if I thought I should ever be like Miss Bates! so silly– so satisfied — so smiling — so prosing — so undistinguishing and unfastidious– and so apt to tell every thing relative to every body about me

I’ve been racking my brain for ideas for this blog post for days with not much success. I’m so impressed with modern re-workings of Jane Austen novels like The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (which I shared about last week). While the vlogs that Lizzie creates are the center piece of the work, one aspect that I particularly enjoyed was all of the twitter interactions between the characters. I had trouble at first trying to think of what Austen character would be most likely to tweet or who would do the best job. But then I realized that there was a clear winner for the worst tweeter: Miss Bates from Emma.

To say that Miss Bates is not known for her brevity would be an understatement. Twitter requires pithy and concise remarks: the opposite of anything Miss Bates has ever said. The idea of her trying to tweet is especially hilarious to me. The entire concept would be lost on her. It wouldn’t matter that no one else would tweet at her; she would just keep on typing novels on twitter. I didn’t tweet about anything important, which is the point. I don’t think that the irony of Miss Bates tweeting is lost on anyone except for herself.

So here I present to you the world’s worst tweeter:

https://twitter.com/BatesMiss

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when I write to them and sign my name ‘Lydia Wickham.’ What a good joke it will be! I can hardly write for laughing.

This video is haunting to me. I’m not sure if I’ve watched it without tearing up a bit. Even though I know it is just a story, it feels so very real. It is the last video that Lydia Bennet (Mary Kate Wiles) ever publishes on youtube as part of the extremely popular The Lizzie Bennet Diaries web series created by Hank Green and Bernie Su.

I extremely enjoyed watching the web-series evolve over its duration and seeing how they would continue to adapt the story into a moden day context. Even though I knew the entire story, the changes help make it a new and fresh show. While there were a couple of smaller changes that I enjoyed, such as making Colonel Fitzwilliam a gay best friend, the one change that I enjoyed the most was how they developed the character of Lydia. In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Lydia has a voice and consequently a heart.

In this adaptation, they chose to reduce the number of Bennet sisters from five to three. I wasn’t surprised by this choice because I’ve seen it in a lot of modern re-workings of Pride and Prejudice. Since Mary and Kitty don’t contribute heavily to the plot, it often helps move the story along at a quicker pace to remove them. Also I think that it makes sense for modern adaptations given that families tend to have less children now. In The Lizzy Bennet Diaries, Mary is a cousin and Kitty is cat that follows Lydia around (a detail that I particularly love!). However this choice really changes the Bennet family dynamic. In the novel, Lydia has Kitty as a loyal companion and great friend, but in this adaptation she is left on the outside. Jane and Lizzie are extremely close as they are in the novel, but unlike in the novel, Lydia is hurt by her sisters’ neglect.

Lydia is first introduced in this series by popping in the back of her Lizzie’s vlog. She is fun and silly and the typical annoying Lydia that is present in all adaptations. She is a wild party girl and boy-crazy: two traits that are made very clear in the novel. However this adaptation adds a lot more to her by showing her vulnerabilities. She cares for stray kittens and sticks up for her cousin Mary, yet struggles in school. All of these additional details are provided through her own video blogs that she creates on a separate channel. As the story progresses, she continues to struggle while Lizzie and Jane become busy in their own lives. Lizzie especially pushes her to grow up, but is shown to be cruel to Lydia by not really valuing her as a person.

As this story develops, of course, Lydia gets together with George Wickham. Their relationship is chronicled via Lydia’s videos with this video as the culmination. Seeing Lydia express her love for George so honestly and heart-felt is especially painful knowing that he is just going to end up breaking her heart.

I was curious when the vlogs started to see how they would adapt the famous downfall of Lydia because elopement is certainly not a stigma anymore. What they chose to do was to have Wickham sell a sex tape that he convinced Lydia to make on the internet. Darcy comes to the rescue by buying the company that is selling the tapes and removing them from the market. In the novel, Lydia believes that Wickham will marry her and thus she is partially saved from not being knowingly complicit in a lewd activity. In the series, this distinction is made clearer. Lydia allows Wickham to tape their sex, but she has no idea that it is on the internet. This clear distinction helped form her as a victim in this series.

