Northanger Abbey: ITV and social isolation.

Naturally, since I’m reading Northanger Abbey, I had an itch to watch the ITV adaptation again — which, by the way, my friend tells me should come out in DVD sometime in February (the lucky UK-ers et al. already have it out). Watching it again was much more enjoyable this time around, possibly because my re-reading of the novel and my recently acquired (albeit, somewhat sparse) understanding of the gothic novel and Romance tradition helped me appreciate the story more.

But in any case, some thoughts:

John Thorpe is more pleasant in the adaptation than his original in the novel. In this, I feel that the ’86 BBC version is more accurate in his portrayal. ITV’s interpretation of him is much too sympathetic — he’s a goof and something of a simpleton, but he’s still amiable. Not so in the novel! He’s utterly and completely unpleasant. His language is coarse, he has no care for his sisters or mother, and can be just as manipulative as Isabella (eg., his lying to Catherine about seeing the Tilneys — ITV’s Mr. Thorpe did it for his sister, and out of an affection for Catherine; novel-Thorpe makes no such justifications). Makes me wonder what in the world persuaded James to befriend the man in the first place!

As for Catherine, she is much more Arabella-like than I remember. It’s interesting how, despite Catherine’s naïveté, she can still deduce truth — just like Arabella can at times, despite her utterly deluded head. For example, in chapter 7, Catherine accepts Mr. Thorpe’s offer to drive her around in an open carriage, but immediately and silently questions the propriety of such an offer. Moments like this persuade me to believe that Catherine isn’t as naïve as most people make her out to be. Austenprose blogged about Northanger Abbey last week, and discussed briefly how Catherine makes not-so-good decisions based on her inexperience with society. I agree with that. The first chapter makes it clear that Catherine really hasn’t seen much of the world outside her village of Fullerton. Therefore, it’s not so surprising that she gets caught in these awkward situations — she was never taught what to do should such situations arise. So while her conscience and reason warn her most excellently, her lack of “social education” hinders her from saying ‘no’ when the occasion calls for one.

Which makes me believe that it’s not so much reading that gets young ladies into trouble, but rather social isolation and social education (or lack, thereof).


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