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How Valancourt Taught Her to Say No: How Literacy Inspires Consent and Autonomy in the Women of “Northanger Abbey”

Unity Bowling, and Jen Cadwallader, Department of English, Randolph-Macon College, P.O. Box 5005, Ashland Virginia 23005

The chilling quality of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey may come less from its Gothic architecture and themes, and more from its portrayal of how little regard a woman’s consent was given in nineteenth-century England.  In this paper, I argue that the act of reading books deemed shameful by society is an act of rebellion against the oppressor for both the women in the text and women readers of the text. This argument spurs from the topics brought forward by West (1932), Wollstonecraft (1975), and Kirkham (1997), but differs in regard to why women being functionally literate was so important to Austen, and whether there was more to read between the lines than she was previously given credit for.  I argue that Austen was hyperaware of both her stance on the topic and who her target audience was, alongside how both existed under the patriarchal society she lived in.  This analysis extends to include subtopics such as platonic and romantic relationships, self-authority and awareness, and the broader impact of the meta nature of the discussion of texts within a text.  By analyzing letters she sent to family and friends, her brother’s addendum to Northanger Abbey, and the research previously done on Austen’s satirical and sarcastic way of writing, I am able to conclude that the implied lessons of the text have a double meaning and are meant to inspire renewed faith in one’s autonomy.  My paper is complete and can be presented in 20 minutes.  




Additional Abstract Information

Presenter: Unity Bowling

Institution: Randolph - Macon College

Type: Poster

Subject: English & Literature

Status: Approved


Time and Location

Session: Poster 6
Date/Time: Tue 2:00pm-3:00pm
Session Number: 4636