Students in English 477 were interested to discover that Jane Austen wrote parodies of histories and gothic novels long before she tried her hand at such milestone works of literature as Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Austen’s playful use of parody inspired the students to create their own parodies of the author and her works The History of England and Northanger Abbey. At the most recent UMF Symposium Day, several students formed a panel to discuss how they devised their parodies and also shared samples of their Austen parodies.
Austen parodists, Cidney Mayes, Lauren Breton, Alyssa Wadsworth, Megan Millette, and Zoe Estrin-Grele.
An Exploration of Parody in Northanger Abbey through Parody – Critical Introduction
Throughout time, parody has been used as a means to entertain, inspire, and intellectually stimulate all readers. For example, authors such as Austen have created works that parody the works of others, such as her re-interpretation of Oliver Goldsmith’s History of England. Austen’s parody poked fun at Goldsmith as well as at the way that he wrote through her imitation of his writing style. Since Austen used humor so effectively in both her writing style and in her exaggerations of the monarchs that she described in her version of History of England, she was able to create a piece of writing that was entertaining for her friends and family to read.
Although many might argue that the only goal of parody is to mock and entertain, these people neglect the importance of parody in an educational sense. For example, Austen was also able to make a statement about the women of history in History of England. She chose to put a much greater emphasis on the women of the past, not only representing a greater proportion of women in her parody than Goldsmith did, but also by giving women such as Mary and Elizabeth two of the largest sections of the text. The commentary on these two women takes up approximately one quarter of the text of History of England. Through this emphasis, she subtly inspired social change and gave women the opportunity to matter, at least more so than they mattered to Goldsmith. By taking the time to focus on the women who were also a part of England’s history, she gave women a larger semblance of a voice than other writers of her time chose to.
In my parody of another one of Austen’s parodies, Northanger Abbey, I chose to focus on one specific excerpt from the text. This excerpt was the end of chapter six of the novel, where Austen goes from telling her story of Catherine and Isabella into a completely unexpected rant in order to defend the genre of novels. This rant also denounces both the public as well as the novelists that Austen felt did not consider themselves novelists. In this small excerpt, Austen’s tone completely changes. She goes from telling a story full of humor to writing an impassioned defense of the novel that is full of outrage and anger. I have captured this not-so-subtle shift in voice by extolling the virtues of my present-day Catherine and Isabella, who love to read young adult novels.
In this parody, I have also captured the outrage that Austen felt by mimicking her writing style. I have written long, defensive, angry sentences that criticize others. I have also used small interjections to help capture Austen’s outrage as well as to help the parody become even more over-the-top than it previously was. I also chose to mock Austen in particular, by giving her as an example of a dry, classic work that the narrator in this rant would consider boring for their readers. I chose to mention Austen’s works in the same way that she mentions a volume of the Spectator, as an example of what not to read. By incorporating Austen’s works into my parody, the parody became even more obvious and exaggerated. Also, by mocking Austen, I was able to directly use Austen’s technique of mocking Goldsmith in History of England.
Chapter 6: The Parody
Catherine and Isabella, these two young ladies, these two almost-women, were inseparable. They walked arm-in-arm down the hallways at school, they zipped up the backs of each other’s dresses for prom, and they were never to be separated. They indulged only in the most wholesome activities, and even if the rain kept them indoors, they defied the natural world and met anyway—picking up young adult novels and reading them to one another. Yes, I said young adult novels; I will not adopt that despicable custom that is all too common with young adult novelists, and consequently, with the public. The degradation of these texts is caused by the authors themselves. That’s right, I said it; the authors of young adult literature are the ones that are responsible for the contemptuous response of their works by the public. These authors join with the greatest enemies of the genre to scarcely permitting them to be read by their own heroes and heroines. Oh, the shame! The disgrace!
