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Anger in the Abbey: Northanger Abbey

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The Gothic aura attached to the name ‘Northanger Abbey’ — at least for Catherine Morland — is soon dissolved. She first hears the name in what was originally published as the second volume (ch. 17) when she is invited there by General Tilney (important to note, since it is he — the father — who finally ejects her, a very gross transgression of hospitality and emanating from the patriarchal centre of power). That invitation allows Jane Austen to tease Catherine’s unexpressed rhetoric of internal excitement and desire in a way which seems central to the intention of the book. ‘Northanger Abbey: — These were thrilling words and wound up Catherine’s feelings to the highest point of ecstasy. Her grateful and gratified heart could hardly restrain its expressions within the language of tolerable calmness.’ A ‘language of tolerable calmness’ is no bad phrase for what Jane Austen worked for. (What is ‘tolerable’? Should one always remain totally ‘calm’?). ‘Abbey’ — we have to remember the quite significantly calibrated notions of domicile that were clearly operative in those times. Thus Catherine after her invitation to the Abbey: ‘With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant.’

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© 1986 Tony Tanner

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Tanner, T. (1986). Anger in the Abbey: Northanger Abbey. In: Jane Austen. Palgrave, London.

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