Programming note: Tomorrow, Thursday, I'll be conducting another Clubland Q&A live around the planet at 11am North American Eastern/3pm GMT/4pm British Summer Time.
~Ahead of that, here we go with Part Four of our autumnal audio diversion: Northanger Abbey - the first novel Jane Austen ever completed and a rather jolly satire on Gothic novels and their influence on impressionable young ladies. Andrew, an Albertan Steyn Clubber, is wary of that selling point and reluctant to be sucked in:
I think I'm going to hold out on this Tale for Our Time, and read some Gothic novels first.
As you wish, Andrew. Alternatively, you could just read along with Catherine and Isabella. In tonight's episode, their literary tastes run up against the scorn of John Thorpe:
"Have you ever read Udolpho, Mr Thorpe?"
"Udolpho! Oh, Lord! Not I; I never read novels; I have something else to do."
Catherine, humbled and ashamed, was going to apologize for her question, but he prevented her by saying, "Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t'other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation."
"I think you must like Udolpho, if you were to read it; it is so very interesting."
"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."
"Udolpho was written by Mrs Radcliffe," said Catherine, with some hesitation, from the fear of mortifying him.
"No sure; was it? Aye, I remember, so it was; I was thinking of that other stupid book, written by that woman they make such a fuss about, she who married the French emigrant."
"I suppose you mean Camilla?"
"Yes, that's the book; such unnatural stuff! An old man playing at see-saw, I took up the first volume once and looked it over, but I soon found it would not do; indeed I guessed what sort of stuff it must be before I saw it: as soon as I heard she had married an emigrant, I was sure I should never be able to get through it."
Many of Jane Austen's readers assume she's making up these various book titles, because, after all, it would seem odd to open up J K Rowling's latest and find Harry Potter asking Hermione if she's read Fifty Shades of Grey. But, as it happens, all the titles referenced are real: Camilla is by Frances Burney, who, as Mr Thorpe recalls, "married the French emigrant" - the exiled general Alexandre d'Arblay, former adjutant-general to Lafayette and a leading member of a group of émigrés known as the "constitutionalists", which is another reason why I'm antipathetic to the term.
As for Udolpho, that was the most popular work of the most popular novelist of the day, Ann Radcliffe. It is sobering to reflect that her fame now rests mainly on her name-checks in Northanger Abbey.
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read Part Four of our tale simply by clicking here and logging-in. Earlier episodes can be found here.
Tales for Our Time is now in its fifth year. So, if you've a friend who might be partial to our classic fiction outings, we have a special Gift Membership that, aside from dozens of audio yarns, also includes video poetry, live music, the above mentioned Clubland Q&A and more.
Please join me tomorrow evening for Part Five of Northanger Abbey.
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