If these heroes or heroines are reading, they aren’t reading young adult. They’re reading the classics. In Speak, Melinda reads The Scarlet Letter. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky doesn’t allow Charlie to read young adult, he requires him to read The Great Gatsby and The Fountainhead, something much more “respectable” than simple children’s stories for these almost-adults. These authors simply couldn’t be bothered to allow their beloved main characters to sink to the level of reading the same type of material that they produce. What message, exactly, are they trying to send to their readers? Alas, I cannot approve of this degradation of a genre! It is revolting!
Although these heroes and heroines are never engaged in their education, their authors are depriving their heroes of the same reading material that they are producing. These authors are not allowing their main characters to read productions that have given more pleasure than any other literary genre in the world! They are continuing to disgrace a genre of composition that has given so much pleasure to the masses; to people just like they want their heroes to be! Based on this pride, this arrogance, this conformity to the widely accepted norm that young adult literature is somehow less-than-worthy, the readers of the genre are almost outnumbered by their foes.
And while all of this hatred is being poised against a truly entertaining and re-readable genre, a genre that not only entertains young adults, but also requires them to consider the larger issues of life, the praise for the authorship is being directed towards others. These others are the people who offer up new editions of Austen classics, people who reassemble and reinterpret Shakespeare, people who take the time to publish another volume of Whitman, or Hughes, or find and publish another paper of Fitzgerald’s, these people are praised by a thousand reviewers—while the young adult novelist’s labors are constantly being devalued. These labors that only happen to have re-readability, wit, and the power to cause all readers to think more intelligently to recommend them.
When was the last time that you heard a young adult author admit that their genre is the one that they prefer to read? When was the last time that you heard anyone admit to admiring the genre? All too often, we hear “I’m not a young adult lit fan—I can’t imagine what teenage novels have to offer an adult like me—This piece of writing is pretty good, considering that it’s only a young adult novel.” We also often hear a typical response from a reader that they are “only reading a young adult novel” or that a young adult novel is “just some light reading—not anything to make me really think”. They say that it is “only” Wintergirls, or The Fault in Our Stars, or the Harry Potter series—these are works that only intellectually stimulate, only works that reveal all of the varieties of human nature, that only invoke wit and humor and convey all of these aspects with apt and often poetic language. And, had this same reader been thoroughly engaged in reading a volume of Frost poetry or an Austen classic, this reader would have proudly showcased their book and discussed its contents, rather than sheepishly admitting to what they were reading. Although, of course, it would be nearly impossible to find a young reader that would ever be engrossed in Northanger Abbey, since it is filled with ridiculous events, and unrelatable characters, and uninteresting language, too, frequently so bland as to give no favorable notion of anyone that could ever endure it, let alone enjoy it.
Critical Introduction to Parody
This parody focuses on elements of the moral novel and the ways in which Catherine learns to navigate the rough world that she finds herself in. In Austen’s novel, Catherine is ejected from Northanger Abbey and uneventfully finds her way back home, with the help of the local post-masters, despite the all-too-real concerns Eleanor poses about the dangers of a young girl traveling such a great distance alone. In a moral novel no girl traveling alone would experience such a pleasant journey without having learned at least one valuable lesson. Therefore, the focus of the parody is to teach Catherine lessons in a comedic and serious way that will help her understand the world around her. In creating this “moral tale” in which Catherine realizes the dangers of the her environment with the help of John Thorpe, attention to parody’s educational value and the element of exaggeration for comedic effect were used to craft a parodic re-imagining of the end of Northanger Abbey.
Educationally, the parody seeks to inform the audience concerning the common plot of the moral tale. Typically, this involves the heroine being shown the ways of the world through a series of comic and serious events. Due to Austen’s mention of such novels as Cecilia, Camilla, and Belinda within her vindication of the novel in Chapter V, Volume I of Northanger Abbey, investigations into why Austen mentioned these works other than to urge the authors to proudly uptake the label of novel for their works. Other than these novels having the merit of being impressive works of fiction, it seems strange that Austen should mention them at all when the overall concept of the moral tale does not seem to fit within Austen’s parody of the Gothic. The ending of her novel does see the main character happily wed due to deus ex machina intervention, but this could be a continued parody of the Gothic as well as a parody of the moral tale. This parody of the ending of Northanger Abbey explores the possibility of a shift in Austen’s focus to the moral tale, and what events might have occurred that would have allowed Catherine to grow from an innocent, naive young heroine to a proper lady ready to take on society and live in the adult world.
