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Written by Ivonne
(3/4/2009 10:41 a.m.)
My focus on this read is Isabella Thorpe, and it occurred to me (in no small part due to your thoughtful comments on the heroine factor) how much Isabella appears, when first we meet her, if not the prototypical gothic heroine, a neat contrast to the picture of the heroine Catherine is not, which Jane Austen paints so piquantly in the first chapter.
On Isabella's first appearance, we learn a number of things. First she "had great personal beauty," in contrast to Catherine's being "almost pretty." Her father has died (perhaps even while she was still young!), while Catherine's parents are both alive and well. The Thorpes are arguably more a "fine family" than the Morlands, if only based on the surface qualities of beauty in the sisters (particularly Isabella) and status of the brothers (Oxford, Merchant and Taylors', the sea)—still, a more distinguished claim to the term than the plain Morlands' having "heads and arms and legs enough for the number." Isabella's mother is not only a widow, but "not a very rich one." It seems unlikely that Mr. Morland, with his "considerable independence besides two good livings" and general good sense, would leave his family in distressed circumstances upon his death. Mrs. Morland "knew so little of lords and baronets, that she entertained no notion of their general mischievousness." But Mrs. Thorpe has herself experienced enough "past adventures and sufferings" to fill a few chapters, "in which the worthlessness of lords and attornies" would apparently play a healthy role. While we hear nothing of childhood dormice or drawing skills or piano, Isabella is now decidedly frilly, though Catherine, too, has outgrown some of her tomboyish ways.
I was very much struck by the sharp distinction between the two illuminated by this disparity in their affinity with the role of heroine, as Austen satirizes it. It sets them up as opposites, from the very start of their acquaintance, and despite their immediate intimacy. Austen seems to raise the question, well, how might these heroine-like qualities play out in "real life," by juxtaposing two young women she describes as so different on the matter.
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