Thursday, March 18, 2010

3/18 DP - on to Northanger Abbey

Greetings all. As we look into a week full of deep, dark secrets and things that ought to be deep, dark secrets, where better to go than Northanger Abbey?

L1: Now, LW1 resembles Catherine Morland in a number of the situations she encounters. Unluckily, however, she has a sad cause in her own past, whereas Catherine lives vicariously through the Gothic novels she devours. The two most pertinent to the case are Catherine's pursuit of facts concerming the death of Mrs Tilney and the awkward situation at Northanger after James' letter informs Catherine that his engagement to Isabella is broken off. It is also interesting to see how circumstances turn the LW's potential Henry Tilney into a John Thorpe.

The importance to young people of choosing the right friends is demonstrated early. Catherine visits Bath with her rich neighbours, the Allens, only to find that public assemblies are much less amusing when one has no acquaintance in the place. But she soon finds all the company she desires when Mrs Allen meets an old school friend, Mrs Thorpe, whose daughter Isabella and Catherine quickly become forerunners of today's BFFs. The arrival of their brothers, James Morland and John Thorpe, makes life charming for some time. When Catherine meets again with Henry Tilney, now in Bath with his father and sister, she finds John Thorpe more of an encumbrance than anything else. Even Isabella occasionally strikes a sour note as Catherine befriends Henry and Eleanor Tilney. But all seems well enough as Isabella and James become engaged (Isabella's acceptance of the attentions of Henry's older brother being the fly in the ointment there) and General Tilney (misled by John Thorpe as to Catherine's prospects of fortune) invites Catherine to return with the Tilneys to Northanger - a real Abbey!

Sadly, Catherine is led astray by her imagination. On a few very flimsy facts and suppositions - the General not liking his wife's portrait or favourite walk, Mrs Tilney's supposed melancholia and Eleanor's absence from home when her mother died, Catherine soon convinces herself that General Tilney murdered his wife or imprisoned her alive. Worse, she cannot keep her suspicions from Henry. He is able to assure her that there was no foul play involved in his mother's death, but somehow, though Henry's affection for Catherine never matches the Austenian heights of attachment between other heroes and heroines, this does not divide them forever.

Catherine is happily blameless when she is placed in the awkward situation of James' broken engagement. Inferring from James' letter that Isabella is now engaged to Henry's and Eleanor's brother, Catherine informs them that she cannot remain at Northanger when Captain Tilney returns. Henry and Eleanor are torn between their knowledge that their brother would be unlikely to enter an engagement that would be so financially imprudent (and unpleasant to their father) and Henry's calculation on Isabella's shrewdness that she would not have jilted one fiance if she were not already secured of the next.

As for LW1's situation, it is rather a sad one. My Sympathy Metre was likely to give LW1 a rather high score until the awful closing. LW1's first instinct is, "Should I confront him?" Oh dear, oh dear - Jerry Springer has much for which to answer. this unfortunately is going to keep my Sympathy Metre stuck on Moderate.

The closest to entertaining would be to cross-examine LW1 on her exact grounds for the proposed confrontation. It conjures up images of the Rumpolean reference to the epidemic of twelve-year-old girls making indecent advances to elderly men in cinemas. Confront the abuser, why not, if she's so inclined? Confront the enabling grandmother in denial - again, it would be an active participant using free will in whatever happened. I'd just as soon take the facts submitted in as painless a way as possible without cross-examining anyone not among the guilty.

I find myself at a bit of a loss for anything to tell the LW to do, but one curious thing is that she has written to a stranger instead of or perhaps before taking the matter to her parents. What is that about? She was not disbelieved, or at least she was believed enough at the end for some legal action to be taken. There is no evidence provided in the letter that the abuse damaged the LW's relationships with members of her own family. What, then, do her parents have to say?

I suppose there are some positive things that could come out of a frank discussion with the grandson, but LW1's confrontational mood doesn't seem the right spirit in which to approach it. Neither of the younger generation has done anything wrong, so far as we know; let's keep it like that.

If there is anything LW1 might learn from Catherine Morland, the moral might be how dangerous it is to paint even an already black scenario blacker than it seems. I think I shall pass quickly to L2 before I get a vision of the year 2040 and LW1 telling daughters how she and their daddy fell in love comparing stories about Great-Grandpapa give me major icks...

L2: Here we have how parent handle an Unfortunate Situation that has befallen their child. The Northangrian parallel will come when Catherine suddenly arrives home in Fullerton, unheralded, having been evicted by General Tilney within hours of his learning that she is not the heiress to Mr Allen's fortune, at the end of a journey of seventy miles. The incident really could make yet another parallel for L1, but we shall let that pass. That which I'd wish to make into an example is the way in which the Morlands handle the event. Quite naturally it is shocking that a supposed gentleman should treat their daughter so ill after welcoming her to his home as a guest. But Mrs Morland stresses for the outraged Mrs Allen that it was a good thing for Catherine to have proved to have had the wherewithal to cope with such an emergency, and to Catherine that, if Henry and Eleanor Tilney are worth knowing, they will likely meet again. So, oddly, I begin with the moral, wondering when such a style of parenting happened to drop out of fashion (and, in the habit of making chains, mentioning that this instance might apply equally well to L3 as well as to L1).

