Places: Northanger Abbey

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1818

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedFullerton

Fullerton. Northanger AbbeyEnglish parsonage in Wiltshire, about eight miles from Salisbury, that is home to seventeen-year-old Catherine, whose father is the local rector. The family is relatively prosperous, and Catherine is introduced as rather attractive, but “ignorant and uninformed.”


*Bath. Resort city in western England famous for its hot springs and Roman ruins. Catherine visits Bath for several weeks at the invitation of the Allens, owners of Fullerton. At first, Catherine experiences the discomfort of being in such a crowded place without knowing anyone else there; however, she has Ann Radcliffe’s gothic novel to occupy her mind as she begins to meet people. A whole new world opens to her at Bath; she is delighted with the social life of the colony. There, she meets the more worldly Isabella Thorpe, who takes it upon herself to instruct Catherine in the ways of society. Isabella also introduces Catherine to her brother, John Thorpe.

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey. Old country home of the Tilneys, who invite Catherine to come for a visit. Catherine is thrilled because reading Radcliffe’s novel makes her expect to find subterranean tunnels, haunted rooms, and medieval furnishings in the abbey. Her overnourished imagination moves her to begin her stay by trying to open old cabinets in her room and imagining the medieval manuscripts she may find. Her host, General Tilney, is a widower and an unsympathetic character, and Catherine builds a fantasy of the unhappy life of his former wife, leading her to suspect that the woman died under painful circumstances–perhaps even that the general himself did away with her. Catherine also imagines that Tilney’s wife may still be living–imprisoned somewhere within the abbey. However, when Catherine actually visits the former Mrs. Tilney’s bedroom, she is surprised to discover how pleasant and modern it is; indeed, it is one of the most attractive rooms in the abbey. She subsequently learns the prosaic truth about Mrs. Tilney’s illness and death and is embarrassed by her own wild imaginings. The truth destroys most of her fantasy-based ideas about Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey is an amusing parody of gothic novels, with their mysterious castles and abbeys, gloomy villains, incredibly accomplished heroines, sublime landscapes, and supernatural claptrap. Austen’s satire is not, however, pointed only at such novels; the exaggerated romantic sensibility of the gothic enthusiast is also a target. Northanger Abbey is a comic study of the ironic discrepancies between the prosaic world in which Catherine lives and the fantastic shapes that her imagination, fed by gothic novels, gives to that world. Throughout the novel, the author holds up the contrast between the heroine’s real situation and the gothic world she fantasizes.

BibliographyButler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975. The first part of this two-part study describes the political and feminist controversies of the period. The second part examines Austen’s novels within this historical context and demonstrates her conservative politics. Includes an index.Dwyer, June. Jane Austen. New York: Continuum, 1989. A good basic reference for the general reader. Dwyer suggests that Northanger Abbey is the novel that gives the best introduction to Austen’s worldview and writing style. Includes a selected bibliography.Fergus, Jan. Jane Austen and the Didactic Novel. London: Macmillan, 1983. Fergus differs from many critics in considering Austen’s early novels to be primarily intended to instruct the readers. The chapter on Northanger Abbey considers the novel from this perspective.Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979. This feminist study examines Austen within a female literary tradition, arguing that Austen balances her criticism of male-dominated social structures and her feminine submission to those same structures.Harris, Jocelyn. Jane Austen’s Art of Memory. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Explores the literary and intellectual influences of Austen’s own reading on her novels, demonstrating how Northanger Abbey drew upon John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). Contains a bibliography and an index.Jones, Vivien. How to Study a Jane Austen Novel. London: Macmillan, 1987. Designed to help students develop their own critical skills, this text offers practical advice about how to read, understand, and analyze literature. Jones uses selected passages from Northanger Abbey in her discussion of the power of the authorial voice.Lauber, John. Jane Austen. New York: Twayne, 1993. Discusses Northanger Abbey quite extensively. Especially interesting is Lauber’s discussion of the connections between Northanger Abbey and Austen’s juvenilia (works she composed between the ages of twelve and eighteen). Includes a chronology, bibliography, and index.Monaghan, David. Jane Austen: Structure and Social Vision. London: Macmillan, 1980. Monaghan examines the use of and attitude toward formal social ritual in Austen’s novels to reveal how Austen viewed her society. He devotes one chapter to Northanger Abbey.Pinion, F. B. A Jane Austen Companion: A Critical Survey and Reference Book. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973. The first part of the book includes chapters on biography, historical background, each of Austen’s novels, her letters, and her literary reputation. The second part includes a list of people and places in Austen’s fiction, as well as a glossary of unusual or outmoded words. Also contains a variety of maps and other illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.Sulloway, Alison G. Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989. Places Austen within a female tradition of “outsider” satire, written by those rejected and devalued by society. Includes a bibliography and an index.Thompson, James. Between Self and World: The Novels of Jane Austen. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1988. Examines Austen’s portrayal of the disparity between individual and society within the context of its historical, social, economic, and literary circumstances. Includes an index and extensive footnotes.Watt, Ian, ed. Jane Austen: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1963. A valuable collection of fourteen essays divided into three categories: general Austen criticism, studies of particular novels (including North-anger Abbey), and discussions of special topics. Also includes a chronology and a bibliography.
Categories: Places