Heroine In Training

I recently decided to tackle the challenge of writing a short story for the Meryton Press Holiday Anthology Short Story contest that would be a modern retelling of Northanger Abbey. In the process, naturally I chose to re-read the original. I hadn’t read it in years so it was almost like reading it for the first time.
One phrase struck me.

In chapter one, the narrator talks of Catherine’s background: from fifteen to seventeen, she was in training for a heroine.
In Northanger Abbey, the narrator aka authoress, goes on to write: she read all works as heroines must read to supply their memories with such quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.

The whimsical humor made me chuckle and then I distractedly considered what real traits a heroine in training would have. What did I want in a heroine? I was reminded of that conversation in Pride & Prejudice held one night at Netherfield when the subject of accomplished women came up except my list was heroine traits and did Catherine Morland have them.
First of all, full disclosure here, as a reader, I am tough on heroines. I have little patience with certain flaws and actions. Not that I want some paragon prancing through a story because that would be quite boring, but I’m picky about my flaws. For instance, I detest cheating and whiners should be band to the other end of the galaxy. Indecisiveness gets my teeth grinding and cranky behavior disguised as ‘snark’ or ‘strong spirits’ is a turn off.

With that said, I pondered my heroine list of traits. I want a gal with strength of character, someone I can respect, someone that will engage my thoughts and emotions, someone who makes mistakes or has flaws, but can grow and learn, and someone with stick to it-ness. It’s just a bonus if the gal is witty, charming, and romantic.

So Catherine…
Catherine passed my scrutiny as a heroine. As a teen, I was actually disappointed in her because what is Catherine Morland to a Lizzy Bennet, a Marianne Dashwood, or an Emma Woodhouse? I’ve come to appreciate the less obvious heroines with sweet temper, steadiness of character, etc. She didn’t do it with panache like other Austen heroines, but she still managed to achieve her own perfect happiness.

What about you? Do you have a favorite heroine? What qualities to you detest and/or like in your lady protagonists? What’s your opinion of Catherine as a heroine?

8 Responses

  1. Paige B.

    I am so looking forward to reading the anthology and your story, Sophia! I have been wanting to re-read Northanger Abbey myself. I think that mostly I want my heroines to have big hearts and to be true to themselves.

    • Sophia Rose

      Big heart and true to self…that’s a good heroine to look for. You’re right, many compromise in the story and that’s disappointing.

      And I am so glad to have my story in the anthology. I do hope you like it, Paige!

  2. Abigail

    I’m rereading Northanger Abbey right now, as it chances, and liking Catherine Morland a little better this time around (Henry Tilney being my favorite hero, she has a lot to live up to!). I’m noticing that Jane Austen mostly tells us Catherine’s virtues through Henry’s speeches, e.g., “Your mind is warped by an innate principle of general integrity, and therefore not accessible to the cool reasonings of family partiality, or a desire of revenge.” In short, she has candor in the 18th-century sense of seeing the best in people and always hoping for the best. Northanger is such a literary story, it must have been a fascinating process to adapt it! Looking forward to reading your story, and seeing which virtues you observed in Catherine! I love your focus on ethics in your work.

    • Sophia Rose

      Yay, another fellow re-reader! Abigail, I was struck by so many things when I read it. My brain went five ways at once, or at least that’s how it felt at the time.

      Short story? How could I possibly cram all these traits and marks of the NA story into a short piece? I can’t so what do I pick and stay true?

      I know you get that since you wrote a short piece, too.

      Your quote reminds me of my mullings over what Henry saw in Catherine and what she saw in him. The author actually stated that he fell in love because he had that sweet little soul already in love with him. But then I had to ponder what set Catherine onto falling for Henry and yeah…I was doing some real pondering there. And this is amusing b/c I’m not very analytical as a rule.

      Oh, I totally agree about your assessment of Henry’s assessment of Catherine seeing the best in people. That scene where she is disturbed about Isabella Thorpe’s carrying on with Capn Tilney. Henry sees it all clearly while Catherine is still trying to find an innocent explanation.

      It’s neat that you bring out a few things that made my list of considerations, too.

  3. Christina Boyd

    I love Mary Crawford from “Mansfield Park”–though she may not be the highest of morals but she has whip smart lines.
    “I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly: I do not like to have people throw themselves away; but everybody should marry as soon as they can do it to advantage.” (Ch. 4)

    Nothing ever fatigues me but doing what I do not like.” (Ch. 7)

    “Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” (Ch. 7)

    Oh! do not attack me with your watch. A watch is always too fast or too slow. I cannot be dictated to by a watch.” (Ch. 9)

    There, I will stake my last like a woman of spirit. No cold prudence for me. I am not born to sit still and do nothing. If I lose the game, it shall not be from not striving for it.” (Ch. 25)

    “A poor honourable is no catch, and I cannot imagine any liking in the case, for take away his rants, and the poor baron has nothing. What a difference a vowel makes! If his rents were but equal to his rants!” (Ch. 40)

    “Varnish and gilding hide many stains.” (Ch. 45)

    “A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” (Ch. 22)

    “Nothing amuses me more than the easy manner with which everybody settles the abundance of those who have a great deal less than themselves.” (Ch. 23)

    • Sophia Rose

      Oh, yes, one of the Crawford dyno duo. Both are so compelling, but Mary gets the best lines. Jane’s got her lady characters’ backs. 😉

      I always felt that she had such good instincts. She knew the worth of pursuing Edmund over Tom and even the value of Fanny as her chosen friends over the Bertram gals. But alas, Edmund wasn’t impressed with her vivid and cunning survival instinct over morality. I do wonder what would have been if the Crawfords got their respective choices.

  4. Denise

    While I am a Janeite, I have a special place in my heart for another Jane–Jane Eyre. Strong female, betrayed by many, but still wants to marry for love. Overcame so many obstacles. Persevered through. Gothic heroine.

    • Sophia Rose

      I have re-read that story to death, Denise. Love it! Jane Eyre is so strong and I loved that passionate speech she delivered to Rochester when she thought he was shipping her off to Ireland.