"Remember...the Age in Which We Live": Science, Technology, and Regency Society
"'Remember...the Age in Which We Live': Science, Technology, and Regency Society" was first presented at the Jane Austen Summer Program of 2018, entitled "Northanger Abbey and Frankenstein: 200 Years of Horror." Elizabeth Shand explores scientific knowledge advancements that transformed society during the Regency era.
The full quote of this presentation’s title occurs when Henry scolds Catherine for letting her imagination run loose, envisioning the Gothic horrors that may have taken place in Northanger Abbey. He tells her, “What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians” (Vol. II Ch. IX). Henry invokes a sense of nationalism when he scolds Catherine for a lack of common sense in adhering to her fictions. Interestingly, theorists suggests that nationalism itself is a modern concept to connect people no longer tied by religion. In what other ways does Northanger Abbey invoke a sense of English, national pride? You might consider the passage beginning, “The rain continued – fast, though not heavy” and ending with the close of “Catherine’s anxious attention to the weather” (Vol. I Ch. XI). Although it is stormy, there are no mentions of lightning. Might this suggest Austen’s wariness of lightning’s political symbolism?
Consider some of the many moments when Austen invokes technology and industry in Northanger Abbey: John Thorpe’s attention to the superior iron-work of his new carriage (Vol. I Ch. 7; Vol. I Ch. IX) and Catherine’s persistent attention to clocks and watches are just some examples (Catherine is said to have a watch in Vol. I Ch. IX; The General checks his watch in Vol. II Ch. V; and Tilney keeps track of Catherine with his in Vol. II Ch. IX). What relationship do Austen’s characters show to technology? Does this relationship buttress Austen’s satirical tone in the novel? We know of Austen as a keen observer; indeed, she is often described as having a “microscopic’” attention to detail: could we imagine her as a spectator in public displays and experiments based on her propensity for observation?