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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Tintern Abbey - An Inspiration for Northanger Abbey?

I recently visited Tintern in South Wales. Set amidst the hills of the Wye river valley, this beautiful little village is famous for its gothic Cistercian abbey, creating a dramatic, spectacular backdrop to the landscape.  

In Mansfield Park, there is an engraving of Tintern Abbey on Fanny Price's bedroom wall. Jane Austen describes Fanny Price's bedroom like this:

"The room was most dear to her, and she would not have changed its furniture for the handsomest in the house, though what had been originally plain had suffered all the ill-usage of children; and its greatest elegancies and ornaments were a faded footstool of Julia's work, too ill done for the drawing-room, three transparencies, made in a rage for transparencies, for the three lower panes of one window, where Tintern Abbey held its station between a cave in Italy and a moonlight lake in Cumberland, a collection of family profiles, thought unworthy of being anywhere else, over the mantelpiece, and by their side, and pinned against the wall, a small sketch of a ship sent four years ago from the Mediterranean by William, with H.M.S. Antwerp at the bottom, in letters as tall as the mainmast."

In 1798, William Wordsworth published a poem called "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey". Clearly, Jane Austen was familiar with Tintern Abbey, having read about it and seen popular images of the Abbey, although she is not known to have visited Wales herself. Could it be possible that images of the beautiful, haunting ruins of Tintern Abbey could have provided an inspiration for Northanger Abbey? 

It certainly inspired some of her contemporary writers, such as Sophia F. Ziegenhirt, who wrote a gothic horror novel in three volumes, named "The Orphan of Tintern Abbey", in 1816. Of course, Jane Austen would have been amused by this gothic novel, having parodied and mocked one so wholeheartedly in Northanger Abbey...

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