Vice or Virtue? Comparing “Northanger Abbey” & “Black Beauty”

23 12 2020

Northanger Abbey ( Henry and Catherine)

The opinion held by most people is that movies should entertain but also help foster virtue.  A comparison of two movies, “Northanger Abbey” and “Black beauty” reveals that one fulfills this goal while the other does not.

“Northanger Abbey” is adaptation of Jane Austin’s novel of similar title and “Black beauty” is an adaptation of Anne Sewall’s novel of same title. “Northanger Abbey” is a high budget film with great cinematography and top notch casts, nevertheless, the characters spend their time gossiping about class distinctions and angling for wealthy suitors, while “Black Beauty” was done a more modest budget with a handful of armature casts, yet the characters are down to earth, concerned about family and helping others.

 “Northanger Abbey” is about a 17 year old girl, Catherine who is introduced to high society and falls in love with Henry, a son of a wealthy man. She is invited to their rich castle called “Northanger Abbey” a  place crawling with servants and rich things, though  her suspicions that the castle is haunted is proven false, nevertheless, there is hardly a mention of the kind of things the average Joe might care about. Rather, intrigues and ball room plots are the order of the day. Somehow the movie leaves you wondering if going to the ball, dancing, and hooking up was all there was to life. What about work? In the entire length of the move, there was not a single instance of someone doing any productive work such as cooking washing or any of the typical things that make up daily life.

On the other hand in “Black Beauty,”  a 15 year-old girl, Audrey  adopts an abused horse and together with her grandpa they work towards restoring it back to health. The movie is chuck full of sublime teaching moments such as when Audrey was accosted at a department store by a rude and antagonistic rich girl  but she simply leaves the store rather than engage in a fist fight. She also gallantly decides to lose a competition rather than risk her horse suffering injury when midway into a competition; something went wrong with the horse. The audience at the competition was so touched by her nobility that they broke out in applause for her even though she was disqualified.

Audrey and Black Beauty

In “Northanger Abbey” on the other hand, Catherine and the other girls care very little for the sublime moments, rather the care more about boys, wealth and fortune. Perhaps that was what Victorian society dictated at the time, unlike them, Audrey even though she was also interested in boys, she was rather gainfully employed rehabilitating her horse and her romance with Josh, a boy that worked in her grandfathers ranch just happened along the way.  Furthermore, she didn’t take Josh’s bank account into account before accepting to go out with him as the girls in “Northanger Abbey” undoubtedly would have done. As far as she was concerned, his financial status was irrelevant and she was happy and enjoyed her time with him and his sister.

Another quite remarkable scene in “Black Beauty” was Audrey’s relationship with her father. They quarreled at the dinner table because he wished she finish school before settling at the ranch, but she had fallen in love with the ranch and with Josh and was thinking of chucking school so she quarreled with her father. Nevertheless, a few moments later, her father apologized for being harsh and she apologized for being rude, and they made up. She also accepted to do his wish and finish school, thus showing that both father and daughter loved each other, and are willing to forego their ego, and apologize when disagreement arises between them. On the other hand, in “Northanger,” General Tilney, Henry’s father, was a harsh and rather vain man, who was only generous to Catherine for as long as he thought she was from a rich home but turned her out of his house in the middle of the night when he discovered that she was poor—a most despicable act.

Hence, while “Northanger’s “plot emphasize the importance of wealth and having a good fortune or inheritance and negate the value of hard work, “Black Beauty’s” plot on the other hand, emphasizes the value of kindness, and altruistic love. Arguably, “Northanger Abbey”, written in 1798, may not be representative of 18th century England that produced English men like James Watt who invented the steam engine or James Dewar and Isaac Newton who greatly impacted the scientific world with their resilience, enterprise and hard work.  England at that time was emerging as an Empire, big vast and strong; a feat that would require hard working men and women with enterprise and determination.

In summary, even with “Northanger Abbey’s” high budget and great cinematography, “Black Beauty” is a more realistic and its short fall notwithstanding, encapsulates the real concern of ordinary life and portrays model behavior that could bring people to live virtuous lives.

by Chinwuba Iyizoba

Black Beauty
Northanger Abbey







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