Consider the passage, "The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl...but she is by no means a simpleton in general," (Chapter XIV, Volume 1 of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey). What...

Consider the passage, "The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl...but she is by no means a simpleton in general," (Chapter XIV, Volume 1 of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey). What language and narrative techniques are employed? What is the relationship of this passage to the novel as a whole? What light do they shed on Henry Tilney's relationship with Catherine and his sister?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Chapter 14, Volume 1 of Northanger Abbey, one narrative technique author Jane Austen uses is metafiction. Metafiction occurs when an author intentionally interrupts the illusion of reality the author has created in a story. There can be many ways of accomplishing metafiction, but it is often accomplished when an author momentarily disrupts a narrative by placing himself/herself into the story as a character.

We see Austen creating metafiction in the first sentence of the passage in question. Throughout the novel, the story has been narrated form a third-person point of view. Yet, in the following first sentence, the narrator suddenly addresses herself using the first-person pronoun "I":

The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have been already set forth by the capital pen of a sister author; and to her treatment of the subject I will only add ...

Since this sentence refers to a "sister author," we can presume that the "I" is the voice of Austen herself, the author of the novel. Therefore, Austen has become her own narrator, whereas typically, the author and the narrator are distinct. Typically, a third-person narrator is an implied non-participant character observing the story. Hence, interrupting the story to become her own narrator so far into the story is a perfect example of metafiction.

In addition, Northanger Abbey is a parody of Gothic novels. Hence, when Austen speaks of her "sister author," she is most likely referring to Anne Radcliffe, an author of many Gothic novels. Austen's character Catherine is obsessed with Gothic novels, and her obsession influences her mind and emotions. For example, Catherine becomes obsessed over the thought that General Tilney killed his wife, which leads to a very embarrassing scene with Henry in which he finds Catherine trespassing on his deceased mother's room and scolds her. Austen uses such instances as these to parody Gothic novels and their negative effects on the psyche, thereby developing the theme of the dangerous effects of Gothic novels. Austen's use of metafiction to allude to Anne Radcliffe and juxtapose herself as an author with Radcliffe further makes evident that the novel is a parody, since doing so in this instance creates a humorous effect.

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