To deal with LW2, I must admit that my Sympathy Metre is going to give her a rather higher reading than she deserves, if only because she has the best instincts of any of the LWs - her first thought is to leave it alone, which, assuming no questions or comments from the peanut gallery, must be considered sound procedure. It is rather odd in light of this that the mother who really springs to mind right away is Dr Spencer Reed's, in part because the boy seems reminiscent at least in part of little Spencer and in part because her second instinct seems nearly certifiable. But it makes it easy to give her practical advice. She should reward her four-year-old for copying down and memorizing Bob Dylan songs, read Proust to him for entertainment, and get him started on chess, although not in the park with strange adults.

L3: As I do so often, I am going to question the timing. They have lived together for two years - why complain now? It does seem that she's more interested in cutting out the competition than in "fixing" the situation, as it were. Her first instinct is directed at mamma, not sonny. My Sympathy Metre is registering very low indeed. There might be decent sport in cross-examining the son, but whether he's totally creepy or somewhat reasonable doesn't seem to make that much difference.

One need go no farther than General Tilney for an Austenian overbearing parent. Fortunately in Austenian times it was not the custom to perform domestic chores, but the General's standards require Henry, graced with the prospect of a parental visit for dinner on a Wednesday, to hurry from Northanger to Woodston on the Saturday to make sure everything is up to standard. In one way, General Tilney even outdoes LW3's possible mother-in-law, in going so far as to dictate the romantic inclinations of his children to suit his own plans for his family's alliances. Henry and Eleanor give in to their father as a matter of habit and course time after time, which is the sort of thing which inclines me to think it might be possible to think reasonably well of the overbearing woman's son.

As for practical advice, I regret the general lack of familiarity with the classics. This seems like a clear case for a reference to *Othello* or even *Curtain*. LW3 simply wants to cut out her MIL. What she needs to do is to convince her FIL that MIL is cheating on him and work him up into such a state that he murders her. That will be a win all around. The family as a whole will do better without her, and LW3 will be able to take over the care and feeding of her husband in just the same way. (Actually, come to think of it, Mrs Boynton in *Appointment with Death* seems to be closest in daily details to the overbearing mamma - then again, she dies as well, though not the same way in the play as in the novel.)

I suppose the moral is that she has just the man she likes. This is just the unexpected baggage. "Take what you like and pay for it, says God" is apparently an old Spanish proverb. LW3 might be grateful that at least the son was not disallowed some degree of choice in the matter. And if Catherine Morland can get through suspecting her father-in-law of murder, LW3 might be able to manage her own situation.

L4: The physician reminds me of a direct marketer. Send out mass invitations, and if only 3% or so of those who receive an invitation feel obliged to send a gift, bingo - a nice profit! My Sympathy Metre for LW4 is almost off the low end of the scale for being so nearly susceptible to such extortion. Still, as apparently there may be some sort of cultural reason for such an invitational stretch, a round or two of questions to that effect might not come amiss.

LW4's situation seems to fall in between a couple of parallels to Catherine's. When she and the Allens are just arrived in Bath, Catherine and Mrs Allen find their social opportunities sadly limited on their appearances in the Upper Rooms. They know nobody, find it hard to squeeze through the crowd, and feel in the way when they manage to find seats in the supper room. Only overhearing two strangers calling her a pretty girl renders the evening agreeable to Catherine. In the way of unwanted invitations, we have her being asked to join James, John and Isabella on a proposed drive to Blaize Castle. The prospect pleases, but Catherine has made an engagement to walk with the Tilneys, and declines. But the weather is doubtful and the Tilneys are already late. When John Thorpe declares that he saw Henry Tilney driving out in a carriage and shouting to someone that he'd be gone until the night, Catherine goes, only to see Henry and Eleanor on their way to call on her. But she is prevented from alighting. The drive is aborted when the party discover they left rather too late. The next evening, Catherine is able to explain the situation to the offended Tilneys at the theatre. The engagement is renewed while her brother and the Thorpes are planning a second attempt at the Castle. When Catherine declines, Isabella feels jilted, even James is put out, and John actually goes to the Tilneys and tells them Catherine has just recollected a prior engagment. It costs her a good deal to be able to stick to her original plan and achieve her country walk.

The moral is probably to respond to invitations with due care.

I shall conclude by recalling one of my favourite passages from the novel that occurs during the country walk. Eleanor and Catherine misunderstand each other at one point. Catherine refers to "something horrid" about to come out of London, meaning only a new Gothic novel, while Eleanor's mind immediately leaps to some uprising resulting in danger for her brother Captain Tilney. Henry laughs at them, explains their meanings, and says that Eleanor is usually more intelligent. This draws a mild remonstrance from Eleanor that Catherine will think he thinks meanly of the understanding of women, to which Henry replies that he thinks very highly of the understanding of, "...all the women in the world, especially those, whoever they may be, with whom I happen to be in company." Chided to be serious, he goes on, "Miss Morland, nobody thinks more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, Nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half."

1 comment:

  1. Nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half... That is almost Wildean, hrumpole! My apologies for bringing another author into the midst, but, he's so brilliant that, on occasion (perhaps), one must. :-)

    Your kind nature and gentle Sympathy Metre are very much more tolerant than I am able to be, hrumpole, and I genuinely appreciate the contrast in my life. Perhaps I can learn yet! Especially in cases like LW#2, where you point out that her first instinct was correct, and she should have been lauded for that, instead of snarked from the very beginning.

    LW#3 was quite honestly above my ability to deal with. There are too many problems to deal with her. So many, in fact, that you rightly pointed out that there may be very little problem at all. If all participants are happy, or can obtain happiness, why judge? See, I do have much to learn.

    Once again, thank you, sincerely, for the lesson.