The Power Of Jane Austen’s Novels

2076 words - 9 pages

Jane Austen’s career followed novelists such as Ann Radcliffe and Laurence Sterne, at a time when the Gothic and Romance novels were very popular. However, Jane Austen did not look favorably upon these styles, believing them to be harmful to both literature and the reader. In writing her own novels, Austen parodied these genres, but not merely for a humorous effect. She had specific messages that she wanted to get through to her audience, through this method. She wanted to impress upon her reader the value of that which is ordinary, but real, the importance of thinking for oneself, and to make logical judgments of characters.
The first emergence of Austen’s use of satire was in her earliest ...view middle of the document...

From the start of Love and Friendship, Austen wants the reader to think critically about Laura, the “perfect heroine”, and the “interesting” experiences that she goes through. In doing so, Jane Austen emphasizes the importance of “common life” rather than the overly-dramatized, fictional lives depicted in sentimental, Romantic and Gothic novels. In Sense and Sensibility, a novel that Jane Austen would write later on in her career, she writes “...common sense, common care, common prudence, were all sunk in Mrs. Dashwood’s romantic delicacy” (packet). Austen believes that novels should focus on illustrating that which is common, or more realistic, rather than these far-fetched, dramatic plot-lines and characters depicted in sentimental novels. By creating her main character, Laura, as the exaggerated ideal sentimental protagonist, Austen sets out to teach her readers to analyze these novels, and accept the value and importance of the ordinary. She sees this as necessary to living a meaningful life.
In Northanger Abbey, Austen continues to mock other types of novels, providing her audience with reading lessons. However, unlike in Love and Friendship, the main character, Catherine, is not at all described as the “perfect heroine”. Yet, as an avid reader of the sentimental novels, her thoughts and expectations are often unrealistic, due to her tendency to imagine the events of her life as those of a novel.
Henry Tilney plays a very important role in Catherine’s development, constantly reminding her that fiction and reality are separate. At one point, Catherine is talking to him about how much she loves Bath, but more so, how much she has heard and read of other people loving the city. Henry challenges her to alter the way she thinks, telling her that “...people must think for themselves” (96). Throughout Catherine’s speech, it is evident that her love for the city is heavily influenced by the opinions of others. She adopts those views as her own, without questioning them, or forming any opinions herself. In this example, Henry makes it clear that this mode of thinking is flawed. Jane Austen provides this passage to emphasize the importance of independent thought, and not allowing oneself to rely too much others, or by literature. Catherine becomes so dependent on literature that, eventually, she lives her life as if she truly is the heroine in a sentimental novel. She is unable to think independently, and has no sense of self-knowledge. Her thoughts are not logical, as she unrealistically expects everything to occur as they would in a book. For example, after Mrs. Tilney dies, Catherine allows consumed with paranoia that she was murdered by her husband, General Tilney. This drastic conclusion comes to Catherine long after the actual death, and yet it still consumes her. This is what one may expect to happen in a Gothic novel, but in a more realistic situation, it is unlikely to be the case. Henry then addresses her irrationality. “What have you...

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