In genre in many ways, seen as

In Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen effectively breaks the
boundaries of the traditional gothic genre in many ways, seen as the parody of
the underlying theme in the novel, as well as through the protagonist’s
character.

Austen immediately introduces Catherine as the heroine in
this novel, arguably forcing that label as part of her identity. This is
evident with the opening sentence of the novel; ‘no one has ever seen Catherine
Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine’. In
addition with this, the description of Catherine portrays her as a ‘flawed’
character; ‘she had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour’ –
evidently a description surrounded with a negative connotation. In this, the
narrator effectively displays the gap between how things should be in the ideal
life of a fictional heroine, and the actual reality that Catherine faces. This
intertwines with her character’s description as it further emphasizes how she
differs to others (women, in particular) in the novel. Additionally, this
indifference may foreshadow her latter troubles when meeting the Tilney family
and discovering their secret. The reader is left with the impression from the
beginning that Catherine’s story will not come without flaws.

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In relation to context, Austen was known for satire and
ironic sense of humour. Northanger
Abbey demonstrates this with its parodic take on gothic novels; it satirizes
books from the 1700s that determined the way children should behave in society.
Austen therefore effectively highlights this through the protagonist’s
character and how she, upon first impression, differentiates to others in the
novel.

Seeing as the Gothic genre is known for overflowing
boundaries, such as: gender, past and present, social hierarchies, reality and
fantasy, body etc. Austen challenges this in Northanger Abbey, in particular
social hierarchies. Gothic
heroines in the 1790s are seen to be “victims of an unforgiving economy”1.
This is where Catherine’s discovery about General Tilney interlinks; can he be
considered a Gothic villain? On one hand, he can be interpreted as one, not
necessarily for murdering his wife, but for enforcing the economic and social
system. Catherine comes to this realization; “Catherine at any rate heard
enough to feel that in suspecting General Tilney of either murdering or
shutting up his wife, she had scarcely sinned against his character, or
magnified his cruelty”. Here, Catherine demonstrates her being subservient,
something Wollstonecraft calls ‘not natural’ – in doing so, perhaps this is yet
again a way of Austen to break the Gothic boundaries? In this, Austen
effectively displays a distorted story that parodies the gothic, playing on its
boundaries and altering them.

From the beginning of the novel, Austen introduces us to a
character that is evidently different to others, ‘awkward…sallow skin…’ etc. Acknowledging
the fact that Austen parodies the gothic, the reader is effectively left with
the impression that that’s exactly what the story will entail. With Austen
breaking the gothic boundaries almost immediately, Northanger Abbey breaks
society’s expectations with this novel by presenting Catherine as a character
with similar traits that of a women from the 18th century, but
nonetheless stands out with how different and flawed she truly is – in this way
Austen alters the boundaries of the traditional Gothic genre.

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