Life without “curiosity or terror” in Northanger Abbey

Through her narrative order and satirical imagery in Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen teaches readers how to become one with reality, as her main character contemplates the “natural evil” of human beings— no longer enthralled in imagination. This lesson for readers of the eighteenth century is meant to stop “Curiosity or terror” (156) of the Gothic novel that Catherine enjoys from taking them away from the real-life challenges they face.


Jane Austen’s narrative order and satirical imagery involve a lot of free indirect discourse throughout the novel between problems Catherine faces, which permits readers to take part in her journey —both emotionally and mentally. When Catherine finds out she must leave Northanger Abbey, she becomes lost and fears losing Henry and Eleanor. The thoughts told by Austen like, Catherine losing every “expectation” (156) from Henry, are not directly Catherine’s or the readers’ thoughts. However, they guide both to reality because they can actually happen unlike the imaginary Gothic situations that cannot happen. Catherine must wonder why General Tilney wants “her gone” (156) before his arrival, but this excerpt shows that she has no access to the thought. It is another indirect thought put forth by Austen for readers to determine who is thinking that. She forces the reader to think it by putting it out there without connecting it to someone, but connecting it to realism instead. Then, Austen uses a rhetorical question, asking indirectly “what could all this mean.” She answers “but an intentional affront” (156). Again, this is not Catherine’s direct thought or anyone else’s thought. This is what Catherine and readers of the novel should be thinking. Austen’s idea of reality highlights the importance of knowing what to expect after asking questions and knowing your worth, while the Gothic novel taught Catherine the opposite— to basically expect terror in every step she takes. After the free indirect discourse, Catherine’s thoughts come in to show readers how much she has changed. She believes it impossible for “any injury or any misfortune” to “provoke such ill-will against a person” (156) not involved with it. She becomes much more practical. She understands that it is only an “affront” (156) against her because she did nothing.

Austen’s free indirect discourse also comes in a form of satirical imagery. When she describes the “manner” in which General Tilney wants her to leave as “grossly uncivil” (156), the reader imagines him hurrying her, a 17 year old “away” (156) on her own. Austen then adds the time it would take her to get home, a travel of “two days” (156), which makes readers feel the effect of General Tilney’s “grossly uncivil” manners even more (156). Catherine faces reality for the first time, thinking it not possible for any “misfortune” to “provoke such ill-will against a person not connected” to it (156). Thus, the image of a young girl by herself for two days is very much a Gothic image. Austen satirizes the image using Catherine’s new thoughts and Catherine is no longer expecting terror, but “contemplating” the “natural evil” caused by a human being (156). The outside is no longer disturbing her “imagination” (156) and tormenting her. The “darkness” and “sudden noises” are no longer scaring her, but rather it’s the inside that is (156). The heroine and the readers now see the real “darkness” as “the natural evil” and the “sudden noises” as Catherine’s “contemplation” of it (156). This imagery allows readers and the heroine to become one with reality as their understanding of real life circumstances grow.

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