Ideas for Analyzing Northanger Abbey

Robert Harris
Version Date: June 30, 2000

Questions for Further Investigation and Analysis

1. What are the various motivations, incentives, and obstacles to marriage in the novel? How do these "external" considerations affect the choices people make or are able to make? How do these considerations interface with falling in love or marrying for love?

2. Develop what seems to be Austen's theory of the novel, as evidenced by her comments (both as narrator and through various characters). Is Northanger Abbey intended to be (1) an exemplar or model novel, (2) a corrective of other novels, (3) a criticism of the novel form, or something else?

3. Samuel Johnson says that "the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain." Trace the conflict between expectation and reality in the novel, where several characters make assumptions, develop expectations, only to find reality quite different. Is reality disappointing? Is it shocking? Is it instructive? Is it better than expectation?

4. Research the Roman poet Horace and Horatian satire. Is the novel a Horatian satire? If so, in what sense? What are the elements of it in the novel?

Ideas for Computer Analysis

1. The social structure described in the novel was utterly dependent on servants, yet servants are almost invisible in the novel. How often do you recall mention of their aid? Are they present? Search for occurrences of maid, servant, servants, postilions, outriders, attendants, waiters, housekeeper, housemaid's, housemaids, cooks, footman, and whatever other words you notice related to servants as you read. Where and in what contexts are they mentioned? What is the effect?

2. Use Words.exe to construct word lists of Northanger Abbey and Frankenstein. Compare the usage of abstract, general nouns (for example, circumstance, consequence, influence) in each by number of words and number of occurrences. What, if any, differences do you find? Take the list of abstract nouns from Words.exe and run them in MTAS. Are there clusters of occurrence? If so, what plot elements do they cluster with? What is the significance of this?

3. Use MTAS to plot the occurrences of words of ordinariness: duty, duties, useful, plain, common, moderation, sense and so on, and then plot words related to extraordinariness, such as fashioable, air, smart-looking, fine, beauty, etc. Analyze your findings in relation to plot, character, or theme.

4. Plot the words relating to money, such as money, pounds, sums, fortune, rich, wealth, wealthy, property, millions, income, estate, inheritance, and then go to the text to discover the thematic events in progress at the peaks of occurrence. Why is money being mentioned and by whom? Are there significant times when money is not being mentioned?

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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com