Quick Index Board Index Home FAQ Site Map
|JA's novel apologetic and the Thorpes
Written by TimLee
(3/2/2009 11:46 a.m.)
At the end of chapter 5 we get Jane Austen's famous apologetic for the novel. I have usually read this as no more than what it appears to be on its face: JA telling us there is nothing wrong with reading a good book.
The next chapter, though, shows us this enjoyment of novels in its practical application. Isabella and Catherine discuss Udolpho, and Isabella provides Catherine a list of others to read. It's interesting to me how the place of the novel in this discussion is also a device for developing our understanding of Isabella's character. She promises Catherine a list of "ten or twelve" books, and then proceeds to list them. It is an example of her usual exaggeration, though, when the list turns out to be only seven titles. Isabella advances her own importance by promising her friend more than she actually gives.
Then, in chapter 7, we meet John Thorpe and read another discussion on novels. This one is even more telling for character development, I think. (Pardon the lengthy excerpt.)
“Have you ever read Udolpho, Mr. Thorpe?”
“Udolpho! Oh, Lord! Not I; I never read novels; I have something else to do.”
Catherine, humbled and ashamed, was going to apologize for her question, but he prevented her by saying, “Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t’other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation.”
“I think you must like Udolpho, if you were to read it; it is so very interesting.”
“Not I, faith! No, if I read any, it shall be Mrs. Radcliffe’s; her novels are amusing enough; they are worth reading; some fun and nature in them.”
“Udolpho was written by Mrs. Radcliffe,” said Catherine, with some hesitation, from the fear of mortifying him.
“No sure; was it? Aye, I remember, so it was; I was thinking of that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant.”
“I suppose you mean Camilla?”
“Yes, that’s the book; such unnatural stuff! An old man playing at see–saw, I took up the first volume once and looked it over, but I soon found it would not do; indeed I guessed what sort of stuff it must be before I saw it: as soon as I heard she had married an emigrant, I was sure I should never be able to get through it.”
“I have never read it.”
“You had no loss, I assure you; it is the horridest nonsense you can imagine; there is nothing in the world in it but an old man’s playing at see–saw and learning Latin; upon my soul there is not.”
Thorpe's attitude toward novels is exactly the type that JA warns us against. This present re-read is the first time I have seen the passage in Chapter 5 as more than a mere apologetic. It is a foreshadowing that leads to revelation of deeper character traits: Isabella's self-centered vanity and John Thorpe's tendency to bloviate and dissemble.
I am keeping this insight (at least I hope it's a valid insight) in mind as I consider other characters, such as the Tilneys, and how they are presented in later chapters.
Groupread is maintained by Myretta with WebBBS 3.21.