In terms of the necessary element of exaggeration for parodic effect, this particular parody seeks to exaggerate the dangers that Catherine may have come across on her trip back home from Northanger, the value of the lessons taught to Catherine, and the qualities and characterization of John Thorpe. Events in the parody such as John Thorpe persuading Catherine to travel with him, the nighttime assault of Catherine from a young gentleman who works at an inn, and the duel between Henry Tilney and John Thorpe exaggerate the dangers into which Catherine may have fallen on her journey. However, these events are not so exaggerated that they estrange the reader. In order to create a successful parody, the audience must “enter a comfortable world of shared beliefs” (Wallace 262). Thus the dangers that Catherine encounters are plausible, yet the way in which characters respond to those events out are exaggerated for comedic effect (Catherine typically responds in a Catherine-like way; Thorpe with heroic, collected calm; and Tilney with instability and outrage).
Also exaggerated are the usefulness and value of the “lessons” that Catherine learns on her travels with John Thorpe. These lessons are: never travel alone, always accept the help of acquaintances even though the circumstance may seem questionable, lock your door when sleeping in strange places, and stand behind the man with a gun when a duel breaks out. These lessons will hardly have any application in Catherine’s day-to-day life, yet she can not be thankful enough to John Thorpe for opening her eyes to the dangers and workings of the world around her. As for John Thorpe himself, Austen characterizes him as conceited, arrogant, and prone to exaggeration. In this parody those traits are kept, but the way in which Catherine responds to John Thorpe’s character and actions have been altered so that, despite his public swearing and boastful nature, the lessons that Thorpe teaches her are of greater value than the chivalry that Henry Tilney demonstrates.
This parody, modeled after Austen’s work, seeks to mimic the style and tone of Northanger Abbey in order to preserve a comfortable world of shared beliefs for the audience while taking aspects of the moral tale and Austen’s characters and exaggerating them for parodic effect. Through this parody the value of the lesson learned in the moral tale are scrutinized and their merit questioned through Catherine’s choice of selecting Thorpe as a suitable husband because of the lessons that he teaches her.
As Catherine scurried to the chaise, hiding her face as well as she could with her handkerchief, she thought only of how she was unable to bid Henry farewell, and wondered what he might say, look, or feel when he learned of her sudden departure. She was too wretched to be fearful of the journey ahead of her and leaned into the corner of the carriage, consoling herself with her own tears and bathing in their misery. For some time she languished in this way before she reached the public stagecoach were she, being forced to leave the Tilney’s carriage, waited until the horses could be brought round.
Wearied and full of heart Catherine stood in the cool fog of morning, desolate and inconsolable. She, lost in her own sorrows, did not notice the approach of a familiar and unwanted acquaintance until his voice from close proximity penetrated her thoughts.
“Miss Morland! What in God’s name are you doing here?”
Catherine turned to find the figure of John Thorpe at her side, a dark and strange look in his eyes. “Mr. Thorpe! What a surprise to see you here. I’ve just come from Northanger, and am on my way back to Fullerton.”
“And where might your servant be Miss Morland? Do not tell me such man as General Tilney would allow you to travel without one?” asked Thorpe with harsh sarcasm in his voice when he spoke of the General, but more softly and with concern when the reality of Catherine’s traveling alone caused him pause. He stepped closer to Catherine, looking at her in a manner that she was not accustomed to.
“I merely did not wish to inconvenience the General, Mr. Thorpe,” replied Catherine as smoothly as she could, for she did not wish to damage the reputation of General Tilney’s children, even if it meant protecting the reputation of the General himself.
