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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, Portland, OR

Monday, October 19, 2015

The answer to my Gothic quiz: Northanger Abbey as Austen's midrash on Romeo & Juliet!

In my quiz, I was thinking of two very famous stories by two very famous authors, which shared 13 story  elements. I now tell you that those stories are Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet  and Austen’s Northanger Abbey! And here, without further ado, are the sixteen textual parallels I’ve found (so far), which, I claim,  collectively prove that Austen had Romeo & Juliet much in mind when she wrote Northanger Abbey:

ONE: The heroine is the youngest heroine in any story written by the author during adulthood.

Juliet is 12, and Catherine is 18, both of them younger than all their author’s other heroines.

TWO: During the first half of the story, the heroine is primarily in the care of a ditzy older woman known for her digressive speaking and erratic romantic advice, even though the heroine’s mother is still alive.

Juliet’s Nurse and Mrs. Allen—need I say more?!

THREE: Significant romantic development takes place between hero and heroine at a large festive gathering with dancing.

The romance between Romeo & Juliet, and between Henry and Catherine, heats up in both cases at large festive dances, the former chez Capulet, the latter in the Pump Room at Bath.


…”…I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours."
"But they are such very different things!"
"—That you think they cannot be compared together."
"To be sure not. People that marry can never part, but must go and keep house together. People that dance only stand opposite each other in a long room for half an hour."
"And such is your definition of matrimony and dancing. Taken in that light certainly, their resemblance is not striking; but I think I could place them in such a view. You will allow, that in both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with anyone else. You will allow all this?"
"Yes, to be sure, as you state it, all this sounds very well; but still they are so very different. I cannot look upon them at all in the same light, nor think the same duties belong to them." …

FOUR: The story has a number of prominent Gothic elements, including:

FIVE: the heroine’s fearful imaginings about burial in a claustrophobic space in the family property due to the malevolence of an older man who is a secret villain…

What if it be a poison, which the friar
Subtly hath minister'd to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be dishonour'd,
Because he married me before to Romeo?
I fear it is: and yet, methinks, it should not,
For he hath still been tried a holy man.
How if, when I am laid into the tomb,
I wake before the time that Romeo
Come to redeem me? there's a fearful point!
Shall I not, then, be stifled in the vault,
To whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in,
And there die strangled ere my Romeo comes?
Or, if I live, is it not very like,
The horrible conceit of death and night,
Together with the terror of the place,--
As in a vault, an ancient receptacle,
Where, for these many hundred years, the bones
Of all my buried ancestors are packed:
Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth,
Lies festering in his shroud; where, as they say,
At some hours in the night spirits resort;--
Alack, alack, is it not like that I,
So early waking, what with loathsome smells,
And shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth,
That living mortals, hearing them, run mad:--
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environed with all these hideous fears?
And madly play with my forefather's joints?
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud?
And, in this rage, with some great kinsman's bone,
As with a club, dash out my desperate brains?
O, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
Upon a rapier's point: stay, Tybalt, stay!
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.
She falls upon her bed, within the curtains

And Romeo’s early lovesickness over Rosaline is an advance parody of Juliet’s fears:


Comparably, Catherine indulges in the following dark train of imagining about the mysterious Mrs. Tilney, whom she suspects of only appearing to be dead, but actually being still alive, albeit “in a state of well-prepared insensibility” (a perfect description of Juliet after taking the sleeping potion)!:

“But neither the business alleged, nor the magnificent compliment, could win Catherine from thinking that some very different object must occasion so serious a delay of proper repose. To be kept up for hours, after the family were in bed, by stupid pamphlets was not very likely. There must be some deeper cause: something was to be done which could be done only while the household slept; and the probability that Mrs. Tilney yet lived, shut up for causes unknown, and receiving from the pitiless hands of her husband a nightly supply of coarse food, was the conclusion which necessarily followed. Shocking as was the idea, it was at least better than a death unfairly hastened, as, in the natural course of things, she must ere long be released. The suddenness of her reputed illness, the absence of her daughter, and probably of her other children, at the time—all favoured the supposition of her imprisonment. Its origin—jealousy perhaps, or wanton cruelty—was yet to be unravelled.
In revolving these matters, while she undressed, it suddenly struck her as not unlikely that she might that morning have passed near the very spot of this unfortunate woman's confinement—might have been within a few paces of the cell in which she languished out her days; for what part of the abbey could be more fitted for the purpose than that which yet bore the traces of monastic division? In the high-arched passage, paved with stone, which already she had trodden with peculiar awe, she well remembered the doors of which the general had given no account. To what might not those doors lead? In support of the plausibility of this conjecture, it further occurred to her that the forbidden gallery, in which lay the apartments of the unfortunate Mrs. Tilney, must be, as certainly as her memory could guide her, exactly over this suspected range of cells, and the staircase by the side of those apartments of which she had caught a transient glimpse, communicating by some secret means with those cells, might well have favoured the barbarous proceedings of her husband. Down that staircase she had perhaps been conveyed in a state of well-prepared insensibility!”

SIX: The heroine’s fears about poison & sleeping potions, and a reference to providers of such products.

