“Penance and mortification for ever”: Jane Austen and the Ambient Noise of Catholicism

Beth Kowaleski Wallace, Boston College
Vol. 31, No. 1/2 (Spring/Fall 2012), 159-180

Far from being absent from the work of Jane Austen, the question of Catholic political identity and Catholic relief is an “ambient noise” that permeates her novels. As a significant “not-said,” the theme of Catholicism generates narrative pressure to close down certain possibilities while opening others. This essay explores Austen’s youthful enthusiasm for the Stuart and recusant causes against the 1791 debate over Catholic relief. It then reads Northanger Abbey (1817) and Emma (1815) for the different ways each processes political history in the aftermath of the Reformation. Along the way, the essay reconsiders the implications of the gothic novel for Austen and her contemporaries.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]