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Sentimentalism and gothicism in Jane Austens “Northanger Abbey”
2001 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor)Student thesis
Abstract [en]

In Jane Austen’s novels, the need to distinguish between illusion and real life is a central theme. The female characters, on their way to adulthood, go from innocence via disillusionment to a clearer view of themselves and their relationships. This is also an important aspect in Northanger Abbey, a gothic satire and one of Austen’s early works. In this novel, the main theme is how literature influences its readers and how fiction and imagination is mixed up with reality. Austen mocks, but also seriously criticises, the cult of sensibility, and especially the extreme sensationalism that runs throughout gothic stories of the late 18th century. _x000B_The sentimental novels responded to the beautiful in nature and held the belief that humankind was innately benevolent and wished others well. The term sensibility, which later on declined into sentimentality, meant “susceptibility to tender feelings”, which signified the ability to identify with others and to feel their misery with inward pain. By the 1750s, these characteristics were accepted as general ethics and general morality. The central figure in the sentimental novels is the heroine of feeling, who is characterised by her strong passions, sensibility and delicacy. Unfortunately, the sensibility in much of this literature became self-indulgent and superficial, and a way to boast about sensitive susceptibility._x000B_The gothic literature was an extension of the sentimental literature and responded to the sublime. The sublime referred to the grand and lofty in nature, the unpredictable and the greatness of fear and of what Edmund Burke called “the terrible uncertainty”. In addition, the sublime experience is one of domination. Consequently, the gothic novels emphasised romantic settings, supernatural elements, terror and distress, but even here, the main character was the heroine of feeling. The Beautiful and the Sublime are the two sides of the same coin, as are the sentimental and gothic novels._x000B_In Northanger Abbey, Austen illustrates how easily young minds adopt the values and manners of literary characters and behave like them without being aware of it, or because this way of behaving has become a trend in and a criterion of polite society. She presents two different ways of responding to this literature: sentimentalism, characterised by Isabella, and gothicism, characterised by Catherine. Furthermore, Austen presents the possible repercussions of such behaviour for individuals and society at large. The purpose of my paper is to examine these two responses to literature, and their consequences for the two female protagonists and for those around them. _x000B_By comparing the literature that these two characters read to their respective responses to it, with close reading of the text and several examples from it, I show how they are influenced in different ways and how these two responses - sentimentalism and gothicism - are manifested and also what consequences they lead to. It becomes clear how important it is to be able to distinguish between fiction and reality, and perhaps this is even more important in today’s society when it comes to the possible negative influences from films and soap operas.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2001. , 19 p.
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:kau:diva-53649Local ID: ENG C-11OAI: oai:DiVA.org:kau-53649DiVA: diva2:1102209
Subject / course
English
Available from: 2017-05-29 Created: 2017-05-29

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