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Rachael Isom

"Do Not Imagine that I Often Read Novels": Or, Dangerous Fiction and the Regency Reader

Teaching Notes


"'Do Not Imagine that Often Read Novels': Or, Dangerous Fiction and the Regency Reader" was first presented at the Jane Austen Summer Program of 2018, entitled "Northanger Abbey and Frankenstein: 200 Years of Horror." Rachael Isom introduces popular understandings and criticisms of the novel in Austen's time. 

Discussion Questions

  1. Northanger Abbey is arguably Jane Austen’s most self-conscious novel; from the very first chapter, the reader is made aware of Catherine Morland’s status as a fictional heroine, and is encouraged to read plot elements in line with novelistic conventions. In one of the text’s most famous passages, Austen’s narrator indulges in a lengthy aside about novel writers’ views of themselves, their craft, and each other. Revisit these passages, thinking about the following: What do these moments tell us about Northanger Abbey’s relationship to evolving novel genres? About Austen’s? Where do you think Austen intends seriousness, and where is she deploying parody?

  2. At various points in the novel, Catherine discusses her reading habits with other major characters: Isabella Thorpe, John Thorpe, and Eleanor and Henry Tilney. What do these conversations tell us about those characters? How does “the well-read Catherine" herself change in her attitude toward reading? What dangers does she discover in her favorite novels? Why do you think Austen includes such a drastic (and mortifying) shift in her heroine?

"Dangerous Fiction and the Regency Reader" handout
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