the liberation of Catherine.
Posted by Kate on January 22, 1998 at 22:56:08:
A little more from Professor Castle.
Her thesis is that Catherine is in need of enlightenment - that she is only half awake most of the time, and has to be shocked into full consciousness of her world.
She suggests that this state reflects Mary Wollstonecraft's analysis of the position of women... "that society kept women - as a sex - in a state of intelletual childishness from which few were able to escape. Because they were brought up only to please men... wome failed to develop their own innate paowers of judgement and understanding."
Austen "connects Catherine's failure to think with the fact that she has never been taught to think. The problem is not individual incapacity but lack of education: Catherine has been made stupid - by a society which falis to honour the intelligence of its female members....No one - until she meets Henry Tilney - has ever shown Catherine that she can be anything other than a 'sad little shatterbrained creature'.
Castle thinks that NA is about Catherine's enlightenment "in part through the tactful ministrations of Henry Tilney. ... Henry does not so much tell Catherine what to think as show her that she can think.... he knows that Catherine's problem can only be rectified by letting her muddle through on her own. Only by not explaining - by refusing to treat her as anything other than an intellectual equal - can he help her to develop, belatedly, a sense of autonomy.
"The paradoxical struggle pays off. For when Catherine faces her greatest moral and intellectual challenge - how to judge the behaviour of Henry's own father- she faces it utterly on her own. In the scene of Catherine's lonely homecoming after the explusion from NA, Austen allegorizes the coming of a woman into a sense of her own cognitive and ethical powers. Neither parent nor lover nor friend can guide her now: she has to decide for herslef the meaning of the General's behaviour. Yet she meets the challenge triumphantly. In trusting, through all the pain she feels, to her own deepest understanding of the General's character... she lays claim to her own "powers of mind", and achieves for the first time an exhilarating and (for her) revolutionary inner freedom.... By loving the one pereson who refuses to condescend to her, she demonstrates that condescension is no longer necessary"
Although I was rather startled at this interpretation of NA, it appeals to me, and it certainly makes me think more sympathetically about Catherine's plight at the beginning. In some ways it makes HT one of JA's more enlightened heroes, too.
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