Saniyya Gauhar, Mahlia S. Lone, and Laaleen Sukhera are members of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan (JASP) and contributors to a collection of stories entitled Austenistan, which was published last year by Bloomsbury India and will be published in the UK next month. Amanda Foreman calls Austenistan “a clever, contemporary take on Jane Austen’s work,” Moni Mohsin calls it “Austen with garam masala,” and Rebecca Smith calls the stories “light, bright and sparkling”—she says she “smiled all the way through” the book. “Just as in Austen’s novels,” Smith writes, “we see heroines struggling to control their own destinies instead of being pushed onto the marriage market.”
When I invited Laaleen to contribute to my blog series “Youth and Experience: Northanger Abbey and Persuasion,” she asked if she could collaborate with other members of JASP. Of course I said yes. It’s my pleasure to introduce this co-authored guest post on Eleanor Tilney and Isabella Thorpe by Saniyya, Mahlia, and Laaleen.
Saniyya Gauhar is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Sussex University and she has worked in corporate law and litigation in London and Pakistan. She was a founding member of JASP. Her contribution to Austenistan is called “The Mughal Empire.”
Saniyya: In Regency society, it was unseemly for women of the upper and middle classes to work and earn a living. For such women, there were two main ways that financial security was assured—they either had to be born into money (like Eleanor Tilney) or marry into it (as Isabella Thorpe aspires to do). This resulted in a society that was obsessed with marriage primarily for material gain and because it was the only “career path” available to women, the matrimonial market was a cut-throat, competitive, social minefield. But the hypocrisy of it all was that it was social suicide for a woman to be seen to want money lest she be branded a gold digger. A woman had to cultivate an aura of innocence, professing to value love and not money. Isabella Thorpe has to tread this minefield, and coming as she does from a humble background, for her the stakes are high. Her main ambition is to marry a rich man—but not to be seen to be doing so. As a result, she comes across as disingenuous, artificial and inconsistent in her words and actions.
She says what society expects: “My wishes are so moderate that the smallest income in nature would be enough for me” (Volume 1, Chapter 15). However, at other moments, she is more practical: “it is not a trifle that will support a family nowadays; and after all that romancers may say, there is no doing without money” (Volume 2, Chapter 3). It is this quest for a grander match that makes her throw caution to the wind by allowing herself to be seduced by Captain Tilney, the heir to Northanger Abbey, thereby jeopardizing her engagement to James Morland, who has “only” four hundred pounds a year. The gamble fails as Tilney discards Isabella and Morland breaks their engagement. Isabella pays a hefty price for her ambitions.
Eleanor Tilney, on the other hand, is a much more balanced, wise and composed character. She is not desperate to marry for money. Nevertheless, her father, the mercenary General Tilney, is determined she must marry a rich man and he blocks Eleanor’s marriage to the man she is in love with. It is only when that same man becomes a viscount that he allows it.
Mahlia S. Lone’s contribution to Austenistan is called “The Fabulous Banker Boys.” She’s a textile journalist and the editor of GoodTimes magazine in Lahore, Pakistan. She also contributes to WWD (Women’s Wear Daily) and other publications. She attended Kinnaird College in Lahore, William Smith College in New York, and Clark University in Massachusetts.
Mahlia: Without the requisite pound sterling, polite society cannot exist and a poor person almost gets denigrated to a position of ridicule. In Northanger Abbey, the three sets of sibling relationships contrast with each other in circumstances as well as manners, personality, and behaviour. While the Tilneys and Thorpes are on either end of the spectrum, the Morlands are in the middle, getting further away from the Thorpes and closer to the Tilneys as the novel progresses. This is just as society expects them to behave, but instead of following conventional societal rules, the Morlands come to this conclusion on their own.
The Thorpes live on the fringes of society. They are “on the make.” No one knows exactly where they come from and they haven’t much money to live on. Isabella uses her wiles to ensnare as eligible a match as she can, but in her overconfidence breaks her engagement with the faithful James Morland when she thinks she can get the more eligible Captain Tilney. However, blinded by ambition and greed, she gets seduced and discarded by the hardened, rakish military man. At the end of the novel, she is poor, disgraced and shunned by polite society, even by sweet, innocent Catherine Morland.
Eleanor Tilney’s situation is the complete opposite of Isabella’s. She comes from a distinguished family with a comfortable wealthy background and was brought up in stately Northanger Abbey. Her position in society is secure and she doesn’t have to scramble for position or marry for fortune. She has nothing to prove to anyone. Austen portrays her as the quintessential Gothic romance heroine who marries a lord at the end of the novel. They are both foils to Catherine’s character. As Catherine gets closer to the more mature Eleanor, she distances herself from the more unsteady Isabella. Catherine’s character evolves and mirrors this shift as she goes from being an inexperienced, highly excitable country girl to becoming a sensible, morally upright and resolute young lady.
Laaleen Sukhera is the editor of Austenistan and the story she contributed to the volume is called “On The Verge.” She has an MSc in Professional Communications and a BA in Screen Studies and Communication and Culture from Clark University in Massachusetts. She’s a communications consultant and writer, and she was the founder of JASP. You can find her on Twitter @laaleen and on Instagram @laaleen_official.
Laaleen: Money and societal expectations go hand in hand in Northanger Abbey, a Regency era practicality that was not often accompanied by romantic love. Catherine Morland has two very different friendships in the course of the novel. She is immediately drawn to the vivacious and somewhat unscrupulous Isabella Thorpe, who is from an unremarkable family. Isabella becomes affianced to Catherine’s brother James when she assumes he has money—and then she encourages her brother John to marry James’s sister Catherine. She acquaints the reader with the qualities of the more arch Regency maiden and proves to be Catherine’s “frenemy.” Her coy behaviour provides a foil to Catherine’s comparative naiveté. Her fall from grace occurs when she sets her cap for someone too high up the social ladder—Captain Frederick Tilney, the heir to Northanger Abbey has no intention of marrying her after toying with her. By the end of the novel, even James Morland with his modest income is beyond her reach.
Higher up the social ladder, Eleanor Tilney is sensible, respectable, and far more eligible. Catherine admires Henry’s sister a great deal and seeks her approval, growing closer to her as she moves away from Isabella. Eleanor herself is not immune to the charms of romantic love. She defies her ferocious father General Tilney with a quiet determination when her proposed match earns his disapproval. However, all this changes when her suitor inherits a title and estate and the General is delighted that his daughter will be a viscountess.
Quotations are from the online edition of Northanger Abbey at Mollands.net.
Fourteenth in a series of blog posts celebrating 200 years of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. To read more about all the posts in the series, visit “Youth and Experience.” Coming soon: next week’s post, by Deborah Knuth Klenck and Ted Scheinman, will focus on both Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.