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Chapter Two

Chapter 2 - the very short version
Catherine takes leave of her family and goes to Bath with the Allens. We find out that Mr. Allen is a kind man with a good head on his shoulders; Mrs. Allen, on the other hand, is flighty and fashion-obsessed. The party attends the Upper Rooms.

                  The Upper Assembly Rooms in Bath by George Cruikshank

Chapter 2

Here, the first paragraph of the second chapter. Which is, in fact, a single sentence. If you have a moment - and hey, it's Sunday, so hopefully you have a moment, please read it aloud. I promise you that you will enjoy it far more that way, and that it may, in fact, become that much clearer to you. Give it your best "sassy narrator" voice, won't you?

In addition to what has been already said of Catherine Morland's personal and mental endowments, when about to be launched into all the difficulties and dangers of a six weeks' residence in Bath, it may be stated, for the reader's more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be, that her heart was affectionate; her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind -- her manners just removed from the awkwardness and shyness of a girl; her person pleasing, and, when in good looks, pretty -- and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is.

First, a word about ignorance. Ignorant as used at the end of this sentence is a word that, in Austen's time, was used to describe a lack of knowledge or education - in this case, largely a reference to Catherine Morland's lack of experience in the wider world - and it did not have the modern slang definition of "stupid", nor the somewhat pejorative use meaning that someone is impolite or unkind.

Second, a word about that last little bit as a whole "about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is." Look at the several things Austen does here:
1. She's inviting you to laugh along with her. Here, she says, is something we're all familiar with - teenagers making their way into new society, having no real clue what they are getting themselves into.

2. She's reminding you that Catherine Morland is your average teenage girl. I should note that seventeen was marriageable age in Austen's time, since very few girls today marry at that age (although it is still done in the U.S., as well as elsewhere).

An additional point about Catherine taking a trip to Bath with the Allens: What readers of her time would have supposed is that Miss Morland was already out, meaning that she had been introduced in society and was free to go out and socialize (and seek a spouse). In the case of nobility or even aristocracy, "coming out" was often effected by introducing the young lady at court. Here is how the delightful Maggie Sullivan describes "Coming Out" in her wonderful book, The Jane Austen Handbook: A Sensible Yet Elegant Guide to Her World, which discusses how it was accomplished other times - and what it meant:

There was no set way for a young lady to make her debut in society. Her parents or guardians might hold a ball in her honor, as Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram did for Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, or she might start attending dinners and evening parties with her parents. In many families it was common for the eldest daughter to at least be engaged before the younger daughters were allowed to come out, presumably so they would not compete with her for potential husbands or embarrass her by becoming engaged first. In Pride and Prejudice, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is shocked to learn that Elizabeth Bennet's younger sisters are out before the elder are married. A girl not yet out was expected to be quieter and more demurely dressed than her elder sisters--some, like Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, even felt a girl not yet out should be under the care of her governess rather than making a show of herself in public.

She was come to be happy, and she felt happy already.Collapse )

Having put her heroine in Bath - and in Bath society - Austen leaves us wondering, at the end of this chapter, exactly what is going to happen. That nothing of serious consequence has befallen our heroine cannot stand, of course, and although she winds the chapter up telling us that Catherine is content, I find it leaves me feeling like I'm standing at the edge of a precipice, for something is about to happen. Austen manages to build to it, in fact, by highlighting the very little-to-nothing that has happened, almost setting us up by negative implication. Or at least, that's my take on it.

Geeky poetry note: Austen makes reference in the final sentence of this chapter to a heroic crown of sonnets with this phrase: she felt more obliged to the two young men for this simple praise than a true-quality heroine would have been for fifteen sonnets in celebration of her charms. A crown or corona of sonnets consists of 7 linked sonnets, as I explained in this post when I wrote the seventh sonnet in a group-written crown. The stanzas are linked in that the last line of the first sonnet becomes the first line of the second, and the last line of the seventh stanza must be the same as the first line of the first stanza. A heroic crown of sonnets is significantly trickier; it's composed of fourteen interlinked sonnets written as described above, with a fifteenth sonnet composed entirely of the first lines of each of the previous fourteen sonnets, in order. (Marilyn Nelson's marvelous book, A Wreath for Emmett Till, is a heroic crown, and a compelling piece of civil rights writing as well.)

