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|My focus: ideas of love
Written by Nicki
(4/4/2012 6:30 p.m.)
Even within the first seven chapters, we get a good idea of certain characters' ideas about love. Most specifically, we have a very clear contrast between Isabella and Catherine. I’ll just run through a few of my other thoughts first, before moving on to that comparison.
The first mention of love in the novel is a Shakespeare quote from Twelfth Night: ‘like Patience on a monument/ Smiling at Grief’. (This sounds like a pretty good description of Anne Elliot, actually!). However, it’s not looking as though Catherine will need to imitate Viola – her life is pretty grief-free, except for the shocking circumstance of her having ‘no lover to portray’. I’d say seventeen is still quite young to be having a lover, but Catherine does seem particularly innocent at this point. Like most girls of that age, she has not excited any grand passions in anyone else either. As with everything else JA describes about Catherine’s early life, it seems very normal. While she may not be heroine material, Catherine is just your standard Regency girl growing up without anything to distress or vex her, other than piano lessons and not being the fastest learner in the world.
Mrs Morland and Mr Allen both strike me as very practical sorts of people, with not particularly romantic minds. Mrs Morland fails to caution her daughter on the evils of ‘lords and baronets’ but gives her sound, sensible advice on keeping healthy and saving money. Mr Allen doesn’t think about ‘how proper Mr Tilney might be as a dreamer or a lover’, but he does make sure he is of good character and suitable as an acquaintance for Catherine. They don’t think much about love (how could Mr Allen, married to Mrs Allen?) but they seem cautious enough to approach the idea from a sensible point of view.
A quote which intrigued me was ‘as a celebrated writer has maintained, no lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman’s love is declared’. My copy of Northanger Abbey references a Mr Richardson in a letter in the Rambler. I wonder if this was society’s view of love? It links into the idea that if Jane Bennet had displayed as much affection for Mr Bingley as she felt, she would been seen as immodest, and certainly laid herself open to unpleasant gossip like Marianne Dashwood. Although Jane Austen (rightly) mocks the idea in this paragraph, it does seem as though society did require ladies to be discreet about their preferences, to the point of not being allowed to be seen as being in love. I think the general idea was to avoid looking as though the lady were pursuing the gentleman, rather than the other way round! Saying that ladies are not justified in being in love before an outright proposal (immediately after which they are supposed to both fall in love and consent to marriage) is of course ridiculous, but the idea behind it does seem to have been a general view of the time.
One thing I love about Catherine is that she really is very realistic about her feelings for Mr Tilney. Even the ON, at the end of Chapter 3, says only that she had ‘a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance’ and doesn’t try to pretend that she is in love already. She clearly admires him and would like to see more of him, as is quite natural. (That said, I was already in love with Henry after my first time reading Chapter 3!). She later protests to Isabella that ‘you should not persuade me that I think so very much about Mr Tilney’ but acknowledges that she was ‘pleased with him’. So far, we yet haven’t had any hint about what Henry might be feeling.
Isabella, on the other hand, seems to be taking Catherine’s admiration and blowing it up to full-scale obsession! She claims that ‘Everything is so insipid, so uninteresting, that does not relate to the beloved object!’ This seems like overkill to me, and much more like obsession than love. She tries to convince Catherine that she will be ‘miserable’ if she never sees Mr Tilney again, and that she is indifferent to everybody else’s admiration (not entirely true, as we see when we meet John Thorpe's flattery in Chapter 7). All of her protestations are very dramatic. She also uses the subject to hint at her own preference for James Morland – talking about her preference for light-eyed sallow clergymen, and declaring ‘where the heart is really attached, I know very well how little one can be pleased with the attention of anybody else’. Of course, later in the same chapter, she starts her little adventure with the two young men, giving the lie to her words ;-) It is clear by her looking back at the young men ‘only three times’ when she is walking with James, that she only prefers him to other men for now, and is still well up for a flirtation with anyone else. So much for her idea of love!
James seems fairly besotted with Isabella, and there are strong hints of his having come to Bath to see more of her. Love is not mentioned, but he does praise her to the skies, so we can fairly assume he at least thinks himself in love.
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