The book itself, first written in 1798 but not published until 1817, was simultaneously a defense of the novel as an art form, a celebratory sending up of Gothic fiction and, a warning about it. Austen herself enjoyed gothic fiction, especially the work of Ann Radcliffe, but she feared that the excessive romanticism and melodrama of the books incited impressionable girls to ape the manners, coquetry and faux sentimentality of a Gothic heroine, in search of the exciting adventures they found on the page. Seeking the danger and intrigue of a novel in their everyday lives could not but breed insincerity and vanity, and in Northanger, she gives us the portrait of just such a girl in Isabella Thorpe.
The literary Gothic grew out of many influencing factors and was the Romantic Period's appreciation and interpretation of the medieval. It ranged from elegant appreciations of the Gothic form, such as Wordsworth's poem Tintern Abbey, to the truly macabre novels of the canon and to the more philosophical horror of Mary Shelley, and Dr Frankenstein's Creature. The Gothic revival, which appeared in English gardens and architecture before it got into literature, was the work of a handful of visionaries, the most important of whom was Horace Walpole (1717–1797), novelist and man of letters. His 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto and the Gothic remodeling of his widely copied estate Strawberry Hill, ushered in an era that would last six decades.
Contributing influences included accounts of European travels, most notably those accounts of the well to do Grand Tour, which took English travelers through the Alps, invoking sublime horror, notions of lurking banditti and spurning on the Picturesque movement as well as the Gothic, and Graveyard Poetry, a genre popular in the first half of the 18th century. It's subjects were, apart from graves and churchyards, elements such as night, death and hauntings, and everything else that would be considered irrational, and thus excluded, by the rational culture of the Enlightenment. It is the nature of the human mind to interpret the denied and excluded as mysterious and intriguing, and as such, elements of the Gothic novel that would keep the public coming back for more included more than just dungeons and skeletons: it was violence, murder, wealth, poverty and incest and its underlying current of themes often on the minds of the Georgians: Anti-Catholicism, eroticism, social freedom and illegitimacy.
The gothic novels that make up the Northanger Canon are:
The Mysteries of Udolpho 1794 by Ann Radcliffe
The Italian 1796 by Ann Radcliffe
The Necromancer: or, The Tale of the Black Forest 1794 by Carl Friedrich Kahlert
Horrid Mysteries 1796 by the Marquis de Grosse
The Mysterious Warning, a German Tale 1796 by Eliza Parsons
Orphan of the Rhine 1798 by Eleanor Sleath
Clermont, a Tale 1798 by Regina Maria Roche
The Midnight Bell 1798 by Francis Lathom
If you live in
Atlhough I’ve had The Mysteries of Udolpho and another Radcliffe, The Romance of the
The pictures featured in this post are an illustration from The Mysteries of Udolpho,Vol. 4, p. 217 (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1830) and the cover of The Midnight Bell, as published by Valancourt Books 2007.