Jane Austen and The Abbey: Mystery, Mayhem, and Muslin in Portland

Theme of Gothic

The theme for the Portland AGM will center on the aspects of mystery and telling lies in the novel Northanger Abbey, the interesting point that Henry Tilney—a young man of the Eighteenth Century —seems to know all about muslin, and the plot as parody of the Gothic Novel which creates mayhem in the lives of all involved.

Little White Lies

“Hey-day, Miss Morland! … what is the meaning of this?—I thought you and I were to dance together.”
“I wonder you should think so, for you never asked me.”

John Thorpe is the classic liar; whatever he says seems to be based on confusing the truth.  In this exchange about dancing no harm is done but in other aspects of the novels the “black lies” he tells cause real harm, to Catherine especially.  Isabella Thorpe has the same genetic flaw; her letter about her love for James is a lie from beginning to end—or is it self-delusion?  The plot of the novel hinges on the very destructive lie that Thorpe tells about Catherine and the inheritance from the Allens.

Mr. Tilney and Muslin

Henry Tilney’s knowledge of muslin even has Catherine thinking “that [Mr.Tilney] indulged himself a little too much with the foibles of others.”  But the man certainly knows his muslin; it does not wash well and frays.  How much do Janeites know about muslin?  Is it still available as material for dresses?  Does it wear well?  And for a hero who knows his muslin, how does Mr.Tilney shape up in contrast with Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley who probably have never even thought about dress material?

Mayhem Real and Imagined?

This is an opportunity for Janeites to hear about the core of Northanger Abbey’s parody and the use of Gothic Romance.  The genre sparked Austen’s imagination initially. She seems to disdain and yet be fascinated with the theme.  There is a reality that Austen brings to the mayhem.  There is no real danger in the Abbey.  Only General Tilney’s action in sending Catherine home in “public transport” all alone, could have caused real mayhem.

Come and explore all these topics in Portland, Oregon in 2010.