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Saturday, 15 April 2017

Mr. Allen and Mrs. Allen in Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey'



Jane Austen very neatly depicts the genial but vacuous Mrs. Allen. How little of substance she ever has to say! Her 'conversation' with Mrs. Thorpe is actually a discussion in which there was scarcely ever any exchange of opinion, and not often any resemblance of subject, for Mrs. Thorpe talked chiefly of her children, and Mrs. Allen of her gowns.

Far from being a tyrannical gothic chaperon, intercepting her protégée's letters or 'turning her out of doors', she is simply one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.

And her husband is another delightful portrait, having more than a little in common with Mr. Bennet. Catherine Morland in Volume 2, Chapter 7 is beginning to have wicked thoughts about General Tilney. She believes he must have been cruel to his late wife. 'She had often read of such characters; characters, which Mr. Allen had been used to call unnatural and overdrawn...'. Mr. Allen is a minor figure. We hear him speak very little. Though he has an empty-headed wife, he is a man of good sense. This little detail – that Catherine (or Jane Austen) should recall his opinion of 'such characters' just at this moment – is a wonderful example of Jane Austen's story-telling skills. It gives us a solid standpoint against which to measure Catherine; it is an interesting revelation of the wide interests and good taste of Mr. Allen; and it is so real in being typical of the way we all recall opinions expressed by friends even when those friends are not with us.