Northanger Abbey

Most famously known as a defense of the novel and a critique of Gothic narratives, Northanger Abbey (1798/1818) might seem an unsuitable beginning for a project that aims to wander through Jane Austen’s depictions of nature, animals, weather–the obvious foci of an ecocritical lens. Yet as critical work on Northanger Abbey has highlighted repeatedly, the novel is famous for its depiction of place and space: the abbey, the fashionable resort, carriages, and cathedrals. In addition, part of the point of this collective project is to see what happens when we approach the novels through this lens, regardless of their most well-known motifs and themes. At the very least, Northanger Abbey is an important precursor to Austen’s more famous meadows, paths, and gardens. But, in addition, Catherine’s character is first established in relation to her enjoyment of games and the outdoors and, for instance, against sentimental relationships with small animals. As Tomoko Nakagawa has recently shown, Catherine’s learned love of hyacinths and General Tilney’s pineapples, can be read in relation to the novel’s interest in late eighteenth-century ideas about nature and culture. So far, in our annotations we have noticed how culture relies on nature, for instance in how women are associated with birds and how traveling long distances was made possible only by horse-drawn carriages.  We are excited to see how annotating Northanger Abbey’s environments foregrounds other nature-culture relations, and how it collectively places us into community with each other and with our own environments.

Works Cited