…What if it be a poison, which the friar
Subtly hath minister'd to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be dishonour'd,
Because he married me before to Romeo?
I fear it is: and yet, methinks, it should not,
For he hath still been tried a holy man.

& later:

Art thou so bare and full of wretchedness,
And fear'st to die? famine is in thy cheeks,
Need and oppression starveth in thine eyes,
Contempt and beggary hangs upon thy back;
The world is not thy friend nor the world's law;  [Jane Fairfax and her arraroot “poison?]
The world affords no law to make thee rich;
Then be not poor, but break it, and take this.

Jane Austen very slyly alluded to both of these passages with “Murder was not tolerated, servants were not slaves, and neither poison nor sleeping potions to be procured, like rhubarb, from every druggist.”

SEVEN: There is repeated reference to an Italian setting for the Gothic elements.

Of course, Romeo & Juliet takes place almost entirely in Verona. And now look at Catherine’s Gothic geographical ruminations:

“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. Of the Alps and Pyrenees, with their pine forests and their vices, they might give a faithful delineation; and Italy, Switzerland, and the south of France might be as fruitful in horrors as they were there represented…. Among the Alps and Pyrenees, perhaps, there were no mixed characters…..”

EIGHT: The author puns a sexual double entendre on a young woman’s “cheeks”

As I discussed in a very recent post..... ....JA picked up on Romeo’s punning ….

What if here eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of HER CHEEK would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
See, how she leans HER CHEEK upon her hand!
O, that I were a glove upon that hand,

…with this punning by Isabella Thorpe:

"Never more so; for the edge of A BLOOMING CHEEK is still in view, though the half is charmingly hidden by the bonnet - at once too much and too little."

And, also, I now see JA also has Isabella pick up on ….

When presently through all thy veins shall run
A cold and drowsy humour, for no pulse
Shall keep his native progress, but surcease:
No warmth, no breath, shall testify thou livest;
The ROSES in thy lips and CHEEKS shall fade
To paly ashes, thy eyes' windows fall,
Like death, when he shuts up the day of life;

…with this as well:

"Oh, yes you would indeed; I know you better than you know yourself. You would have told us that we seemed born for each other, or some nonsense of that kind, which would have distressed me beyond conception; my CHEEKS would have been as red as your ROSES; I would not have had you by for the world."

Seems like Isabella has not only been reading The Mysteries of Udolpho, she has also been reading Romeo & Juliet as well!

NINE: There are coded textual references to “Satan” in relation to a play.

As I first publicly disclosed several months ago…
…there is an extraordinary SATAN acrostic in Friar Laurence’s speech to Juliet about taking the sleeping potion (which I quoted an earlier portion, just above)…

I believe JA saw that acrostic, and winked at it in two spots in NA. First, in the following passage where Catherine’s thoughts turn (like Friar Laurence and Juliet) to poison and sleeping potions, and also to angels who may be fiends in disguise—surely a perfect description of Satan, aka Lucifer, the fallen angel of light!:

“But in the central part of England there was surely some security for the existence even of a wife not beloved, in the laws of the land, and the manners of the age. Murder was not tolerated, servants were not slaves, and neither poison nor sleeping potions to be procured, like rhubarb, from every druggist. Among the Alps and Pyrenees, perhaps, there were no mixed characters. There, such as were not as spotless as an ANGEL might have the dispositions of a FIEND. But in England it was not so; among the English, she believed, in their hearts and habits, there was a general though unequal mixture of good and bad.

Earlier in the novel, JA’s narrator winked at SATAN when describing how Catherine observes Henry from across the Bath theatre (a fitting spot for a theatrical allusion):

“No longer could he be suspected of indifference for a play; his notice was never withdrawn from the stage during two whole scenes. At length, however, he did look towards her, and he bowed—but such a bow! No smile, no continued observance attended it; his eyes were immediately returned to their former direction. Catherine was restlessly miserable; she could almost have run round to the box in which he  SAT ANd forced him to hear her explanation.” 

“sat an” might seem a random syntactical coincidence of letters from two consecutive words forming a third, unrelated word, but in fact this one is rare in JA’s fiction—there are only five others in all of JA’s fiction. Plus, this fits so well with the “angel” who might be a “fiend”!

TEN: There are references to “north” and “anger” in VERY close textual proximity to each other;

The title Northanger Abbey appears to derive, at least in part, from the following “Queen Mab” speech:

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes
Even now the frozen bosom of the NORTH,
And, being ANGER’D, puffs away from thence,
Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.

This might also appear to be random, but note that Catherine’s most vivid and horrid “dreams”  “begot of nothing but vain fantasy” occur while she listens to the winds howling angrily outside at Northanger Abbey!

ELEVEN: One of the two lovers is banished by patriarchal decree from the presence of the other, only to be reunited later.

Romeo is banished from Verona by the Duke, and has to leave immediately, for accidentally killing Tybalt, and Catherine is banished from the Abbey by General Tilney, and has to leave immediately, for the “crime” of not being rich.