“Well, Miss Morland, you can hardly be expected to travel to Fullerton alone. Allow me to escort you, if I may. We may even take my own carriage and you will be safe at home in half the time.”
“But Mr. Thorpe, are you not terribly angry at me?” asked Catherine, wringing her hands. “I in no way meant to deceive you, and it was only after speaking with your sister that I had realized that some misunderstanding had occurred between us. I was most sure that you were quite glad to be rid of me.”
“D—, Miss Morland. I could not be angry with you, not I. We shall put the matter behind us, and you will ride with me. Don’t you know it is most improper for a young lady such as yourself to be traveling such a distance unaccompanied? And who better than I, a dashing and handsome acquaintance whom you would trust with your life, to be the very chaperone you require? Come, let us speak no more of it!”
Catherine could not usher a word of objection before Thorpe had ordered round his carriage and she was secured beside him. He lashed his horses to move forward and drove on. It only then occurred to Catherine that she did not know if she were behaving in the most proper manner that a young lady could, for she did not know if John Thorpe qualified as a proper chaperone, or how he had come to be so near to Northanger and what his business here should be. Inquiring about the later matter, Thorpe told Catherine that he was on his way to speak to the General on Isabella’s behalf, having recently met him in London. He had not had time to approach the subject of his sister and the General’s eldest son, Captain Tilney, before he had suddenly quitted the place and was later discovered to have sped off to Northanger under much distress and agitation. Thorpe followed behind in order to bring to his attention the most grievous of sins committed against his sister. Catherine, still upset with Isabella for hurting her brother in such a way, was curious about what John knew about the relationship between Captain Tilney and Isabella. Her curiosity was somewhat satisfied when Thorpe revealed that Isabella had gotten herself into such a position in which it would be necessary for Captain Tilney and his sister to be married without delay. Catherine could only guess at what Thorpe meant by the necessity of an immediate marriage, and supposed it was either an affair of immense shame, or that Isabella’s heart was so broken it could only be mended by matrimony. So selfless were his thoughts! So noble his disregard for his own reputation! Catherine could not help but admire Thorpe’s devotions to his sister’s happiness, and thought that it was all together very respectable of him to risk the improprieties that accompanied a demand for a marriage that would socially and financially benefit his family.
“Why then, Mr. Thorpe, if your business with General Tilney is of such importance then you must simply let me see myself to Fullerton! I would not want to keep you from such a pressing affair,” Catherine cried with much fervor.
“Nonsense, Miss Morland. Speak no more of the matter.” Thorpe said rather shortly. Catherine was quite subdued by his manor, and they indeed did not speak for quite some time. What could Thorpe be thinking about? The loss of an opportunity to secure his sister’s reputation and comfort? Or, perhaps, he was feeling torn between a sense of familial duty and the concern he felt for a young girl who he had strong affections for. Catherine was exhausted from her sleepless night and sank into a fitful slumber after contemplating the motives of Thorpe’s character for a short while. When she awoke it was some hours later and she did not recognize her surroundings.
They were stopped outside of a small inn, the lack of motion from the carriage the cause of Catherine’s awakening. The pale glow of lamplight illuminated very little outside of the establishment, and she looked to John Thorpe who was descending from the carriage. “We shall stop here for the night, Miss Morland. It is too dark to go any further tonight.” Catherine was quite sure that they would have arrived at Fullerton by nightfall, but as she did not know the way back for certain, she supposed she was in error.
“How far are we from Fullerton, Mr. Thorpe?” she enquired.
“Oh, not far at all, Miss Morland. I expect we shall arrive safely tomorrow! Now, come inside and let us be rested.” Thorpe gallantly held out his arm for Catherine to take, and she stumbled against him slightly upon her descent. Righting herself, a small blush creeping across her cheeks, she looked at Mr. Thorpe who caught her gaze and stared at her intensely before quickly turning away.
