—Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14
Our AGM will explore “200 years of Northanger Abbey,” in all its horror and humor. And, in such a history-rich environment, how could we resist teasing our heroine gently by invoking that “Real, Solemn History” she found so uninteresting? We are fully convinced that one trip to Colonial Williamsburg would have converted even Catherine Morland into a historian for life.
The characters of Northanger Abbey are as deserving of in-depth study as any Austen ever created and the narrative voice throughout the novel dashes off one memorable quip after another. Unique in style and tone within Austen’s oeuvre, Northanger presents its own set of challenges to the scholar. What were the lessons that Austen hoped her readers might glean from the text? Is Henry Tilney a misogynist or a proto-feminist? Is Catherine Morland a fanciful goose, or is she grounded in reality? What is the situation of the Tilney family, and is there a true Gothic heroine somewhere in the midst of it all?
In addition to our discussion of Jane Austen’s novel, our theme is intended to encompass broader subjects relevant to the cultural background of Northanger Abbey: subjects such as the idea of the picturesque, the popularity of the Gothic novel genre, the history of the 12th Light Dragoons, the economics of importing India muslin versus producing muslin in England, even the conversion of Catholic Church buildings into private residences in the centuries after the Dissolution, and more. Despite our tag line, we do not expect our speakers or their subjects to be exclusively solemn!
Above all, we hope our AGM will provide an opportunity to “praise [Northanger Abbey] in whatever terms we like best.”