TWELVE: The story is explicitly linked intertextually to Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho

Radcliffe often took epigraphs from Shakespeare, including the one for Ch. 2 of Vol. 4 of Udolpho:
“Come, weep with me;—past hope, past cure, past help! -- ROMEO AND JULIET

Those are the despairing words uttered by Juliet to Friar Laurence right after Paris, the suitor her father is coercing her to marry, leaves after “wooing” her.  And, in turn, Jane Austen makes Radcliffe’s Udolpho the most explicit, extensive allusive source to appear in any Austen novel—it is discussed on several occasions by Catherine and Isabella, and by Catherine and Henry as well. Jane Austen was thus “paying it forward”, allusively speaking!

THIRTEEN: The heroine has a second suitor, whom she experiences as a toad forcing himself on her,  rather than the prince she actually desires.

And all Janeites know what a loathsome toad John Thorpe is!

After posting my quiz, I saw three more parallels between R&J and NA:

FOURTEEN: The man in charge of the Abbey & his beloved kitchen garden.

Our introduction to Friar Laurence occurs as he sits in his “cell” (which include a garden where he grows his herbs and flowers) and waxes eloquent about the earth’s gifts to mankind:


And similarly General Tilney (who owns an abbey, once occupied by friars like Friar Laurence!) goes on and on about his kitchen gardens, both at the abbey and also the one he created for Henry at Woodston:

"What say you, Eleanor? Speak your opinion, for ladies can best tell the taste of ladies in regard to places as well as men. I think it would be acknowledged by the most impartial eye to have many recommendations. The house stands among fine meadows facing the south-east, with an excellent kitchen-GARDEN in the same aspect; the walls surrounding which I built and stocked myself about ten years ago, for the benefit of my son….”
…"And when they had gone over the house, he promised himself moreover the pleasure of accompanying her into the shrubberies and GARDEN."
…The kitchen-GARDEN was to be next admired, and he led the way to it across a small portion of the park. The number of acres contained in this GARDEN was such as Catherine could not listen to without dismay, being more than double the extent of all Mr. Allen's, as well as her father's, including church-yard and orchard. The walls seemed countless in number, endless in length; a village of hot-houses seemed to arise among them, and a whole parish to be at work within the enclosure…He loved a GARDEN. Though careless enough in most matters of eating, he loved good fruit—or if he did not, his friends and children did. There were great vexations, however, attending such a GARDEN as his. The utmost care could not always secure the most valuable fruits…”

FIFTEEN: A rose by any other name

One of the most frequently quoted speeches in all of Shakespeare is this one in Romeo & Juliet

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a ROSE
By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

In Northanger Abbey, we hear a great deal about Catherine and flowers, especially roses:

“Indeed she had no taste for a GARDEN; and if she gathered FLOWERS at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief—at least so it was conjectured from her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take….From Gray, that
   "Many a FLOWER is born to blush unseen,
   "And waste its fragrance on the desert air."
…She was fond of all boy's plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a ROSE-bush. Indeed she had no taste for a GARDEN; and if she gathered FLOWERS at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of MISCHIEF—at least so it was conjectured from her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take.”

Speaking of gathering flowers mischievously, consider how Romeo decides to seek out the apothecary:

"Oh, yes you would indeed; I know you better than you know yourself. You would have told us that we seemed born for each other, or some nonsense of that kind, which would have distressed me beyond conception; my cheeks would have been as red as your ROSES; I would not have had you by for the world."

What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth."
"And how might you learn? By accident or argument?"
"Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about FLOWERS."
"But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a ROSE?"

SIXTEEN: Abbey Walls

NURSE  This afternoon, sir? well, she shall be there.

“As they drew near the end of their journey, her impatience for a sight of THE ABBEY—for some time suspended by his conversation on subjects very different—returned in full force, and every bend in the road was expected with solemn awe to afford a glimpse of its MASSY WALLS of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows. .. A sudden scud of rain, driving full in her face, made it impossible for her to observe anything further, and fixed all her thoughts on the welfare of her new straw bonnet; and she was actually under THE ABBEY WALLS, was springing, with Henry's assistance, from the carriage, was beneath the shelter of the old porch, and had even passed on to the hall, where her friend and the general were waiting to welcome her, without feeling one awful foreboding of future misery to herself, or one moment's suspicion of any past scenes of horror being acted within the solemn edifice.”

Now, all of the above could  have just been a sterile exercise in reducing literature to a mere puzzle, if Jane Austen had merely been a puzzle mistress and not the great author she was. I suggest that JA, with her astonishing depth of literary critical insight, was very interested in the Shakespearean roots of the Gothic novels she was both parodying and celebrating at different levels of NA, and she recognized that Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet (and also Paradise Lost) had provided particularly rich, but non-obvious, inspiration for the likes of Radcliffe. 

And, to put the above in a broader context, consider also that I have previously found that: 
 Jane Austen also alluded to Romeo & Juliet in Persuasion...

Jane Austen also alluded to Hamlet in Northanger Abbey:

[I added the following post a few hours after posting the above, significantly improving my argument as to Parallel THREE]: 

Cheers, ARNIE
@JaneAustenCode on Twitter

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