Final Thoughts, Gender, Northanger Abbey

On Gender–Part 2 (And Final Thoughts on Northanger Abbey)

In Northanger Abbey we have a heroine whose immaturity seems to outweigh her positive characteristics. In many ways she makes similar mistakes as Marianne and Emma, and although she learns her lessons just as painfully, she does not appear as wise by the end of the novel as the afore-mentioned characters. But she does have romantic partner that serves as a teacher poised to reprimand.

My question here is why does Austen so frequently assign a her heroes as the moral compasses and lecturers of her more misguided, young heroines?

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One thing that these three heroines in particular have in common is the lack of parental involvement in their transition into adulthood. Marianne’s father passes while she is still in the state of adolescence and her mother behaves as if helpless. Emma has spent nearly her entire life without a mother and has a paranoid, childlike father incapable of giving her any real advice, though he cares very much for her welfare. Then there is Mr. and Mrs. Morland, who have too many children to give too much focus to anyone in particular. It would appear to be the case that, in the absence of strong father figures and engaged mothers, the responsibility of guiding a young maid safely into the proprieties of womanhood, oddly enough, falls onto her future husband.

More questions I’m having trouble answering: For an independent woman who writes female characters to have independent thought and free will, why give this sort of reign to the male characters in her novels? And why do we as readers respond so positively to this bizarre romantic dynamic? If this were a legitimate essay I would attempt answers to these questions, but I am honestly perplexed.

One thing I do know is that this characteristic of their romantic relationship brings even more awkwardness to the age differences between each couple. Perhaps, then this can all be tallied up to a cultural aspect of the time, but I find myself unconvinced. I find myself even a bit frustrated with Austen for not allowing her heroines to make their mistakes and grow into adults and choose their mates while maintaining their independent will.

I may be a bit disillusioned, but I can at least take comfort in the fact that I have coined a phrase to describe this phenomenon: The Knightley Effect.

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