Presentation Title

The Material Gothic and Aesthetic Female in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

Location

Room 2904 A

Session Format

Paper Presentation

Research Area Topic:

Humanities & Social Sciences - Literature & Philosophy

Co-Presenters, Co- Authors, Co-Researchers, Mentors, or Faculty Advisors

Mentor: Dr. Diana Edelman-Young

Abstract

The romantic gothic novel was ripe for parody and criticism upon Northanger Abbey’s publication in 1817. Austen masterfully satirizes the poor melodrama, fantastic events, and unrealistic notions that surrounded the gothic genre and novels in general during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. However, the author does not turn a blind eye to the complexities surrounding the assumed silly genre. Criticism surrounding the Gothic aspects of Austen’s deceptively simple parody prove Northanger Abbey to be a rich exploration of the differences within the Gothic genre and the problematic materialism surrounding the Gothic. Although the critical discussion thoroughly examines the interplay of the aesthetic Gothic and the commercial Gothic on female readers, it does not address its effect on the female imagination. The critics fail to draw the parallels between the Gothic genre and women in their relation to the material and economic. Like the Gothic genre, women were seen as intellectually inferior, existing only as economic beings. The Gothic as a commodity mirrors the woman as a marriageable commodity. Yet nineteenth century women were also idealized and often educated to be wholesome, emotional beings unconcerned with the material. I propose that Austen’s uses parody of the Gothic novel and its complex relationship to the material and aesthetic as a mirror to reflect women’s own complex relationship within the economic and aesthetic.

Austen’s Northanger Abbey proves to be an exemplary dissection of the complex relationship between the gothic genre, women, and materialism. The author’s attitudes towards 19th century gothicists like Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis demonstrate how Austen recognized a difference between sensational horror and aesthetic gothic. Likewise, Austen saw the negative effects of the material on the genre, demonstrating by linking materialistic characters with sensation horror and positive characters with aesthetic works. The differences within female readership also demonstrate the positive and negative effects of materialism on women themselves. Austen development of Catherine especially shows the complexities of both the genre and women as economic beings as they experience the material as both a venue for expression and a disturbance to aesthetic pursuits. Catherine’s final submission to the economic realities around her seems like a defeat until paired with the romantic events that follow which coincide with the gothic aesthetic. The close of Northanger Abbey seems ambiguous in its attitudes toward the feminine aesthetic, yet Catherine’s continual search for the gothic aesthetic combined with a healthy adherence to the material world culminate in success. Austen uses Catherine to demonstrate how feminine pursuits of the aesthetic, including the novel, are possible and provide positive effects on the environment around them.

Keywords

Aesthetic female, Material gothic, Economic relationships

Presentation Type and Release Option

Presentation (Open Access)

Start Date

4-24-2015 1:30 PM

End Date

4-24-2015 2:30 PM

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Apr 24th, 1:30 PM Apr 24th, 2:30 PM

The Material Gothic and Aesthetic Female in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

Room 2904 A

The romantic gothic novel was ripe for parody and criticism upon Northanger Abbey’s publication in 1817. Austen masterfully satirizes the poor melodrama, fantastic events, and unrealistic notions that surrounded the gothic genre and novels in general during the eighteenth and nineteenth century. However, the author does not turn a blind eye to the complexities surrounding the assumed silly genre. Criticism surrounding the Gothic aspects of Austen’s deceptively simple parody prove Northanger Abbey to be a rich exploration of the differences within the Gothic genre and the problematic materialism surrounding the Gothic. Although the critical discussion thoroughly examines the interplay of the aesthetic Gothic and the commercial Gothic on female readers, it does not address its effect on the female imagination. The critics fail to draw the parallels between the Gothic genre and women in their relation to the material and economic. Like the Gothic genre, women were seen as intellectually inferior, existing only as economic beings. The Gothic as a commodity mirrors the woman as a marriageable commodity. Yet nineteenth century women were also idealized and often educated to be wholesome, emotional beings unconcerned with the material. I propose that Austen’s uses parody of the Gothic novel and its complex relationship to the material and aesthetic as a mirror to reflect women’s own complex relationship within the economic and aesthetic.

Austen’s Northanger Abbey proves to be an exemplary dissection of the complex relationship between the gothic genre, women, and materialism. The author’s attitudes towards 19th century gothicists like Ann Radcliffe and Matthew Lewis demonstrate how Austen recognized a difference between sensational horror and aesthetic gothic. Likewise, Austen saw the negative effects of the material on the genre, demonstrating by linking materialistic characters with sensation horror and positive characters with aesthetic works. The differences within female readership also demonstrate the positive and negative effects of materialism on women themselves. Austen development of Catherine especially shows the complexities of both the genre and women as economic beings as they experience the material as both a venue for expression and a disturbance to aesthetic pursuits. Catherine’s final submission to the economic realities around her seems like a defeat until paired with the romantic events that follow which coincide with the gothic aesthetic. The close of Northanger Abbey seems ambiguous in its attitudes toward the feminine aesthetic, yet Catherine’s continual search for the gothic aesthetic combined with a healthy adherence to the material world culminate in success. Austen uses Catherine to demonstrate how feminine pursuits of the aesthetic, including the novel, are possible and provide positive effects on the environment around them.