Guest post by Emmy Z. Madrigal
When you think of Jane Austen, you don’t think of a horror novelist. Her work conjures images of Regency fashion, tea parties, and a disapproving Mr. Darcy. That is because most people have never heard of her little-promoted novel Northanger Abbey.
Northanger Abbey was the first book she had ever written, yet it was one of the last published: posthumously, after her death in 1817. It has a lot of the trappings of a first novel: the high-handed lectures about what is wrong with the world, the silly asides speaking directly to the readers, and the innocent lead character, Catherine Morland, experiencing things for the first time.
Believe it or not, Jane wrote an entire book centering around Gothic Horror fiction and a young miss fangirling over Gothic novels like The Monk and The Mysteries of Udolpho.
I’ve been told people don’t like Catherine because she’s just a silly, naive girl that lives a large part of her life in her head. I’ve also been told that she’s unrelatable because she likes Gothic novels and horror. I will attempt to prove that Catherine Morland was not simply some ignorant young miss, wiling away her hours in a fantasy world, but she was a horror fan misunderstood by her peers, with a healthy imagination. By understanding Catherine, we understand Jane and her knowledge of horror.
To understand Catherine as a horror fan, you have to break down the attributes of a horror fan.
We are people who like to be scared in a removed way through movies, books, and music. Inspecting a horrid situation from a distance not only allows us to experience danger without any real harm to ourselves but also prepare ourselves for the true horrors of life that may come — like the zombie apocalypse. Horror Addicts are just like any other fan. Fans of Jane Austen might read Jane Austen all weekend, or attend a Northanger Abbey ball. Horror Addicts might read Stephen King all weekend or go to a horror film festival. As a rule, we aren’t axe murders, we don’t glorify serial killers, and we definitely don’t want to die at the hand of a chainsaw-wielding maniac. We do, however, like spooky things like ghosts, vampires, and like Catherine Morland, spooky old abbeys that may contain such creatures.
We have active imaginations. This may be said about any reader. How many times have you watched a movie based on a book and been dissatisfied? The movies are never better than books, right? Those of you who agree with that statement have vibrant imaginations. The reason they can’t make the movie to please us is because our imaginations have woven such an awesome image of what we’ve read that no movie could possibly match. Just like Catherine conjuring up this gothic idea of Mrs. Tilney’s room…and then being disappointed at it looking just like any old bedroom.
The third aspect of a Horror Addict is we like to geek out with other Horror Addicts. One reason Catherine likes Henry so much is that he gets her. He is at least in part an addict himself. He is able to make jokes about the novel she’s read, and by teasing her, shows he likes her passion and accepts that part of her. And who doesn’t want to be accepted by someone who understands you?
Which brings me to attribute number four: horror fans often like to find the humor in things. We don’t take ourselves too seriously and often accompany our love of horror with comedy, either in an attempt to lighten the mood of such serious scary stuff or just because we are generally jovial people. Another reason Catherine likes Henry is because he has a good sense of humor and makes her laugh. For someone who likes humor, Jane painted the winner pretty clear. Grumpy old General Tilney, pompous Frederick, and ridiculously boastful Thorpe have no chance. Henry is clearly the best choice.
So given these attributes of a horror fan, I think we can all agree that Catherine Morland is one. Although she has some growing up to do, just because she learned something about the difference between fantasy and reality does not mean she ceased being a horror addict. I like to think that she went on to read more Gothic novels and perhaps even wrote some herself, but learned to not take them so literally.
Contrary to popular belief, Horror Addicts don’t tend to grow out of our fascination with the macabre. I hate it when I read reviews that say Catherine grew out of her innocence and realized horror was just for kids. I don’t think that’s what Jane was saying at all. I think she captured perfectly the vision of a young Miss who didn’t know how to enjoy her passion without letting it bleed into reality. By experiencing more and falling in love, she could experience her passion in a somewhat removed way that didn’t get her in trouble.
Now, this is one of my favorite passages (abridged) of Northanger Abbey and shows her Horror Addict tastes.
Again she passed through the folding doors, again her hand was upon the important lock, and Catherine, hardly able to breathe, was turning to close the former with fearful caution, when the figure, the dreaded figure of the general himself at the further end of the gallery, stood before her! The name of “Eleanor” at the same moment, in his loudest tone, resounded through the building, giving to his daughter the first intimation of his presence, and to Catherine terror upon terror. An attempt at concealment had been her first instinctive movement on perceiving him, yet she could scarcely hope to have escaped his eye; and when her friend, who with an apologizing look darted hastily by her, had joined and disappeared with him, she ran for safety to her own room, and, locking herself in, believed that she should never have courage to go down again.
