore she may be susceptible to believe everything that she hears or reads. She takes everyone and everything at face value. Catherine must learn to correct these assumptions by distinguishing between the real world and the fictional world of literature, and also by learning through experience the difficulties of ordinary life.
Catherine’s imagination is the culprit for her downfall in separating reality from fiction. Upon her invitation to Northanger Abbey, thoughts of “long, damp passages, narrow cells, ruined chapel,…and some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun” are clouding up Catherine’s mind (16). These images are only heightened by Henry Tilney’s description of what Catherine should expect upon arrival to the Abbey: mysterious chests, violent storms, and hidden passages. Yet after arriving Catherine finds disappointment, for the Abbey is very modern. When sleeping her first night at the Abbey, Catherine discovers pap...
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...onversations on literature that she had with Henry Tilney; emotional and psychological growth in her realizations of who she is and how people truly are; and social growth in the fact that she was able to stand up for herself and make her own decisions in what she wanted to do and who she befriended. Catherine has learned through experience and has matured and grown wiser, because of the stimulus in the town of Bath. Even though she is not the typical female Bildungsroman, Catherine has grown in every aspect of her life, thereby making this novel indeed a Bildungsroman.
Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1996.
Castellanos, Gabriela. Laughter, War, and Feminism: Elements of Carnival in Three of Jane Austen’s Novels. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 1994.
Ellis, Lorna. Appearing to Diminish: Female Development and the British Bildungsroman 1750-1850. London: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1999.
Galperin, William H. The Historical Austen. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
Kirkham, Margaret. Jane Austen, Feminism, and Fiction. London: Short Run Press Ltd, Exeter, 1997.
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