Introducing the 2018 Jane Austen Summer Program: ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Frankenst
The unofficial end of summer has come and gone, but it’s never too early to think about next summer — and the 2018 Jane Austen Summer Program. Next year’s symposium (June 14-17) is “Northanger Abbey” and “Frankenstein”: 200 Years of Horror. We caught up with JASP co-founder Professor Inger Brodey to get the inside scoop:
In the past, the Jane Austen Summer Program has focused on one Austen novel each year. This year, we’re doing two novels, “Northanger Abbey” and “Frankenstein.” Why the change?
There is plenty to talk about in “Northanger” alone, so it is not because we thought we would fall short of material to discuss. The shared bicentennial of the two works just seemed too good to pass up. They are seldom brought together. It might seem odd, at first, to think of them coming out of a shared cultural moment, yet they both have a lot to say about societal expectations, about what is “horrid” in both our imaginations and reality, and about what really is “monstrous,” and these similarities stem from their shared heritage in the gothic novel.
Can you talk about the significance of each book in terms of the horror literature genre or pop culture?
“Frankenstein” has become a very dominant figure in popular culture, with the name almost always referring to the monster rather than the doctor who creates him. The sequels and reappropriations are seemingly endless. He has become fused with King Kong as a misunderstood, powerful, friendly beast with some nasty habits. … Shelley’s societal critique is usually lost in the sensationalism of the plot.
While Austen has of course had huge popular presence, Northanger Abbey has seldom been in the spotlight. The two film versions of it have not been able to (or haven’t chosen to) relay the central ironies in the novel. For example, in the earlier one, misty scenery and the spooky music seem to validate Catherine’s perceptions of mystery, rather than limiting them to her Udolpho-fueled perception. It has often been treated as though it were the kind of sensational gothic novel it parodies.
What should readers be thinking about when they read both novels?
Think about how each author responds to the gothic novel as a genre, and how they each use it for their own purposes in social critique. What exactly is the butt of the criticism in each novel? What might each have thought of the other’s works? How does each author use architecture and landscape to further her purpose? In both cases something external appears monstrous, but the more pervasive monstrosity might be something internal invisible: What is it? Finally, both novels have interesting insights about language and its limitations.
What can people look forward to at this year’s program?
One of the most exciting developments will be a masquerade ball, or “masque.” We are thinking of adding a workshop where participants can make their own Regency-style masks. Be prepared for an added element of mystery!