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    An Analysis of Female Literary Heroism in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

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    Frequently found within the Jane Austen novel is a central female character. Who both challenges conceptions of femininity while also redefining the standards of literary heroism. Such is the case with Catherine Morland, whom we are told has no expectations of becoming a heroine at the onset of the novel Northanger Abbey (3). However, standing in line with nearly all of Austen’s heroines. Catherine is shown to embody a new kind of literary heroine.

    One who eschews traditional female characteristics and embraces those attributed to male heroes. In this sense, Austen uses a distinct type of irony. In her creation of Northanger Abbey’s heroine; Catherine is someone. Who rejects the constricting standards of previous depictions of female heroism. And instead embraces a “tomboyish” persona. Allowing her to challenge the gendered standards of heroism as they were portrayed within literature.

    The opening passages of the novel are dedicated to showing. How Catherine is a different kind of heroine than the reader (particularly Austen’s contemporary reader) might expect. For instance, Austen shows how Catherine’s physical appearances are quite different from the blonde, beautiful, and delicate heroines of previous novels: “Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features” (3).

    From the onset of the novel, Austen makes it clear to the reader that Catherine does not require such features in order to embody the heroine that she will become throughout the course of the novel. Catherine is also shown to embody so-called “masculine” characteristics, even as a child: “Indeed she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief” (3).

    By establishing her character as a definitive heroine who rejects gender conformity, Austen creates an atypical heroine who represents Austen’s refusal to conform her novel to the standards of female heroism at the time. In doing so, Austen challenges the gendered norms of literary heroism as they were understood by her contemporaries.

    Finally, Austen confirms that an endearing aspect of female heroism is the requirement of being a strong reader, writing, “But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful live” (5).

    Not only the ability to read a “comfort” to those who live “eventful” lives, but Austen also contends that in order to be a heroine, a woman must have the ability and inclination to read and to learn from her reading, as Catherine does. Considering the fact that until then, most women were deprived of any ability or encouragement to read, Austen’s incarnation of a heroine who reads is a way of showing how women are able to attain strength and learning from the right to read, which men had long been given, standing in line with nearly all of Austen’s heroines.

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    An Analysis of Female Literary Heroism in Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. (2022, Dec 10). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/an-analysis-of-female-literary-heroism-in-northanger-abbey-by-jane-austen/

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