The Anxieties of Common Life: Ideological Contradictions and Symbolic Resolutions in Northanger Abbey

Date of Graduation

Summer 2008


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

William Burling


This study examines the social, political, and economic contexts in which Northanger Abby, Jane Austen's first mature novel, was composed. Focusing primarily on 1790s England, this study explores the nature of the socio-political antagonisms which arose from the French Revolution of 1789 as an important catalyst in the formation of English class consciousness and class conflict. When Northanger Abbey is interrogated, for example, alongside Thomas Paine's revolutionary pamphlets in addition to the abundant riots and social uprisings of the period, Austen's work now reads as a novel certainly influenced by the pressures and frictions of this turbulent, politically repressive age. As the novel concerns the social relationships among members of the wealthy gentry, lower-gentry, and the bourgeoning urban class of bankers, investors, and merchants the effects of agrarian capitalism of English society will likewise serve as another historical framework for literary interpretation. In addition to this study's historical emphasis, Fredric Jameson's work on ideological contradictions and the socially symbolic solutions utilized to attempt to solve them will serve as another method of interpretation. The heart of this study examines how and why the novel's heroine of the lowest level of English gentry is able to succeed in marrying a man of the upper-gentry while at the same time her urban friend is relegated back into urban obscurity and silence by Austen's dubious narrator. In this manner this study questions and explores Northanger Abbey's "political unconscious."


history, conflict, society, England, eighteenth century

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Jacob Nunnally


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