When I read that, I imagined how I might feel, being watched by a tyrant, but also still wanting to solve the mystery… WHAT IS BEHIND THAT DOOR??
Catherine found herself alone in the gallery before the clocks had ceased to strike. It was no time for thought; she hurried on, slipped with the least possible noise through the folding doors, and without stopping to look or breathe, rushed forward to the one in question. The lock yielded to her hand, and, luckily, with no sullen sound that could alarm a human being. On tiptoe she entered; the room was before her; but it was some minutes before she could advance another step. She beheld what fixed her to the spot and agitated every feature. She saw a large, well-proportioned apartment, a handsome dimity bed, arranged as unoccupied with a housemaid’s care, a bright Bath stove, mahogany wardrobes, and neatly painted chairs, on which the warm beams of a western sun gaily poured through two sash windows!
Catherine had expected to have her feelings worked, and worked they were. Astonishment and doubt first seized them; and a shortly succeeding ray of common sense added some bitter emotions of shame.
She could not be mistaken as to the room; but how grossly mistaken in everything else!–in Miss Tilney’s meaning, in her own calculation!
She was sick of exploring, and desired but to be safe in her own room, with her own heart only privy to its folly; and she was on the point of retreating as softly as she had entered, when the sound of footsteps, she could hardly tell where, made her pause and tremble. To be found there, even by a servant, would be unpleasant; but by the general (and he seemed always at hand when least wanted), much worse! She listened–the sound had ceased; and resolving not to lose a moment, she passed through and closed the door.
At that instant a door underneath was hastily opened; someone seemed with swift steps to ascend the stairs, by the head of which she had yet to pass before she could gain the gallery. She had no power to move. With a feeling of terror not very definable, she fixed her eyes on the staircase, and in a few moments it gave Henry to her view.
“Mr. Tilney! How came you up that staircase?”
“How came I up that staircase! Because it is my nearest way from the stable-yard to my own chamber; and why should I not come up it? And may I not, in my turn, ask how you came here? This passage is at least as extraordinary a road from the breakfast-parlour to your apartment, as that staircase can be from the stables to mine.”
“I have been to see your mother’s room.”
“My mother’s room! Is there anything extraordinary to be seen there?”
“No, nothing at all.”
“You look pale. I am afraid I alarmed you by running so fast up those stairs. Perhaps you did not know–you were not aware of their leading from the offices in common use?”
“No, I was not.”
“And does Eleanor leave you to find your way into all the rooms in the house by yourself?”
“Oh! No; she showed me over the greatest part on Saturday–and we were coming here to these rooms–but only… your father was with us. I only wanted to see…”
“My mother’s room is very commodious, is it not? Large and cheerful-looking, and the dressing-closets so well disposed! It always strikes me as the most comfortable apartment in the house, and I rather wonder that Eleanor should not take it for her own. She sent you to look at it, I suppose?”
“Eleanor, I suppose, has talked of her a great deal?”
“Yes, a great deal. That is–no, not much, but what she did say was very interesting. Her dying so suddenly” (slowly, and with hesitation it was spoken), “and you–none of you being at home–and your father, I thought–perhaps had not been very fond of her.”
“And from these circumstances, you infer perhaps the probability of some negligence–or it may be–of something still less pardonable.”
She raised her eyes towards him more fully than she had ever done before.
Catherine Morland grew up in that moment. She realized sometimes when a most beloved mother dies, it’s just because she ceased to live, not because of some murder plot by an overbearing husband. And by learning the reality of such situations, this led her to build more devious and believable plots in her career as a novelist…or that’s how I’ve written the end in my head anyway.
In my modern take on Northanger Abbey — titled simply Northanger — I paint Catherine as a modern goth teen named Kat. Kat is a horror fan. She loves to read, watch, and listen to ghostly, frightening things most people shy away from. When she meets her perfect match, Henry, she knows he’s made just for her, but finding out his father may be a murderer puts a different spin on their relationship. Is Henry’s dad out for blood or just a misunderstood introvert who’s lost his wife? Only a trip to the famed murder house, Northanger, will reveal the truth.
Pick up a copy of Northanger for yourself at: https://amzn.to/3FDP96z
Emmy Z. Madrigal is the author of the Regency novella, Lord Harrington’s Lost Doe. Her previous works include the Sweet Dreams Musical Romance Series and the novelettes Anime Girl and Anime Girl 2. Emmy has been praised for her realistic portrayal of modern female characters and their will to survive in a world of adversity, prejudice, and economic hardship. To find out more about her, go to: emmyzmadrigal.com