Hi Courtney, what a pleasure it is to be here today at Stiletto Storytime during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of the release of my new Austen-inspired anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. With Halloween looming next week, and ghosts and horror stories on the minds of readers, I thought it quite appropriate to chat with you today about Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey, a tongue-in-cheek parody of the Gothic fiction so wildly popular in Austen’s time.
Austen is known for her romantic dramas filled with dry humor and social reproof, but of her six major novels, Northanger is quite unique in that it was purposely written as satire and contains broader humor, stronger ironies – and – the classic elements to a Gothic novel: a troubled heroine (Catherine Morland), a haunted castle (an ancient abbey in this case), a mysterious and menacing male figure (General Tilney), hidden secrets of the past (the death of Mrs. Tilney), and a romantic hero who is at odds with his family (Henry Tilney). Now all of these classic Gothic elements of mystery and menace are actually projected by the imaginative heroine Catherine from her reading of Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic romance, The Mysteries of Udolpho, and further fueled by Henry Tilney’s teasing remarks.
“And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as ‘what one reads about’ may produce? Have you a stout heart? Nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?” Northanger Abbey, Chapter 20
I find Northanger Abbey a perfect read for the Halloween season. Paired with the Gothic fiction that inspired it, such as Radcliffe’s Udolpho, Romance of the Forrest or The Italian, readers will have an excellent grasp of the early beginning of the Gothic genre from the late eighteenth century which would develop further with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
I was so pleased that of the twenty-two stories in my Austen-inspired anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, there are three stories with allusions to Gothic fiction: two inspired by Northanger Abbey: “The Mysterious Closet” and “A Night at Northanger” and a third in which Jane Austen returns as a ghost in “The Ghost Writer.” Each is in spirit with Austen’s use of parody, spoof and comedy. Here are their descriptions:
“The Mysterious Closet: A Tale,” by Myretta Robens
In the wake of her most recent failed relationship, Cathy Fullerton takes an extended vacation in a converted Abbey in Gloucestershire, England. Ensconced in the Radcliffe Suite, a jet-lagged Cathy mistakes a walk-in closet for a Vaulted Chamber, a clothing rack for an Instrument of Torture and an accumulation of cobwebs for her True Love.
“A Night at Northanger,” by Lauren Willig
Our heroine, Cate Cartwright, is part of the cast of “Ghost Trekkers”, currently filming at one of England’s most haunted homes, Northanger Abbey. Naturally, Cate knows there’s no such thing as ghosts. It’s all smoke and mirrors for the credulous who watch late night TV. At least, that’s what she thinks… until she meets the shade of one Miss Jane Austen during one fateful night at Northanger.
“The Ghostwriter,” by Elizabeth Aston
Sara, obsessed with Pride and Prejudice, is jilted by Charles, who can’t compete with Mr. Darcy. His parting gift is a lock of Jane Austen’s hair. Sara wakes the next morning to find a strange woman sitting on the end of her bed. A figment of her imagination? No, it’s the astringent ghost of Jane Austen. On a mission to restore the reputation of forgotten Gothic author Clarissa Curstable, Jane Austen saves Sara’s career and brings Charles back before taking herself off into the ether, but there’s a price to pay, as the couple discover when they wake up to find another ghostly visitor at the end of the bed. It’s Jane’s friend, Clarissa – and she plans to stay.
While editing these short stories for the anthology, their irony and high comedy reminded of this passage in Northanger Abbey between Isabella Thorpe and Catherine Morland which illustrated Austen genius for burlesque.
Isabella: “Have you gone on with Udolpho?”
Catherine: “Yes, I have been reading it ever since I woke; and I am got to the black veil.”
Isabella: “Are you, indeed? How delightful! Oh! I would not tell you what is behind the black veil for the world! Are not you wild to know?”
Catherine: “Oh! Yes, quite; what can it be? But do not tell me — I would not be told upon any account. I know it must be a skeleton, I am sure it is Laurentina’s skeleton. Oh! I am delighted with the book! I should like to spend my whole life in reading it. I assure you, if it had not been to meet you, I would not have come away from it for all the world.” Northanger Abbey, Chapter 6
Happy Halloween everyone. I hope you discover what lies behind the black veil!
Cheers, Laurel Ann
A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of Austenprose.com a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs Austenprose.com and JaneAustenMadeMeDoIt.com, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.
Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine Books • ISBN: 978-0345524966
Enter a chance to win one copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It by leaving a comment by Midnight EST November 12, 2011 stating what intrigues you about reading an Austen-inspired short story anthology. Winner to be drawn at random. Shipment to US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck to all and Happy Reading!