Hypocrisy, Idiocy, and Defense of the Novel

Hypocrisy, Idiocy, and Defense of the NovelI not only read novels, but I love them. They are the place I find comfort, adventure, escape, wit and wisdom. Even in the most extraordinary stories I find something that stays with me to become part of me–a thought, an idea, inspiration for my muse. So when in reading Northanger Abbey I came across Jane Austen’s defense of the novel at the end of Chapter V, I had to smile.

She points out the hypocrisy of those writers of novels who have heroines that are disgusted by novels or refuse to read them. If anyone should appreciate a novel it is the heroine of a novel. It is paradoxical to write a novel only to point out how disgusting novels are and profit off the very thing you attempt to discredit. Jane Austen here takes the opposite approach in writing a novel that actually justifies novels.  

I personally like her direct words to novel writers.

“Let us leave it to the Reviewers to abuse such effusions of fancy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans. Let us not desert one another; we are an injured body. Although our productions have afforded more extensive and unaffected pleasure than those of any other literary corporation in the world, no species of composition has been so much decried.”

As an avid reader I also find myself in a position of being a reviewer, but I am also a writer. Critiquing the work of another is part of the way I process and learn. However, to make a blanket statement about all novels being trash or even all novels of a certain genre being particularly trash is never something I would be serious about (some trashy novels being thoroughly enjoyable).

Speaking of novels being full of nonsense and stuff, oh, wait that was Mr. Thrope, so let us speak of him for a moment. After giving his brief, contrary declamation of novels responds to Catherine Morland’s suggestion that he might like Udolpho with, “Not I, faith! No, if I read any, it shall be Mrs. Radcliffe’s; her novels are amusing enough; they are worth reading; some fun and nature in them.” 

Were I in Catherine’s place I would have rolled my eyes and sighed in exasperation at Mr. Thrope’s idiocy because of course The Mysteries of Udolpho was written by Ann Radcliffe. Sometimes errors like this can be viewed as amusing, and endearing; however it does nothing to recommend him. Perhaps that is uncharitable of me, but as Mr. Thrope repeatedly demonstrates his general lack of anything resembling intelligence with contradictory statements and opinions I shall stand by my assertion that he is an idiot.

What are your thoughts about novels? Are there some genres you take issue with? Mr. Thrope: Amusingly cute or annoyingly stupid?

*Photo: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen by cwasteson, obtained through Flickr.

 

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  • Personally, I adore the novel, so this nonsense that novels are evil just doesn’t ring true with me. I don’t really have issues with genres except maybe the name “creative non-fiction.” I understand the concept, but it sounds made up so maybe not so much non-fiction…but I’m merely quibbling over semantics.

    • I know Jane Austen was making a point about how novels were perceived in her time, but I’ve heard the occasional comment about them even now. The funny thing is that some of the reasons I hear for why novels are bad, such as their ability to inspire thoughts, is the very reason they are wonderful. Even the worst novel gives us something to talk about. If you really want to kill a particular book ignoring it is a more sinister death than making a big deal of it.