Northanger Abbey

Afraid of the Dark: A Gothic Binary in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey

The segment on pages 133-135* of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey relates the binary of light and darkness which symbolizes the interaction between Gothicism and reality in the novel, helping the reader to realize role of Catherine in the novel as a staple between the two extremes.

A popular form of entertainment in Austen’s time, Gothic novels were considered to be full of cheap thrills. Northanger Abbey’s heroine, Catherine Morland is a true lady of her time and enjoys the sensation and intrigue of Gothic novels, often to the point of excess. Northanger Abbey, however, is not a Gothic novel, but rather a story based in realism. Catherine is a realist character caught up in Gothic notions and ideals; she is in a sort of limbo, making her an ideal candidate to serve as mediator between light and dark, Gothic and Realist literature. The binary established between light and dark help to assure the reader of Catherine’s candidacy.

As Catherine is about to read the letters she finds tucked away in the cabinet in her room, her candle begins to flicker. This fluctuation in light makes Catherine “turn to it with alarm,” for she is afraid her candle is in “danger of sudden extinction” (135). The words “alarm,” “danger,” and “sudden”—even...

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