In addition to seeing a new side of Lydia, I also got to see a new side of Lizzie. In the novel, the relationship between Lizzie and Lydia is not that deep or meaningful, yet in this series, their sisterhood is much deeper. A contributing factor to Lydia’s downfall is a nasty fight with Lizzie that ends with them not speaking. After the incident with George, both sisters learn to see each other in a new light. This aspect of the story helps contribute to the idea of ‘pride and prejudice’ as Lizzie is not only prejudiced and blind towards Darcy, but to her own family.

Lydia really steals the show in this series. Her relationship with George Wickham is painful and superbly written and acted. By choosing to give her a voice in the story, she develops a heart that the viewer is able to see. And since she has developed such a heart, we want to see her succeed– something that has never been the case for me regarding Lydia before. Typically, I’m satisfied to see her married to the awful Wickham and even thinking that she deserved worse. Yet this series has really changed my opinions about Lydia. It made me care about her.

The predictions of the small band of true friends who witnessed the ceremony, were fully answered in the perfect happiness of the union.

As someone who loves Jane Austen and BBC period dramas, I’ve watched a lot of film adaptations of Austen novels. I’m extremely partial to the 2009 BBC  miniseries of Emma regardless of certain critics’ opinions. I used to be annoyed when film adaptations were not identical to the novel; however, I have since learned to appreciate each for their different values. Different mediums and forms of narrative have different ways of telling stories that sometimes highlight different aspects. It is fascinating to me to see what themes each adaptations deems important. The 1996 Hollywood film version chooses to tell the story of Emma in a vein that is decidedly a romantic-comedy. While all adaptations tell the romantic story, I particularly like the British versions that in my opinion, do a better job of bringing up other themes.

I think that one of the best ways to determine what major themes or ideas are central to the film adaptation is to look at the ending. The way that a filmmaker chooses to end their work is telling. The 1996 ITV TV adaptation starring Kate Beckinsale and the 2009 BBC miniseries starring Romola Garai end very differently. Yet each of their endings provide great insight into the stories that their screenwriters, Andrew Davies and Sandy Welsh respectively, were trying to tell.

First, the ending of the 1996 ITV TV adaptation…

The first time I saw the ending of the 1996 adaptation, I was extremely confused. The semi-violent attacking of chickens seems very out of place. During the film banquet, Emma approaches Harriet and Robert Martin and invites them to Hartfield. This mingling of the classes conflicts with the novel’s account. The novel says that the friendship between Emma and Harriet naturally cooled, yet this film chooses to further strengthen the bond. Davies is particularly concerned with the social messages of Emma and thus tries to resolve the problems of class disparity. In both the novel and the film, Emma rightly understands the difference of class between her and Harriet. However in the film, Emma is unsatisfied by this divide and thus the bridge is consciously crossed. This attempt to both acknowledge the class difference and to remove it is problematic. While it might be a satisfying conclusion or ending, it is not really possible. The violence of the chicken thieves hints at the uneasiness of the situation. This idyllic resolution is impossible.

The 2009 BBC miniseries ends on a much happier and tranquil note…

It is certainly strange that this version ends with Emma and Mr. Knightley leaving Highbury. Perhaps paradoxically, I think that this adaptation is the most concerned with the dynamics of Highbury as an isolated community of people. The fact that Emma has never left home is particularly highlighted and is shown to be limiting to her. While she is queen of her world, she is shown to be missing out on the world at large. In the novel, Emma and Mr. Knightley do make a honeymoon tour with the visit to the seaside. However until I saw this adaptation, I thought nothing of it. The fact that Emma does finally leave Highbury after her marriage illustrates that Mr. Knightley plays an important role in opening up her world physically as well as mentally.

