Essay on Authenticity in Northanger Abbey

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Northanger Abbey: Authenticity

In what is for Jane Austen an uncharacteristically direct intervention, the narrator of Northanger Abbey remarks near the end: "The anxiety, which in the state of their attachment must be the portion of Henry and Catherine, and of all who loved either, as to its final event, can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity."

As far as I know this is the only overt reference Austen ever makes to the material nature of her medium, and the relationship of that materiality to generic conventions. She might as well have said "This is a romantic comedy I'm writing" as
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In Davies' adaptation of Middlemarch, a book whose opening words are 'Miss Brooke', the opening scene is of a sexy and mysterious-looking male stranger arriving in town: the High Plains Drifter of Victorian England. In the Davies version of Pride and Prejudice, a book about five sisters and how they secured their futures is transformed into a script which begins with two men -- one of whom is significantly more sexy and mysterious-looking than the other -- mounted on handsome, powerful, snorting horses galloping flat-out across a field. (True, the camera then pans back to find them being watched from a hill by a pair of speculative and not especially friendly dark eyes under a bonnet, and there is an audible creak of shifting power as the view lines up with Elizabeth Bennet for the rest of the series.) Despite the relative freedom to improve on Austen that was granted by the five-hour time frame, Davies had a different if equally money-driven kind of problem; he was obliged, like the novelists writing in monthly instalments for the literary journals of the later nineteenth century, but unlike Austen herself, to rearrange the narrative so that it contained a series of regularly spaced, unresolved mini-climaxes, to leave the audience dangling and