Mysteries of Udolpho and Northanger Abbey

Literature / April 23, 2015 / No Comments /
This paper examines the value of Ann Radcliffe’s `Mysteries of Udolpho` in forming Austen’s style.

This paper identifies the ways in which Austen parodies Radcliffe’s `Mysteries of Udolpho` and the Gothic genre it represents. It concludes by revealing that it is a mistake to see `Northanger Abbey` as a critique of the Gothic novel. The author claims that Austen sees works like `Mysteries of Udolpho` as metaphors for the very real danger and the very real abuses present in 18th century society.
Anne Radcliffe s Mysteries of Udolpho is constantly under discussion and satire within Jane Austen s Northanger Abbey. Given Catherine Morland s experiences at the Abbey, it would seem that Austen is criticizing Radcliffe and her genre, yet the author s staunch defense of the value of novels seems to support the works of Radcliffe. Indeed, an argument can be made that Catherine s exposure to the Gothic prepares her for the real evil present in her society. Therefore, what is the real object of critique in Austen s parody? Many critics take Henry Tilsney as the voice of the author, however a closer look at his speeches reveals that his beliefs are actually in question. For example, Henry speaks about riots in London, giving his version of what a deranged imagination would produce: A mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George s Fields; the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood (101). However, the picture Henry presents as ridiculous, is actually reflective of real anxieties present in 18th C. society. There were valid fears that the French Revolution and its consequent Reign of Terror would spread to England. Actual plots to attack the bank were exposed at the time Austen wrote Northanger Abbey. Thus, Henry s depiction is not that ironic, and the assumption that it can t happen here in enlightened, modern England rings a bit false.


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