Catherine, thankful to Eleanor for providing her with sufficient funds for travel, secured a room for herself with the aid of John Thorpe. They shared a small supper together, thought they did not share many words between them. Catherine, full of longing for the comforts of home and the happiness her family once afforded her, was silent with a longing to be with them at last and to try and forget as best she could about Henry Tilney. Though, try as she might, she could do little but think of how he might feel when he realized she had gone. Thorpe was silent as he watched Catherine dine, and made little effort for conversation himself.
Shortly after supper, Catherine was escorted to her rooms by a young man who was employed by the inn. She thanked him and quickly entered her dark rooms with only one candle for light. She climbed hastily into her bed and tried unsuccessfully to let sleep claim her. Instead she allowed her tears to burst forth in torrents as she thought about her shameful expulsion from the comfort of her friends and the generous attentions of Henry Tilney. A single tear or two was also shed for the unfortunate circumstances which the Thorpe family suffered and the uncomfortable feeling that took hold of Catherine when thinking about them, as she did not know whether to hate or be eternally thankful to John Thorpe for his kindness.
She had spent her tears after about an hour and was just settling to sleep when she heard the door of her room open, and saw the silhouette of a tall man in the doorway. Catherine was too fearful to move, and laid in her bed as she watched the figure approach her. It was only when the figure reached the foot of her small bed that she managed to find her voice and scream, which cause the man to lunge at her to smother her cry with his hand. Catherine struggled and heard the door of her room slam open, the room filling with sudden light. John Thorpe stood grandly with a pistol in his hand aimed at the man who was revealed to be the young gentleman who had first escorted Catherine to these rooms not hours before. The intruder saw Thorpe and the gun and tried to dodge past him down the stairs, but Thorpe knocked him to the floor with the butt of his pistol and stood glowering over the now unconscious figure.
“Come, Miss Morland. Dress yourself and gather your things. We are leaving,” ordered Thorpe. Out of propriety, he averted his eyes from the figure of Catherine dressed in her nightgown. Catherine was left speechless and stumbled around the room, trying to collect herself as tears of fear and shame poured down her cheeks.
“Oh, Mr. Thorpe,” she finally managed to say after dressing. “If you had not been here . . . just to think of what might have happened . . .”
“My dearest Catherine,” consoled Thorpe. “Unfortunately you have learned a valuable lesson tonight. A young lady must always lock her door in a strange and unfamiliar place. I will not always be here to protect you from harm. Now, no more tears, let us be off from this wretched place and see you safely home.”
Catherine found herself thinking of what it would be like to have the company of John Thorpe to protect her from the possible ills that might befall her in a world so cruel as they departed the inn. She all together enjoyed the idea of assured protection, and continued to contemplate the matter as the sun rose and they drove on.
After some hours, Catherine and Thorpe arrived in Fullerton under a clear blue sky. As they pulled into the drive of her own much-missed home, her thoughts of Thorpe and her anticipations at being reunited with her family were distracted by the appearance of none other than Henry Tilney!
“Mr. Tilney! How is it that we find you here?” cried Catherine with hesitant joy. She felt Thorpe stiffen beside her, and wondered briefly why he should suddenly become so cold after their acquaintance had become much furthered since the events of his first finding her cast out from Northanger.
“Miss Morland! I have been searching for you. How is it you come to be in the company of the very man who caused you to be expelled from our house by my father?” asked Henry angrily.
“Whatever do you mean? Mr. Thorpe has merely been escorting me from your home, Mr. Tilney, and it is with most fortune that he did! The dangers of the road are not to be traveled alone by one such as myself, and I am very thankful to have had his assistance for I knew not the way back home.”
Thorpe smiled as she said this, glad that she had learned the lessons of how dangerous the road could be, and that it was better to have the company of some acquaintance than no company at all. However his smile faded upon remembering the accusations against him made by Henry Tilney. “Pray, sir, what do you mean by my being the cause of Miss Morland’s distasteful expulsion?”
