As you, my faithful readers, know lately I’ve been thinking about heroines and reader responses to them more than somewhat. This led me to re-reading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey because I’ve never had much of an opinion about Catherine and was curious to see where she fell on the blank page spectrum. I adore Lizzy Bennet and Anne Elliot. I don’t like Emma or Fanny Price. Elinor bores me and Marianne gets on my nerves but they both have their moments. But Catherine? I couldn’t even remember much about her other than she’s a bit wet. Cue re-read.
So what did I find? That Catherine and Henry’s pairing is unequal. It’s like the anti-Lizzy & Darcy. Catherine has nothing to teach Henry. He’s older, smarter and wiser. And I simply don’t see what he sees in Catherine. He must school her. Often. He is amused by her not because she’s witty but because she’s an idiot child. It verges on being what Diana Peterfreund describes as “the wiser/more cynical/world-weary/advisor dude who totally has the hots (or vice versa, or mutual) for our naive heroine.”
Except that Henry isn’t really into Catherine, not at first, not for some time:
[F]or, though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.
In other words, he came to like her because she was so besotted with him. Which, to be sure, happens all the time. But in this case when he’s so much smarter than her I just don’t believe it as the beginning of a wonderful marriage. In future years I fear they’ll wind up a bit like Mr & Mrs Bennet.
I don’t think Jane Austen believed it either. Northanger Abbey is, after all, a spoof on the novels popular at the time such as The Mysteries of Udolpho and very amusing it is too. But as a romance? For this reader the book is an utter failure. I need equality between my leads. I need for one of them to not be continually patronising the other. Don’t know about you but being patronised is not my idea of sexy.
Okay, now I must re-read Persuasion to see Jane Austen’s writing at its sexy best.