“And really, I do not think the impression will soon be over”

As reigning queen of Highbury, Emma maintains a select group of acquaintances that include only the best sort of people. Only respectable gentlemen and ladies are visitors at Hartsfield. Austen’s novels are typically limited to the gentry class; thus, the mention of poverty in Emma is particularly striking. The brief mention of this family seems out of place at first glance and like a mere through-away.  However I think that it creates an important dimension to Emma’s character. Her compassion and sympathy for the nearby impoverished family increases our sympathy for her as a character. Emma’s tireless care of her difficult father reveals her core goodness and compassion. The narrator is defensive of Emma’s actions and praises her sincerity.

Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. (63)

The narrator is often very critical of Emma, yet this circumstance provides a different tone. There is a special emphasis on her understanding and natural goodness. The narrator is critical of compassion that is solely monetary and thus the clear exclusion of Emma from this category is very complementary. This very flattering picture of Emma then leads to a puzzling conclusion of the scene. By the end of this scene, Emma’s attention has moved completely away from this family to her own matchmaking of Mr. Elton and Harriet. After the praise of her sincerity, it is now called into question by the speech she makes following their visit.

“These are sights, Harriet, to do one good. How trifling they make every thing else appear!– I feel now as if I could think of nothing but these poor creatures all the rest of the day; and yet, who can say how soon it may all vanish from my mind?” “Very true,” said Harriet. “Poor creatures! one can think of nothing else.” “And really, I do not think the impression will soon be over,” said Emma, as she crossed the low hedge, and tottering footstep which ended the narrow, slippery path through the cottage garden, and brought them into the lane again. “I do not think it will,” stopping to look once more at all the outward wretchedness of the place, and recall the still greater within. (64)

The superlative nature of this speech creates a tone of insincerity. Emma and Harriet remark that they should not get over the impression, but immediately they do. Significantly though, Harriet crosses into superlative much more than Emma. Harriet uses the word “nothing”, while Emma acknowledges that she feels as if she could “think of nothing” else, but she additionally says that it will probably soon “vanish from [her] mind”. While she shows inconstancy in her thoughts, she is aware of her own character. Her acknowledgment of her own character is surprisingly accurate. Emma is usually wrong about her own perceptions and opinions, but this instance she is right on the money. She importantly acknowledges the moment when her thoughts and feelings change.

“Ah! Harriet, here comes a very sudden trial of our stability in good thoughts. Well, (smiling,) I hope it may be allowed that if compassion has produced exertion and relief to the sufferers, it has done all that is truly important. If we feel for the wretched, enough to do all we can for them, the rest is empty sympathy, only distressing to ourselves.” (64)

Her remarks upon her own feelings are true. She recognizes her own superlative comments and understands her error of perception. She then remedies her thoughts, while still remaining in sympathy with the poor. It is unfortunate that her focus is lost because she is occupied with her erroneous matchmaking. However this scene provides a great look at how Emma can be compassionate and perceptive.

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe…

How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavored to form? His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! — Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion, and straight black lips. (35)

Observation: The passage is a first person narration from Victor Frankenstein describing a past event.

Interpretation: While this passage is mostly a physical description of the creature that Frankenstein created, the first person narration helps create an element of value judgement. The first-person narration limits the introduction to solely Frankenstein’s point of view. The focus is entirely upon Frankenstein’s feelings and opinions surrounding the “birth” of his creature. The creature’s experience of birth is forgotten. This first person narration gives the creator even more power over the creation.

Observation: The final sentence is a lengthy description that is bound together by the use of commas and semicolons.

Interpretation: The use of semicolons draws many separate features together into one coherent sentence. Even though the passage recounts Frankenstein’s feelings in retrospect, the semicolons give the description a feel of immediateness. As the different clauses run together in one sentence, they mirror his thoughts running together. The continuous flow of thought gives the appearance of an immediate reaction that is similar to stream of consciousness. This sentence structure masks the fact that this description is being given in the past tense.

Observation: In Frankenstein’s description, there is an emphasis on color.

