Study Guide

Northanger Abbey Literature and Writing

By Jane Austen

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Literature and Writing

Northanger Abbey is largely a novel about novels and about reading habits. This book has an odd sort of self awareness of itself as a novel and the narrator often steps back from the story she's telling to consider it as a story. Rather than just tell us about Catherine, we learn about Catherine as a heroine and as a fictional character. Gothic novels are lampooned, or made fun of, here as well, and the text considers the oftentimes disastrous effects of certain kinds of reading habits. It's a rather complicated venture, but Northanger Abbey not only considers the effects that literature has on its characters; it also considers the effect Northanger Abbey the novel has on its real world readers.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. The narrator often pauses in the text to refer to the text as a novel, referencing heroines, plot devices, and chapters. What is the effect of Northanger Abbey's awareness of itself as a novel?
  2. The narrator delivers a lengthy spiel on novels and reading habits at the end of Chapter 5. What is the narrator saying here, and how is this significant to the text as a whole?
  3. Catherine and Isabella both bond over the Gothic novels that they love to read. How do Gothic novels represent the type of relationship that Catherine has with Isabella?
  4. Catherine traces many of her gaffes and problems back to the type of Gothic literature that she read. Is this true, and if so, what effect did Catherine's reading habits have on her behavior?
  5. Isabella writing skills are really questionable, given the awful letter she sent to Catherine, which did nothing to restore Catherine's confidence in her. Do you think you could rewrite and improve upon Isabella's letter?

Chew on This

Though Catherine traces her mistakes back to the Gothic novels she read, her reading habits are really another symptom and not the cause of her behavioral issues.

Northanger Abbey is not about the problems of reading too much, but is instead about the problems of reading books in a certain way – i.e., too seriously.

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