How can Northanger Abbey be seen as either conservative or subversive in terms of Gothic genre fiction?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gothic fiction takes itself seriously, with its damsels in distress, dark dangers in ruined castles and abbeys, villains who desire self-interest at all costs, gloomy nights with ill-lit rooms and passageways, howling of ghosts, fleeting visions of dead phantoms, and the final heroics that save the fair maiden. Jane Austen on the other hand, based on her letters and juvenilia, thought the Gothic and Romantic traditions, both, were a distraction and detrimental to the application of reason and sense to life's choices and problems. Therefore, Austen satirized Gothic in Northanger Abbey by gently ridiculing Catherine's silly behavior and foolish notions. She also satirized Gothic by giving Catherine her own dire circumstances--her ejection from the Abbey, her engagement threatened--but Austen shows that these events occurred because of people's abandonment of reason and sense and resultant bad choices. As a result, Austen's novel may be considered conservative in its censure of hyper-emotionalism and the propriety of sensibility gone awry and it may be considered "subversive" in that her novel attempts to dispel the intrigue and spell of the Gothic genre.

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Northanger Abbey

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