“Did you not, sir,” fumed Henry, “enjoy the company of my father while in London, and did you not reveal to him that the claim you had made to him previously; that Miss Morland was to come into a large amount of inheritance and therefore be one of the most wealthy, eligible young women in Bath; was falsely stated?” Henry ended with fervor, anxious to show Catherine of the wrongs that John Thorpe had done her.
“Sir, I did reveal my mistake to the General. I did believe that Miss Morland was to inherit a large sum of money from Mr. Allen. I admit my foolishness, and was happy to set your father right when I saw him and he enquired about Miss Morland,” Thorpe stated rather calmly.
“Is this the cause of my being excused from Northanger so suddenly?” asked Catherine, her eyes welling with tears.
“Yes, Miss Morland. You are guilty only of being less rich than my father had supposed you to be. I must extend my most sincere apologies, and tell you that I have broken with my father in the pursuit of that which would make me most happy. And now you must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” Henry Tilney uttered the last with much agitation and anxiety, and his words hung heavily in the air.
Catherine, who only a day previously would have cried with joy and rushed into the arms of her beloved was now forced to pause and weigh this new development.
Mr. Thorpe, seeing her hesitation and his hopes of a felicitous union with his beloved Catherine reborn, spoke on his own behalf. “It is true, Miss Morland, that I have shown you discourtesy in the past by presuming your wealth to be above what you never claimed. I must extend to you my own apologies in this matter and allow you to judge me as you will. I said, earlier, that we would speak no more of the matter between us that you had previously misunderstood, but now my conscious will not allow me to proceed without affirming my affections for you.”
Henry, at this last utterance, was utterly enraged and leapt with his fists towards John Thorpe. Thorpe, as smoothly as he had done the previous evening, drew his pistol and aimed at Henry as Catherine watched in horror. The calm demeanor that Henry had previously displayed while at Northanger had vanished, and he appeared frantic and most unlike himself. “Calmly remember yourself, Mr. Tilney,” stated Thorpe. “Miss Morland, are you quite all right? Don’t you know to always stand behind the duelist with the gun when it comes to blows? We would not want you harmed in any way.”
“Yes, Mr. Thorpe, I am all right.” she replied with affection in her voice. How much her knowledge of the world grew with every passing moment in his company! It was true that it was Henry Tilney who had first opened her eyes to the foolishness of her indulgence in Gothic fantasies, but had he not brought on these very notions to begin with on that long-ago carriage ride to Northanger? Yet in the company of John Thorpe her eyes were widened to the dangers of the world around her, and her wisdom of the world grew at a most rapid pace under his care. His calm intellect was shown to be vastly superior in times of conflict and emotion as opposed to the passion and agitation shown by Henry Tilney.
Turning to face him, she addressed Henry. “Mr. Tilney, I do accept you apology concerning your father’s treatment of me. I hold against you no ill feelings concerning it, and wish you could forgive your father, for to hold one’s own family in poor regard is to be somewhat lost in the world. When I had come to first meet Mr. Thorpe shortly after my leaving Northanger, he was on his way to speak for his sister’s behalf to the General, regardless of the harm it may have caused their reputation, a quality I admire most strongly. Not only does Mr. Thorpe place such high regard in his family, but he was also most courteous towards me when I required assistance. I was quite sure that I could make the journey on my own, but what has befallen us on our way has shown me that I do have so very much to learn about the world. Mr. Tilney, I must with great regret tell you that, although I may have once, I can no longer return you affections.”
So it passed that Catherine’s view of the world was dramatically shifted forever. The illusions of her childhood were firmly behind her, and daily Catherine’s knowledge of the world was expanded in every new adventure that she and Mr. Thorpe shared. John and Catherine were married, the bells rang and (most) every body smiled. There was relief that one more girl had been safely brought from childhood to adulthood, though the lessons of life were occasionally hard-learned.