Posts Tagged ‘Northanger Abbey’

Despite her paralysis, Sophie is determined to leave the shop on May Day. “This is absurd!” she chides herself regarding her fears. “Market Square is only two streets away! If I run–” [12]

If she runs, nothing bad will happen. She won’t get lost, she won’t run into Wizard Howl or the Witch of the Waste, she won’t get swept up in the crowd of drunken May Day merrymakers…

Meanwhile, more bad news falls into the ever-churning gossip mill.

The King had quarreled with his own brother, [/13]Prince Justin, it was said, and the Prince had gone into exile. Nobody quite knew the reason for the quarrel….

The Prince’s disappearance, added to that of Suliman the Royal Wizard, has stripped another layer of protection from the kingdom. Like Elrond, the King must feel his list of allies growing thin. It’s an extra-added twist that the Prince apparently passed through Market Chipping within the past couple of months, but nobody knew about it because he was in disguise.

The King of Ingary does not succumb to paralysis, incessantly wringing his hands and wondering what to do. He sends out a trusted member of his court to try to find his brother and bring him home. This courtier is none other than the Count of Catterack, who could not find the Prince but found instead a bride: Jane Farrier.

Sophie listened and felt sad. Interesting things did seem to happen, but always to somebody else. Still, it would be nice to see Lettie. [13]

It’s quite id-like and rather petulant that Sophie seemingly feels sad only for herself. I would bet there is more to it, if only Sophie had access to more of her feelings. True, she is jonesing for a happy ending like Jane’s. Yet “somebody else” doesn’t necessarily refer to Jane only. Sophie might also feel sad about the King’s quarrel with the Prince, sad that the Prince has vanished while at the same time envious that, before he met with foul play, at least the Prince got to travel and see some scenery. And she might feel envious of the Count of Catterack on all, uh, counts — he too managed to get away from home and everyday duties, and at the same time he not only didn’t get mugged or murdered, he got married!

Even Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, though she is bookish and naive like Sophie, has some sense of herself as a heroine-in-training. Sophie seemingly has none. It does not occur to her at this point that she herself might do something about the danger into which Ingary has fallen. But then, it does not occur to any of us that we can do anything about the vast powers that move in the background of our lives. Sophie can sew clothes and trim hats, but of what use is that when evil Witches and Wizards are on the prowl? We go to school and work and putter in our gardens, but of what use is that when elected officials grow arrogant and corrupt, seizing power inappropriately, forcing damaging, destructive policies upon us?

If we run, maybe we won’t have to wake up to what’s happening. Maybe we won’t have to call upon courage we don’t even believe we’ve got. When the Quest is demanded of us, when the word goes forth in voice and text that heroes and heroines are wanted, maybe we can just go on blowing it off. When that same 877 number keeps calling and calling, trying to tell us that we’re running out of time, maybe we can go on refusing to pick up.

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Alas, we don’t get to see very much of Sophie interacting with her sisters in HMC, which would have been very Jane Austen-y indeed. There’s a vivid correlation with Northanger Abbey, however, which I will mention as soon as I download NA onto my Kindle, since my own copy is nowhere to be found.

Okay, got it.

“[Catherine Morland’s] father,” we are told in Chapter One Page One,

“was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard — and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings — and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters.”

Richard?!? I never thought of that name, which was also my father’s, in terms of respectability. Maybe it’s a Georgian thing.

“Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on — lived to have six children more.”

Catherine’s origins, in other words, are so free of drama and dark destiny that no one could possibly see “heroine” material in her, though she has read every sensational novel she can get her hands on and in general sees her world in terms of ruined abbeys, murdered wives, and dangerously attractive men who bear both physical and emotional scars. The novel goes on to place Catherine far from home in just sort a situation. Will Real Life live up to Catherine’s wildly overstimulated imagination?

Sophie’s own expectations are not of adventure but of failure. In Ingary, “where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist,” fairy-tales are not merely novels written for the entertainment and edification of middle-class young ladies. Instead, it appears, they are non-fiction. They are “true,” as non-fiction is said to be. They are history.

I can remember many such tales, though I can’t think of one in particular, where the oldest of three goes out to seek his fortune — it’s generally a young man — and when he encounters the Big Test, he promptly fails it by refusing to kiss the frog, befriend the ugly dwarf, answer the conundrum, etc. Whereupon the frog, dwarf, or conundrum kills him. Then the second son — as I said, it’s generally a young man — comes along. He may be slightly less impatient and rude, but he ends up dead too, or at least pretty well maimed.

But the third and youngest child is sweet, submissive, patient, and willing. He passes the Test, wins the Princess, earns fame and fortune, and may even end up becoming King one day.

Poor Sophie.

“She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which would have given her some chance of success.”

Her parents are well-off, her stepmother is not cruel, and her father not only doesn’t lock up his daughters, he sends them to the finest school in town. But here’s the rub.

“Sophie was the most studious. She read a great deal, and very soon realized how little chance she had of an interesting future.”

Like Catherine, she has a brain crammed with books. Unlike Catherine, who despite a lack of raw materials could become a heroine, given the right circumstances, Sophie has given up the quest before it can even begin. She’s already under a curse, and it’s a curse of her own making.

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