by Jane Austen
Markers of the Gothic: Images and Objects
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Austen uses, and disrupts, a lot of the symbols and images that characterized popular Gothic novels in her spoof of the Gothic novel. The Abbey itself serves as a symbol of the Gothic, and of Catherine's own hyperactive imagination, which mistakes fiction for reality. Within the Abbey, Catherine continually sees and misinterprets Gothic symbols: an old chest (that turns out to be empty); a mysterious manuscript (that is really a laundry list); a secret passageway (that's really an innocuous staircase). Other Gothic images and symbols, like thunderstorms and portraits of the deceased, also turn out to be much less exciting than Catherine initially suspects. These symbols and images of the Gothic become part of Austen's skewering of the Gothic novel genre, as well as part of her thematic focus on Catherine's overactive imagination and faulty assumptions.