Interpretation: The colors of different physical features of the creature’s body are very objective descriptive features. The fact that his teeth are white is not something that can be debated. The fact that his skin is described as yellow seems to give the description an objective and scientific quality. The very basic nature of color helps give this passage an authoritative tone. This creates the illusion that this description is purely objective and void of emotion. However the latent value judgement is made clear by the adverbs that modify the color adjectives. His teeth are not just white, but pearly white; his eye sockets are dun white; his lips are straight black. Thus these adjectives describing color help craft an accurate physical description with an underlying value judgement of disgust.

Observation: Frankenstein uses the verbs “selected” and “endeavored to form”.

Interpretation: From the very beginning of this passage, it is clear that Frankenstein is the creator. This “catastrophe” is all of his making. These verbs emphasize Frankenstein’s agency. The ugly features that are so repulsive to him are not the result of an accident, but rather a conscious effort of Frankenstein. The fact that he emphasizes his role as the creator highlights the core of his anguish. As an intentional creator he is implicated in all of his creation’s crimes.

Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such odious subjects as soon as I can, impatient to restore every body, not greatly at fault themselves, to tolerable comfort, and to have done with all the rest

Elopement is not a new idea or theme in Austen’s novels. Many young women are seduced and drawn away from propriety by wayward men throughout the course of Austen’s six novels. Jane Williams is ruined when she is impregnated and left by Willoughby. Hers is a tragic case. However many other women have less disastrous results. Lydia Bennet could have easily had the same fate, yet she is saved by Darcy’s intervention. Additionally his prior intervention saves his sister, Georgiana from her own proposed elopement with Wickhan.

In Mansfield Park, we also treated to two inappropriate flirtations. One is successful in that it ends in a marriage, one does not. Maria and Julia Bertram are as equally flirtatious and boy-crazy as Lydia Bennet. They are all perhaps the products of over indulgence. However both Julia and Lydia end up with respectable marriages, while  Maria ends up disgraced living in an unpleasant situation with Mrs. Norris. In all cases involved, marriage is the only way to avoid ruin. So why do Lydia and Julia end up married, while Maria is not so lucky?

I’d like to suggest that Lydia is a hybrid of both Julia and Maria. The clearest distinction between these three characters is the fact that Maria Rushworth was married before she engages in her dalliances. While Lydia loves to flirt, I don’t think that she would ever stray from her husband. The primary motivation of Lydia is to get married and once she achieves this goal, I don’t think that she would endanger this goal. Part of the Lydia’s punishment lies in the fact that she will remain faithful to Wickham while he has many minor flirtations with other women. While neither Maria or Lydia show any remorse, Lydia’s action are shown in a better light because she was aiming for a respectable marriage. Maria commits adultery because she is tired of her husband and enjoys Henry Crawford’s attentions. I think that this key difference explains their difference of fates. Her reprehensible motives justify Maria’s fate. There is a certain sinister quality that is present in Maria that is absent in Lydia. Lydia is careless and thoughtless. Maria however is not thoughtless. She is very calculated and this quality dooms her to her fate.

Julia’s fate is very similar to Lydia’s with one key difference. Julia is eventually welcomed back at Mansfield, while Lydia is banished to the north of England after one brief visit to Longbourn. The reason that Julia is allowed to reenter the proper society is because she feels remorse for her actions. Something that Lydia never does. Julia’s humility allows her to be saved.

Julia’s match became a less desperate business than he had considered it at first. She was humble, and wishing to be forgiven; and Mr. Yates, desirous of being really received into the family, was disposed to look up to him and be guided.

As younger sisters, Julia and Lydia both share similar traits and upbringings. Julia’s transgressions are much less than Maria’s because she was much less indulged and thus had a greater humility about her charms.

That Julia escaped better than Maria was owing, in some measure, to a favourable difference of disposition and circumstance, but in a greater to her having been less the darling of that very aunt, less flattered and less spoilt. Her beauty and acquirements had held but a second place. She had been always used to think herself a little inferior to Maria. Her temper was naturally the easiest of the two; her feelings, though quick, were more controllable, and education had not given her so very hurtful a degree of self-consequence.

