The excesses, stereotypes, and frequent absurdities of the traditional Gothic made it rich territory for satire.The most famous Parody of the Gothic is Jane Austen's novel ‘Northanger Abbey’ (1818) in which the naive protagonist, after reading too much Gothic fiction, conceives herself a heroine of a Radcliffian romance and imagines murder and villainy on every side, though the truth turns out to be much more prosaic.
Plot of Northanger Abbey
Austen’s ‘Northanger Abbey’ is the coming-of-age story of the naïve, highly impressionable protagonist, Catherine Morland.
Catherine visits Bath with her family’s friends, the Allens. While there, Catherine is introduced to the duplicitous Isabella Thorpe, but also to the kind-hearted, sensible Tilney siblings, Eleanor and Henry. Catherine is immediately attracted to Henry, who engages her in conversation, and gently mocks her, about her (Gothic) reading habits.
After some time, Catherine learns of Isabella’s manipulation of her brother, James Morland (Isabella has courted James, accepted his engagement, and then jilted him for Captain Frederick Tilney), and she decides to leave Isabella, and Bath, and accompany Eleanor and Henry to their home, Northanger Abbey.
Catherine imagines Northanger Abbey and its inhabitants as enacting her beloved Gothic scripts. Eventually, Henry learns of her Gothic imaginings and chastises her for them.
Shortly after, Catherine is dismissed from the Abbey, by Henry’s father, General Tilney, because he learns that Catherine does not have a family fortune and so she would be a “poor” match for his son. Ultimately, Catherine and Henry reconcile and, despite General Tilney’s disapproval of their union.
Women and Novel Reading
It is inevitably necessary that women should read novels notwithstanding what has been said by professed moralists on that subject.
The epistolary machinations in ‘Northanger Abbey’ are subtle but nonetheless question the ability of letters to reveal their authors’ characters and expose their potential for deceit at the expense of women.In essence, Female Gothic novels expose societal gender inequalities. Northanger Abbey evokes and plays with gothic tropes and conventions, and it alludes to other gothic novels.
Miriam Rheingold Fuller asserts that Northanger Abbey represents a particular brand of the Female Gothic, that is the “Domestic Gothic,” the purpose of which “is to underscore the realistic, but seemingly innocuous, dangers and misfortunes that beset Catherine and Eleanor” whether they be social, financial, or sexual.
Parodying the Gothic Villain
John Thorpe and General Tilney share the characteristic features of the Villain, commonly represented in Gothic fiction.
Instead of using just one villain, the author uses in 'Northanger Abbey' the figures of two characters that fit in the role of bad characters.
John Thorpe and General Tilney are interested in Catherine Morland because both believe that she is a rich woman. But their interest disappears when they discover that it is not true.
John boasts about Catherine’s wealth with Mr. Tilney in order to show that his acquaintances are usually very distinguished.