An Exploration of Parody in Northanger Abbey through Parody – Critical Introduction
Throughout time, parody has been used as a means to entertain, inspire, and intellectually stimulate all readers. For example, authors such as Austen have created works that parody the works of others, such as her re-interpretation of Oliver Goldsmith’s History of England. Austen’s parody poked fun at Goldsmith as well as at the way that he wrote through her imitation of his writing style. Since Austen used humor so effectively in both her writing style and in her exaggerations of the monarchs that she described in her version of History of England, she was able to create a piece of writing that was entertaining for her friends and family to read.
Although many might argue that the only goal of parody is to mock and entertain, these people neglect the importance of parody in an educational sense. For example, Austen was also able to make a statement about the women of history in History of England. She chose to put a much greater emphasis on the women of the past, not only representing a greater proportion of women in her parody than Goldsmith did, but also by giving women such as Mary and Elizabeth two of the largest sections of the text. The commentary on these two women takes up approximately one quarter of the text of History of England. Through this emphasis, she subtly inspired social change and gave women the opportunity to matter, at least more so than they mattered to Goldsmith.By taking the time to focus on the women who were also a part of England’s history, she gave women a larger semblance of a voice than other writers of her time chose to.
In my parody of another one of Austen’s parodies, Northanger Abbey, I chose to focus on one specific excerpt from the text. This excerpt was the end of chapter six of the novel, where Austen goes from telling her story of Catherine and Isabella into a completely unexpected rant in order to defend the genre of novels. This rant also denounces both the public as well as the novelists that Austen felt did not consider themselves novelists. In this small excerpt, Austen’s tone completely changes. She goes from telling a story full of humor to writing an impassioned defense of the novel that is full of outrage and anger. I have captured this not-so-subtle shift in voice by extolling the virtues of my present-day Catherine and Isabella, who love to read young adult novels.
In this parody, I have also captured the outrage that Austen felt by mimicking her writing style. I have written long, defensive, angry sentences that criticize others. I have also used small interjections to help capture Austen’s outrage as well as to help the parody become even more over-the-top than it previously was. I also chose to mock Austen in particular, by giving her as an example of a dry, classic work that the narrator in this rant would consider boring for their readers. I chose to mention Austen’s works in the same way that she mentions a volume of the Spectator, as an example of what not to read. By incorporating Austen’s works into my parody, the parody became even more obvious and exaggerated. Also, by mocking Austen, I was able to directly use Austen’s technique of mocking Goldsmith in History of England.
Chapter 6: The Parody
Catherine and Isabella, these two young ladies, these two almost-women, were inseparable. They walked arm-in-arm down the hallways at school, they zipped up the backs of each other’s dresses for prom, and they were never to be separated. They indulged only in the most wholesome activities, and even if the rain kept them indoors, they defied the natural world and met anyway—picking up young adult novels and reading them to one another. Yes, I said young adult novels; I will not adopt that despicable custom that is all too common with young adult novelists, and consequently, with the public. The degradation of these texts is caused by the authors themselves. That’s right, I said it; the authors of young adult literature are the ones that are responsible for the contemptuous response of their works by the public. These authors join with the greatest enemies of the genre to scarcely permitting them to be read by their own heroes and heroines. Oh, the shame! The disgrace!
If these heroes or heroines are reading, they aren’t reading young adult. They’re reading the classics. In Speak, Melinda reads The Scarlet Letter. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky doesn’t allow Charlie to read young adult, he requires him to read The Great Gatsby and The Fountainhead, something much more “respectable” than simple children’s stories for these almost-adults. These authors simply couldn’t be bothered to allow their beloved main characters to sink to the level of reading the same type of material that they produce. What message, exactly, are they trying to send to their readers? Alas, I cannot approve of this degradation of a genre! It is revolting!
Although these heroes and heroines are never engaged in their education, their authors are depriving their heroes of the same reading material that they are producing. These authors are not allowing their main characters to read productions that have given more pleasure than any other literary genre in the world! They are continuing to disgrace a genre of composition that has given so much pleasure to the masses; to people just like they want their heroes to be! Based on this pride, this arrogance, this conformity to the widely accepted norm that young adult literature is somehow less-than-worthy, the readers of the genre are almost outnumbered by their foes.
And while all of this hatred is being poised against a truly entertaining and re-readable genre, a genre that not only entertains young adults, but also requires them to consider the larger issues of life, the praise for the authorship is being directed towards others. These others are the people who offer up new editions of Austen classics, people who reassemble and reinterpret Shakespeare, people who take the time to publish another volume of Whitman, or Hughes, or find and publish another paper of Fitzgerald’s, these people are praised by a thousand reviewers—while the young adult novelist’s labors are constantly being devalued. These labors that only happen to have re-readability, wit, and the power to cause all readers to think more intelligently to recommend them.
When was the last time that you heard a young adult author admit that their genre is the one that they prefer to read? When was the last time that you heard anyone admit to admiring the genre? All too often, we hear “I’m not a young adult lit fan—I can’t imagine what teenage novels have to offer an adult like me—This piece of writing is pretty good, considering that it’s only a young adult novel.” We also often hear a typical response from a reader that they are “only reading a young adult novel” or that a young adult novel is “just some light reading—not anything to make me really think”. They say that it is “only” Wintergirls, or The Fault in Our Stars, or the Harry Potter series—these are works that only intellectually stimulate, only works that reveal all of the varieties of human nature, that only invoke wit and humor and convey all of these aspects with apt and often poetic language. And, had this same reader been thoroughly engaged in reading a volume of Frost poetry or an Austen classic, this reader would have proudly showcased their book and discussed its contents, rather than sheepishly admitting to what they were reading. Although, of course, it would be nearly impossible to find a young reader that would ever be engrossed in Northanger Abbey, since it is filled with ridiculous events, and unrelatable characters, and uninteresting language, too, frequently so bland as to give no favorable notion of anyone that could ever endure it, let alone enjoy it.