Sensibility In Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

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Austen’s representation of reading epitomises the excesses of the imagination exhibited by gothic readers during the movement of sensibility which effectively led to their disconnection from reality. Austen’s employment of the gothic presents Catherine’s transition from excessive gothic fantasy to reality, which fundamentally enables her to develop independent judgement through her exploration of human experience. Although Austen satirizes the excesses of the gothic through Catherine’s characterisation, Austen does not completely dismiss the truth behind the gothic. Richardson (2005: 399) explains how Northanger Abbey can be taken as a ‘particularly amusing satire on the tendency to read life through the lens of improbable fictions’. However, …show more content…
As Ty (1998: 248) expounds ‘Austen uses the gothic to remind her readers […] of the vulnerability of the female body’. Austen’s use of the gothic symbolises women’s positioning in society in order to encourage a recognition of women’s hardships. In the eighteenth century, women were renowned for their greater delicacy of nerves, making them naturally the subjects of sensibility, which ‘compounded the potential for passivity implicit in the association of ideas’ (Barker-Benfield 1999: 102). Catherine’s passivity is represented when Henry tells a hypothetical story of Catherine’s visit. The reader is informed of Henry’s jocular perception of Catherine’s engagement with gothic reading: ‘And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as “what one reads about” may produce? (p.114), to which Catherine replies: ‘Oh! Yes- I do not think I should be easily frightened, because there would be so many people in the house – and besides, it has never been uninhabited and left deserted for years’ (p.114). Catherine’s passiveness towards Henry’s mockery therefore encourages the reader to be sympathetic towards her naivety. In relation to this concept, Wollstonecraft argued in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, that the immaturity of women was a common occurrence during this era, as women were ‘kept in a state of perpetual childhood’, (citied by McCalman 1999: 528) therefore, women were unaware of their segregation from

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