As I was reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I was struck by its similarities to Ann Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance. What made this more interesting is that Austin’s characters do note in the novel that they have enjoyed reading Radcliffe, which leads me to believe that the similarity between the two novels was intentional. The novels share somewhat of a similar plot, but also setting, character profiles, and themes.
The plot is similar in that both feature a love triangle where the main character is running away from and towards one gentleman over the other. In the case of Northanger Abbey, Catherine is running away from Mr. Thorpe in pursuit of Mr. Tilney. Radcliffe’s Julia and Austin’s Catherine also share some character traits in that they both are…what’s the word? Immature? Julia faints often for no apparent reason, and Catherine is entirely upset over her candle going out, and can hardly bear being more than a couple of paces from the chest in her room once she notices it. Both stories take place in a gothic setting: Radcliffe’s in Sicilian castles, and Austen’s at Northanger Abbey.
What’s most interesting to me is how both the authors demonstrate the uncanny. Using Freud’s definition, “the uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression”. As the “uncanny” is assuredly linked with gothic sublimity, which is no doubt a main theme of the novel, aspects of the uncanny are present within the Austen’s novel.
Like A Sicilian Romance, the mother figure in Austen’s Northanger Abbey can be analyzed in relation to the uncanny. In fact, when Catherine suspects General Tilney of murdering his wife, the only other possibility that comes to her mind is that General Tilney has instead suppressed his wife and must give her food nightly; a situation which exactly mirrors that of A Sicilian Romance (likely because Catherine has read the book). In this way, Mrs. Tilney is seen to embody the uncanny in the same way that the mother figure does in Radcliffe’s novel, which is difficult to explain if you haven’t read Radcliffe’s novel. In what other ways is Mrs. Tilney used to represent the uncanny aspects of Austen’s novel? How do Catherine’s actions also represent the uncanny?
What is the significance of Austen’s novel being a remaking of Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance? Does it bear resemblance only because they are both gothic novels, or does the similarity extend beyond their respective genres?
Could Austen convey what she wanted to convey with Northanger Abbey using a different genre? To what extent does the Gothic genre contribute or inhibit Jane Austen’s story?
Another interesting take on this novel is the ways in which reading novels influences our opinions and ways of viewing the world around us. Catherine, after having read Radcliffe’s novels, among other gothics, began to think about her world as if it was set in a gothic novel itself. She made assumptions and inquiries reminiscent of the events of A Sicilian Romance, which ended up being quite an embarrassment for her. Reading so much, Catherine was less able to separate fiction from reality. To what extent does reading or watching television in our modern age affect how we see the world? Is the effect a positive, negative, or neutral one? Does awareness of the effects of fiction affect our engagement in it?