Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey: Ch. 1

[+] | [-] | reset

Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-inw and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or at least books of information—for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must readd to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.

From Popeh, she learnt to censure those who

   "bear about the mockery of woe."

From Grayh, that

   "Many a flower is born to blush unseen,
   "And waste its fragrance on the desert air."

From Thompsonh, that—

   "It is a delightful task
   "To teach the young idea how to shoot."

And from Shakespeareh she gained a great store of information—amongst the rest, that—

   "Trifles light as air,
   "Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong,
   "As proofs of Holy Writ."


   "The poor beetle, which we tread upon,
   "In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
   "As when a giant dies."

And that a young woman in love always looks—

   "like Patience on a monument
   "Smiling at Grief."

So far her improvement was sufficient—and in many other points she came on exceedingly well; for though she could not write sonnets, she brought herself to read them; and though there seemed no chance of her throwing a whole party into raptures by a prelude on the pianofortew, of her own composition, she could listen to other people's performance with very little fatigueh. Her greatest deficiency was in the pencil—she had no notion of drawing—not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover's profile, that she might be detected in the design. There she fell miserably short of the true heroic height. At present she did not know her own poverty, for she had no lover to portray. She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibilityw, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transientw. This was strange indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no—not even a baronetw. There was not one family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door—not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had no ward, and the squire of the parish no children.h

But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.

Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property about Fullerton, the village in Wiltshireh where the Morlands lived, was ordered to Bath for the benefit of a gouty constitutionw—and his lady, a good-humoured woman, fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware that if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad, invited her to go with them. Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness.

X [w] lying-in


X [d] she read all such works as heroines must read

Writing & Reading

This could describe Jane Austen's own adolescence. She had the run of her clergyman father's 500-volume library and could read such ribald and even risque works as Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling(1749). Both had generally easygoing mothers (Jane's less so), and both came from quite large, affable families.

X [h] Pope

Writing & Reading

The great earlier 18th-c. poet, acerbic wit, and quotable epigrammist who wrote The Dunciad, "The Rape of the Lock," An Essay on Man, and much other influential poetry. Catherine isolates a quotation that suggests she has in addition to her self-contrived woe the familiar adolescent burden of not being taken seriously. 

X [h] Gray

Writing & Reading

Thomas Gray's stately, serene "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" (1751) is among the most famous of English poems and has supplied the titles for a number of novels, such as Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd and Cobb's Paths of Glory, better known as a movie.

The poem's opening line, "The curfew tolls the knell of parting day," uses lengthened vowels and soft consonants, such as the liquid "l's," to lend a hushed, meditative quality. 

X [h] Thompson

Writing & Reading

R. W. Chapman does not note the misspelling, which should be Thomson. James Thomson, a Scottish poet of the first half of the 18th c., was one of the age's most influential writers, admired especially for the accuracy of his observation of nature and his depth of feeling for its sanctity and mystery. (He also wrote Rule, Britannia.)…

(read more)

X [h] Shakespeare

Writing & Reading

As with the quotation from Pope, Catherine has chosen these from Shakespeare to try to show that she's hyper-sensitive and harbors beneath her ordinary exterior a pulsating emotional life.

X [w] pianoforte


A pianoforte (often with an accent on the "é") is the forerunner to the modern piano and not synonymous with a spinet.

The pianoforte has a significant role in Austen, either as the instrument of accomplished musicians such as Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility or Jane Fairfax in Emma. (Search.)

X [h] with very little fatigue

Writing & Reading

Illustrates the literary device known as understatement (litotes), a standard in every comic's armory. The first part of the sentence prepares us to expect that the last will be something like "with very great enthusiasm or passion or pleasure."

Austen is also mocking the expectations burdening young women and the exaggeration by parents and would-be lovers of their accomplishments. Catherine's ability at drawing is surely more typical than not.

X [w] sensibility


Here awareness, especially emotional awareness, but a complex word, as in Sense and Sensibility. (Search.) 

X [w] transient


X [w] baronet


Baronets, addressed as Sir rather than lord, did not belong to the peerage (prince, duke marquess, earl, baron) but were one step above a knight, beneath whom was the esquire or gentleman.

Being titled thrills Sir William Lucas, a knight, in P&P, and is the sole food of the appalling snob, Sir Walter Elliot, a baronet in Persuasion.

X [h] not one young man whose origin was unknown. H…

Writing & Reading

Formulaic Gothic. A child of unknown origins would be a precursor to Heathcliff. Were her father to have a ward—the child of a dead relative or friend—there might be a romantic prospect, as develops between Heathcliff and Cathy. The squire has been unhelpful in remaining childless. She doesn't entertain a romantic relationship with a man beneath her socially.

X [h] Fullerton, the village in Wiltshire


Fictional places.

X [w] gouty constitution


Suffering from the gout. A painful disease that often settled in the feet, especially the toes, and was associated with rich foods and abundant drink.