Coming tomorrow: Chapter 3 What will happen? *starts singing "Something's Coming" from West Side Story*

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Chapter One

Chapter 1 - the very short version We are introduced to our main character, Catherine Morland, through the auspices of our sassy narrator. Catherine is invited to go to Bath with her neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Allen.

Chapter 1

Oh, the opening lines. I particularly love the first two sentences:

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her.

These sentences do at least four things:

1. They introduce us to our heroine.
2. They introduce us to our narrator and her voice.
3. They briefly summarize what the first two paragraphs (in my editions, more than two full pages) are going to tell us, while
4. They introduce us to one of the things Austen's up to: skewering Gothic novels and "conduct novels" such as those written by Samuel Richardson, which tried to be morally instructive, while relating sensational and sometimes "horrid" tales (including abductions, abuse, rapes, etc.)

Popular conventions of Gothic novels (and, indeed, in quite a large number of 20th-century Regency romances) include a main character with one or more of the following attributes:

1. a dead mother (usually dead since the heroine's birth) or a living mother who is either completely clueless or cruel and manipulative;
2. a dead father, in which case she has a male guardian who is typically one or more of the following things: inattentive, abusive, or absent; or a living father who gets to be inattentive, cruel or absent in his own right;
3. a family somehow forced into poverty OR a dowry that's tied up somehow and the object of male attention;
4. a large number of "accomplishments": the ability to sew well, dance well, play the pianoforté well, sing well, draw and paint well, and maybe speak French;
5. a large number of physically attractive qualities: beautiful hair, skin, eyes, teeth, a "fine figure", etc.;
6. intelligence in the form of the ability to learn quickly and intuitively;
7. a "moral" education;
8. fine manners;
9. only a smattering of actual education, frequently obtained from conduct books and Elegant Extracts: Useful and Entertaining Passages in Poetry/Prose. I'm nearly certain there are more - chime in if you know these tropes!

Catherine, we are told, has almost none of them. She isn't musical, doesn't like "girl" things, preferred running around with the boys and playing baseball* to sewing and whatnot. Both parents are alive, sensible and kind, and she is comfortably what we today would call upper middle class. Her family's not wealthy, but they certainly aren't hurting; her father has land and several incomes. As a young child, she was sallow and stringy and not at all beautiful, and she only makes it to "almost pretty" in the present time.

*Sidenote: The Oxford English Dictionary records this as the earliest printed use of the word base ball, probably referring to the game known as "rounders", which has existed in England since Tudor times.

The proof of Catherine's education, it must be noted, smacks of Elegant Extracts all the way, and of Austen's sneering at such an education. (Austen herself was a prodigious reader from a young age.)

Almost without fail, what we're told Catherine learned (or took away from what she read) is misquoted or misapplied. Those of you who read along during Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month might recognize her first Shakespeare quote as being Iago's lines from Othello as he plots how to set Cassio up to seem like he's been shtupping Desdemona, and the third as Viola's (in drag as Cesario's) lines from Twelfth Night, who is relating a tragic story, not talking about what a young woman in love ought to look like.

That Austen wishes the reader to realize how Catherine has misconstrued these quotes (or allowed her understanding to be based on an extremely short abbreviation) is made clear by the brevity of them, as well as their context. In most cases, the original lines were written in iambic pentameter, yet many of them contain fewer than the ten requisite syllables to meet that requirement, so brief is Catherine's sampling.

The narrator - not truly Austen, although perhaps a version of her - ends the chapter by again sending up the conventions of Gothic and other sensational novels of the time: there's no peril, no hero. How on earth can Catherine be a heroine under these circumstances?

