Northanger Abbey

Artificiality and Fallibility in Northanger Abbey College

Jane Austen, through the development of socially conscious female characters, is able to render a remarkably accurate depiction of the social structure present during the late 18th century. Her social commentary, however, highlights certain unbecoming qualities in both her protagonists and antagonists, particularly their artificiality. This feature of her writing is especially evident in her satiric novel Northanger Abbey. While Austen is clear in her criticism of characters such as Isabella and John Thorpe, neither of whom is in Catherine’s favor at the end of the novel, the author appears to be far more accepting of the affectedness of General Tilney, who is portrayed as a severe but fair man. Through the artificiality of her characters and the claims she makes about them, Austen weakens the motifs she intends to exemplify, making her an unreliable author.

General Tilney is consistently illustrated as a strange man with a somewhat severe manner. Despite this, the text never truly suggests that he is a bad man. He is kind enough to invite Catherine to stay with the Tilneys at Northanger Abbey and, although he is concerned with superficial things such as the grandeur of his home and the wealth of his childrens’ spouses, the...

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