Similarly in Lydia’s case, she had Jane as an older sister. While Jane is infinitely more sensible and upright than Maria, she is the preferred daughter. Mrs. Bennet spoils and indulges Lydia, but her preference for Jane was perhaps of benefit to Lydia is minimizing her folly. The one thing that is constant among all three girls is the influence of their upbringings. The way that they were raised seems to be of great consequence in their actions. However their fates are justified by the comparison of their siblings. Lydia is silly, but Jane and Lizzy are not. Her fate did not have to be inevitable. Maria and Julia are contrasted with their brother Edmund who learned proper morals.

However they might be divided in future, her mind might be always supported.

I understand you. You do not suppose that I have ever felt much. For four months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind, without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature; knowing that it would make you and my mother most unhappy whenever if were explained to you, yet unable to prepare you for it in the least. It was told me,– it was in a manner forced on me by the very person herself, whose prior engagement ruined all my prospects; and told me as I thought, with triumph. This person’s suspicions, therefore, I have had to oppose, by endeavoring to appear indifferent where I have been most deeply interested;– and it has not been only once;–I have had her hopes and exultation to listen to again and again. I have known myself to be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection. Nothing has proved him unworthy; nor has anything declared him indifferent to me. I have had to contend against the unkindness of his sister, and the insolence of his mother; and have suffered the punishment of an attachment, without enjoying its advantages. And all this has been going on at a time, when, as you know too well, it has not been my only unhappiness. If you can think me capable of ever feeling, surely you may suppose that I have suffered now. The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion; they did not spring up of themselves; they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first. No, Marianne. Then, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely– not even what I owed to my dearest friends–from openly showing that I was very unhappy.

-Sense and Sensibility

Elinor, the notorious suppressor of emotion, provides an uncharacteristically effusive speech to Marianne. This burst of emotion proves that Elinor’s “sense” lies in restraint, not the absence of feeling. Elinor is eager to dispute Marianne’s assumption that to not express feelings is to not have feelings. This conjecture frames Elinor’s entire argument. She starts off with an acknowledgment of Marianne’s sentiments regarding sensibility and systematically disputes the assertion that she has never felt much.

The bulk of Elinor’s argument consists of her mapping out the reasons that she has had to be unhappy. While the knowledge of Edward’s engagement is devastating, much of the pain is the result of the circumstances and context around her receiving this information. Her pain was magnified by both the secret nature of her information and the context in which she received it. Interestingly though, Elinor suffered more because she wasn’t able to express her feelings to a single person and was forced to act as if she felt the opposite to Lucy. Marianne suggests that because Elinor was not overflowing with emotion and expressive in her grief that is was not real. Elinor not only refutes the truth of this claim, but takes it a step further. Her control of sentiment actually strengthens the depth of her feelings rather than diminish them.

Additionally the knowledge of this engagement has been doubly detrimental to her happiness because while it brings her farther away from Edward, it also served to make him more desirable. His prior attachment explained his strange behavior towards her. It would easier for Elinor if she could think ill of him, yet his integrity and faithfulness to Lucy strengthens her regard for him. The very thing that makes it impossible for him to be with her is the same thing that makes him worthy of her. The final wound involves the censure of Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny Dashwood. Since they believe Edward attached to her, they treat her contemptuously. Ironically in their attempt to discourage the supposed unsuitable match, they actually encourage the more unsuitable match in Lucy. Their rude comments have extra poison because Elinor does not have the love of Edward as a consolation. As she astutely says, she has “suffered the punishment of an attachment, without enjoying its advantages”.

