"Blaize Castle!" cried Catherine. "What is that'?"
"The finest place in England--
worth going fifty miles at any time to see."
"What, is it really a castle, an old castle?"
To many readers of Northanger Abbey
, Blaise Castle (or as Jane Austen wrote, Blaize Castle) is nothing more than a landmark Catherine failed to visit. Contemporary readers, however, pictured much more. Blaise Castle represented the shallowness and falseness not only of the Thorpes, but of the fiction of the time and the ideas it inspired.
Blaise Castle is a fraud. Built in the 1766 (two years after the release of the spine-chilling Castle of Otranto
, the first of the gothic terror stories and a model for Ann Radcliffe's books, notably, The Mysteries of Udolpho
.) it was remodeled in 1796 by Humphrey Repton. Repton's famous "Red Book" for Blaise Castle -sketches of his suggestions for his clients, with before and after plates, is now the property of the City of Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
On the other hand, the delight of exploring an edifice like Udolpho, as her fancy represented Blaize Castle to be, was such a counterpoise of good as might console her for almost anything.
It was not the derelict ruin that Catherine supposed, but a rather snug little country house, built to look like a castle. There were no long, dark passages with frights at every turn, but a clean and bright interior, with excellent views to the very unforbidding woods surrounding it.
The owner of the "castle", Thomas Farr, lived in modern comfort a few miles away. He used the building as a summer house, all the while encouraging the various myths and stories which were in circulation-- even going so far as to create a fake Lover’s Leap and Robber's Cave.
Built in a triangle formation, the architecture of the Castle features three corner towers and a center, round room. A later owner added eight cannon around the top of the castle to heighten the not-so-forbidding impression. Apparently the owners of the estate (Farr, and later, John Scandrett Harford, who purchased it in 1789) liked to play "make believe" as they also built an "authentic" Tudor village for their workers to live in.
In Northanger Abbey, no one ever corrects Catherine’s perception of the castle. It is left, in all it’s wretched intactness, to her imagination...and that of the reader. Only those who know, will appreciate the joke Jane Austen has played not only on her heroine, but on her audience as well. No doubt Catherine would have enjoyed the delightful grounds surrounding the castle, but one can’t help feeling she would have been disappointed at the empty shell presented to her, instead of the delightful ruins she imagined there. Is this not a picture of her friendship with Isabella? All is not as it first appears...or as we imagine it to be. This is the message in the novel-- and the story of Blaise Castle.
Reprinted from Laura Sauer's Northanger Abbey Film site
. Visit for information about the upcoming (?) movie.
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