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Anne Fertig

"Beauty Sleeping in the Lap of Horror": Searching for the Sublime in Regency Culture

Teaching Notes


"'Beauty Sleeping in the Lap of Horror': Searching for the Sublime in Regency Culture" was first presented at the Jane Austen Summer Program of 2018, entitled "Northanger Abbey and Frankenstein: 200 Years of Horror." Anne Fertig provides an overview of the popular concept of the sublime and explores how Gothic novelists incorporated it into their writings. 

Discussion Questions 

  1. In Gothic literature, the sublime is often exoticized, located within foreign landscapes like the Alps or Pyrenees, and never the English countryside. In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney even censures Catherine for imagining such a horrific story about his father. In Chapter 24, he urges her to “remember that we are English, remember that we are Christian.” Catherine later reflects that the gothic might be representative of European countries but not of the midlands of England.

    • ​​With this in mind, is it possible for the sublime to exist within Austen’s England? If so, how does Austen play with the sublime within the settings of Bath and Northanger Abbey? ​

    • Consider Catherine’s first night at the abbey in Chapter 21, when she investigates the chest during the storm. How does Austen make the ordinary settings extraordinary?

  2. According to Edmund Burke, who wrote on the concept of the sublime, people enjoy the misfortunes, tragedies and ruin of others, as long as they themselves are not in imminent danger. Burke also claims that while fiction and poetry can play on this element of the sublime, people prefer these stories when they are real (or at least, when they appear real). In fact, according to Burke, “The nearer [literature] approaches the reality, and the farther it removes us from all idea of fiction, the more perfect is its power.”

    • ​What are Catherine’s intentions when she imagines General Tilney as a murderer? Does she really believe in the story that she has created? Or is she trying to purposely emulate her favorite gothic novels?

"Searching for the Sublime in Regency Culture" handout
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