These circumstances are given as evidence for her unhappiness. She argues that any person in the same position as her would feel the same. After clearly stating the reasons for her feelings, she focuses her attention on the explanation of her “composure of mind”. It is important to note that her restraint of emotion was the result of intentional effort. Elinor’s sense of propriety undoubtedly played a large role in her repressing the overflow of emotion. However it is important to note that she cites her repression as necessary due to her promise of secrecy more than anything else. The situation of the information forced her to act in a certain way that was contrary to her feelings. Elinor’s speech is heartfelt and devastating, yet it is entirely rational and follows a very clear structure. This explanation to Marianne shows her combination of both sense and sensibility perfectly. She has been very unhappy for months, yet she has not let her feelings show because the situation demanded it. Additionally when expressing her unhappiness, it is done in an organized and clear manner. Typically strong emotion is associated with chaos and uncontrollable displays; however, Elinor debunks this notion. Her feelings match her personality and represent her strength of feeling– but in their own way. 

Upon my soul, I do not know much about him as to all that. But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got the nicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw.

When considering serious questions about human character in Jane Austen novels, my first instinct is to look to the sensible characters. Who better to provide insight than witty Elizabeth Bennett or Emma Woodhouse? Or the wise Mr. Knightley or Colonel Brandon? However I think that to dismiss everything that Mr. Collins or Sir Elliot says would be erroneous. In Sense and Sensibility, a seemingly frivolous, yet vastly intriguing character is Sir John Middleton. He is a comedic and ridiculous, yet lovable and endearing. He provides another interesting perspective to enhance and contribute to Elinor’s sense and Fanny’s self-interest.

John and Fanny Dashwood offer a very distasteful look at what family as they refuse to offer any monetary assistance to his half-sisters and force them to live in reduced means. Sir John, in contrast, provides a very different perspective on family as he invites the Dashwoods, who he hardly knows, to come stay in his cottage. His kind assistance saves the family from destitution; however, the motives for his gift are particularly interesting. We cherish him for the same that we laugh at him.

He delighted in collecting about him more young people than his house would hold, and the noisier they were the better was he pleased.

-Sense and Sensibility (31-32)

To Sir John, there never were truer words spoken than “the more, the merrier.” To him, everyone is family. As he loves to gather people around him, there is a great probability that he would he would have helped the Dashwood sister even if there were no familial or blood ties. He represents a view of family that is not dependent on blood or conjugal relationships. There isn’t even very much affective relationship in this case. His support is the natural result of his own character and wishes.

The friendliness of his disposition made him happy in accommodating those, whose situation in comparison with the past, as unfortunate. In showing kindness to his cousins therefore he had the real satisfaction of a good heart; and in settling a family of females only in his cottage, he had all the satisfaction of a sportsman; for a sportsman, though he esteems only those of his sex who are sportsmen likewise, is not often desirous of encouraging their taste by admitting them to a residence within his own manor.

Sense and Sensibility (32)

Is his generous nature lessened by the benefit and pleasure he derives from having them live in his cottage? I would agree that it doesn’t. It is impossible to remove all self-interest from all actions, therefore I think that Austen would prefer for us to attribute Sir John’s assistance as primarily the result of his friendly disposition. In stark contrast to Sir John’s all-inclusive view on family is Fanny Dashwood’s strict stipulations about who is qualified to be apart of her family. Fanny’s selfish desire to keep all her husband’s money for their son is seen as cruel; however Sir John’s generous gathering of people can come across as comical. While the Dashwoods are worthy of Sir John’s support, it is was not necessary for his assistance. The gossipy nature of Sir John and Mrs. Jennings frustrates the more respectable characters. The very character that helped protect the Dashwoods as vexes them. While Sir John’s comically large definition is greatly preferred to Fanny’s exclusive and vindicate definition, neither are the ideal.

Perhaps someone who does show the proper view of “family” is Colonel Brandon. He is loyal to his first love and supports her child whom he neither shares familial or conjugal ties. He also provides Edward Ferrars with a living because he sympathizes with him and is assured of his merit. Col. Brandon provides Edward with assistance because of both generosity as well as merit. He has a inclusive view of family that is admirable, yet it is tempered with discernment. The absence of discernment is what opens Sir John up to our amusement.

