Jane Austen by Tony Tanner (auth.)

By Tony Tanner (auth.)

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She realises that she 'had Anger in the Abbey: 'Northanger Abbey' 49 been craving to be frightened'. Without wishing to deviate into the follies of would-be psychosexual criticism, I think it is legitimate to recognise that in an impressionable adolescent girl the desire - craving, indeed - for some kind of intense excitation may easily be sexual even if it takes another form. To be aroused by fear is still to be aroused. And while I am tentatively following this line I would draw attention to the phrase used when Catherine is looking into the cabinet at all the (empty) drawers: there is 'in the centre, a small door, closed also with a lock and key (which) secured in all probability a cavity of importance'.

In effect what she experiences is a kind of epiphany. The world is not random and selfish, contingent and meaningless. It does offer the spectacle of a kind of community. In its typological generality - the shepherd, the woman and baby - the scene has the qualities of a timeless, religious, biblical scene, rather than conveying the sense of a specific, historical locale. The community is not one of the sort known by Emma (again no names appear - no one is recognised), but an archetypal community of shared endeavour, not perhaps to one known common end, but of the more general obligation to work, to do· the job to which, however, mysteriously, you were appointed - in a word (one of George Eliot's favourites), to do your 'duty'.

Scarcely the appurtenances of The Mysteries of Udolpho. Catherine soon abandons this realm of foolish expectations. 'The visions of romance were over. ' She realises that she 'had Anger in the Abbey: 'Northanger Abbey' 49 been craving to be frightened'. Without wishing to deviate into the follies of would-be psychosexual criticism, I think it is legitimate to recognise that in an impressionable adolescent girl the desire - craving, indeed - for some kind of intense excitation may easily be sexual even if it takes another form.

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