Thank heavens for Mr. and Mrs. Allen.

Tomorrow: Chapter 2.

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You are cordially invited

Dear blog readers, you are cordially invited to join me, starting tomorrow, for

We'll be talking about Northanger Abbey - it's characters, their actions, the customs, issues, manners and politics of the time, the books they read, and more.

Come as you are. No R.S.V.P. required.

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Play it again, Kelly: a Poetry Friday post

What follows is a reprise of my first-ever Poetry Friday post from May 5th, 2006, a day on which I began the post "Yep, it's 'Poetry Friday' because an entire month of poetry posts just isn't enough." Only to find out that Kelly Herrold had just invented Poetry Friday a wee bit earlier (if memory serves, although I can no longer find her first PF post). Anyhoo - here's a post about using sounds to evoke a particular mood. It involves assonance and consonance and alliteration, but it's not quite the same thing:

Today's topic: MOOD
As in ambiance, or the overall "feeling" of your poem.
Which is, of course, created by the "feeling" of the individual words that make up your poem.

It is your job as the poet to choose words carefully so as to create a particular mood. One of the ways you can affect "mood" is through the use of particular combinations of vowel and consonant sounds. "Soft" consonants and "long" vowels comined together are more soothing to the ear, and flow easily. Here's the start of Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening:

Whose woods these are I think I know
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

Almost sing-songy, right?

Contrast that with something full of "hard" consonants and "short" vowels. It tends to move more quickly on the ear in a somewhat staccato effect that can be regarded as playful when done correctly. Here's the first part of T.S. Eliot's The Hippopotamus. Be sure to read it aloud to hear the full effect:

The broad-backed hippopotamus
Rests on his belly in the mud;
Although he seems so firm to us
He is merely flesh and blood.

Almost the rat-a-tat of a typewriter key hitting the page, particularly if you clearly enunciate the syllables.

The Frost poem creates a swoony feeling of welcoming warmth (note the long vowels and soft consonants in the description) and the Eliot makes the listener detach a bit because of its terse terms (short vowels, hard consonants).

It is nearly impossible, of course, to use only one or the other, and many poets mix things up. However, the soft consonant/long vowel combos tend to slow the reader down a bit and can create a dolorous effect if overused. The hard consonant/short vowel combos can rocket the reader along, but can also make it sound as if the reader is one of the Martian invaders from "Mars Attacks," (a terrible, yet entertaining, B-movie featuring cameo performances by TOM JONES!) where the aliens run around saying "Ack. Ack ack." (In fairness, they later use a translator device to say "Don't run. We are your friends." Although they're using death rays as they go.)

Remember this beauty from early reader days: "The fat cat sat on the mat"? You (usually) don't want to go there as a poet (ack. ack ack.) Nor would you want so many "round tones" as to make your poem soporific. So by all means, mix it up. But if there's a particular mood you wish to convey, make sure that most of the weighted syllables and/or words use the proper consonant & vowel combos to convey what you're on about. Most readers won't sit and pick your work apart to see how you created the mood, but they will nonetheless succumb to it.

If you're interested in reading something newer from me, I hope you'll check out My Interview with Matt Phelan, author/illustrator of The Storm in the Barn, the marvelous graphic novel coming from Candlewick in a mere month or so.

And I hope you'll all be back tomorrow when we get started with August at the Abbey. As you may recall from one of my earlier posts - say, this one from Sunday, I'll be covering Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey a chapter a day during the month of August. Which starts TOMORROW! You can find the full text of the novel online at the wonderful website Molland's, which is run by a friend of mine from the Jane Austen Society of North America. You can likely find it online for free elsewhere as well. You can find it in pretty much any public library and (inexpensively, even) at pretty much any bookstore. I really hope you'll read along. Particularly since I'm hoping for a bit of conversation this month!

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