To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well.

At first glance, the ending of Northanger Abbey is analogous to the typical happily-ever-ending that we are so familiar with.  We accept that they will live in “perfect happiness” without a second thought.  It’s just how stories end. And that is exactly what the narrator of Northanger Abbey wants you to think twice about. By acknowledgement of these standard novelistic conventions, we are forced to think about them.  The narrator playfully references  a third dimension to the novel that creates an interesting conversation with the reader. This underlying script helps address some of the questions which Northanger Abbey is most concerned. What is the function of reading in society? What purpose does the novel play in everyday life? And particularly does the novel reflect everyday life?

Catherine herself comments that maybe novels might not be the best sources of everyday life. After realizing her error in supposing herself to be a part of the gothic novels she reads, she laments:

Charming as were all Mrs. Radcliffe’s works, and charming even as were the works of all her imitators, it was not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the Midland counties of England, was to be looked for.

Northanger Abbey (163)

In a very meta realization, Catherine, a character in a novel, realizes that characters in a novel live by different rules than normal. As a novel very much concerned with reading, Northanger Abbey examines these conventions that guide novels. Most of the references are to conventions that are followed.  When mentioning the marriage of Miss Tilney, there is a description of the worthy gentleman and the events surrounding this union.

Concerning the one in question, therefore, I have only to add—aware that the rules of composition forbid the introduction of a character not connected with my fable—that this was the very gentleman whose negligent servant left behind him that collection of washing-bills, resulting from a long visit at Northanger, by which my heroine was involved in one of her most alarming adventures.

Northanger Abbey (210)

This reference is accurate in that novels are very self-contained worlds.  There are certain characters that we are focused on and follow.  However presumably the world that Northanger Abbey inhabits contains more characters than those mentioned, yet it is a standard novelistic practice to only be concerned with a small number of characters.  Northanger Abbey follows this practice and when it introduces this new character, there is the implied statement that this is somehow “cheating” in the novelistic sense.  In order to rectify this difference, this new character is connected to the world of the novel through the “collection of washing bills.”  This highly coincidental occurrence seems ludicrous when pointed out by the author.  Yet if it were in the novel without the aside from the author, it would probably be more accepted as a reasonable occurrence. This aspect of humor directed towards what are considered common practices of novels forces us to question the validity and utility of these conventions.  The author seems to suggest that these conventions that novels adhere to are not realistic.  The interactions of characters in a novel are not the same as people in real life.  When describing novelistic conventions in terms of character development and interaction, these self-conscious highlight that in Northanger Abbey the author is doing the opposite.  When describing the development of Henry’s love for Catherine, the author explains that:

I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.  It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of a heroine’s dignity; but if it be as new is common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.

Northanger Abbey (203)

Oftentimes in novels, there is a “love at first sight” moment; however, the author correctly points out that this not the case anywhere except for novels.  The relationship between Henry and Catherine is not reflective of novelistic conventions, but rather real life.  This relationship begs the question of where novels exist in our everyday life and what purpose they serve.  The presence of the author is essential to this narrative of “the definition of the novel.”  It argues that conventions are great in terms of the structure of a novel, but not necessarily helpful for describing human relationships.

And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey.

One might complain about airport security and bad traffic, but the fact that a person can fly across the country in a day is remarkable. As transportation increases, our world shrinks and new communities are opened up. All of Austen’s heroines, with the exception of Emma, make significant trips away from their home. The new locales provide much for consideration, but rarely do I give any thought to the actual journey or process of traveling. However the method of transportation is of extreme importance. Mr. Woodhouse’s fretting over traveling in the snow is not to be immediately written off as hypochondria. Or more seriously, Catherine Morland’s solitary journey home from Northanger Abbey is vital to consider. 

Thus I decided to look up some information regarding transportation of the time. I stumbled upon this listing of different types of carriages that I found to be extremely helpful in determining the differences between a phaeton and a postillion:

Carriages and Their Parts

Carriage1790