Study Guide

Northanger Abbey Gender

By Jane Austen

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Gender plays a deterministic role in the world of Northanger Abbey. Well, gender itself isn't magically determining things. Expectations that are influenced by gender are, however. The expectations surrounding gender influence everything from modes of behavior to reading habits. And these expectations produce definite results – to a point at least. The characters here frequently disrupt gender expectations: Eleanor reads history books, Henry knows about fashion, Catherine doesn't keep a journal like "most" ladies do. Gender definitely determines and structures the world in which these characters live, but gender roles and traits are also up for debate in this text.

Questions About Gender

  1. During their climactic confrontation, Henry uses rationality and reason to challenge Catherine's run-away romantic imagination. Does the text link reason to men and romance to women in any ways? Does it ever challenge these gender associations?
  2. Catherine is often hesitant to contradict adult men, like John Thorpe and Henry Tilney, who she seems to worship as a hero. Does Catherine's hesitant attitude reflect gender expectations for women here?
  3. Are there evidences of double standards for men and women at work in the text?
  4. Are the men in this text subject to gender expectations and limitations like the women?
  5. On the other hand, do the men's restrictions stem more from other, non-gender factors, like class status?

Chew on This

Though Henry often makes fun of women, or at least society's, ideas about what women should do, he actually has fairly progressive views on gender.

Henry is being serious when he makes fun of women and thinks that he is better than them.

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