Discovering goofs in Austen adaptations can be a challenging endeavor, especially as production quality rises, requiring repeated viewings. This can become something of a chore, keeping an eye on background details and questioning everything repeatedly rather than relaxing into an enjoyable suspension of disbelief. I admit that this time around, I enjoyed every viewing of Northanger Abbey (2007) and almost hate to expose its flaws. I found myself utterly charmed by the lead characters, and appropriately disgusted with both the Thorpe siblings and the Tilney father and first son. I thought the casting was brilliant. I did manage to find a few rather blaring goofs in spite of my delight in the production. For the purpose of establishing the foundation for a few of the goofs, remember that the novel Northanger Abbey is set in the months of January through April 1798.
10.) Out of season apples. In a playful scene, Henry Tilney climbs into an apple tree on the Northanger Abbey estate and tosses apples down to Catherine and Eleanor, who catch the fruit with their dresses as they laugh. I missed the problem with this scene the first few times I watched, but then I recalled when apples are harvested in the United States. Are there green apples that ripen in the spring in the UK? In my first pass at searching, I thought perhaps this scene might be explained by the Bramley apple, cited as a year-round apple. Additional digging, however, revealed that there is no year-round harvest of this variety – it’s kept fresh in cold storage and is merely available year-round. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since the first Bramley apple tree wasn’t planted until 1809. I’m open to being corrected on this goof if someone in the UK knows of an apple ready to be picked in spring there.
9.) Why didn’t Mr. Morland baptize Catherine? The source material, Jane Austen’s novel, doesn’t give us any information about the baptism or christening of baby Catherine, but it does inform us, in the first paragraph, that her father was a clergyman. I questioned whether there was some reason that a clergyman wouldn’t baptize his own children during that time. That was when I learned that Austen’s father, who was also a clergyman, baptized every one of his children privately within a few days of their birth and again in a formal christening a month later. I think it’s fair to say that Austen would have had Mr. Morland perform the ceremony for his daughter, the heroine of her novel.
8.) A musical mix-up. This goof was a fun one to track. The name of the dance in question is actually “Upon a Summers Day.” We first encounter this dance when John Thorpe takes Catherine to the dance floor and puts his face uncomfortably close to hers when the pair draws together. The next time the dance is performed is at the ball where Isabella Thorpe has told Catherine that she would not be dancing since James Moreland isn’t there. When their group is approached by the Tilney family, the music can be heard in the background although the dancing is happening in another room. We hear an announcement that the next dance will be “On a Summer’s Day,” which not gets the title wrong, but it’s also the dance that has just concluded. The dance that Henry and Catherine perform is an entirely different one.
7.) Is the black cravat supposed to be a metaphor? The black cravats seen on both General Tilney and John Thorpe were not yet on the horizon in the fashionable man’s wardrobe in 1798. Colored cravats were introduced into men’s fashion by Count d’Orsay after his introduction into society in 1821. I almost wonder if, similar to the white-hat/black-hat signal in old westerns, the black cravat was used to mark the bad guys in this production.
6.) What’s wrong with this picture? Don’t get me wrong. The scene is campy and fun. Catherine is reading Radcliff’s Romance of the Forest in the carriage and her imagination cooks up a highwayman scene to rival anything she’s been reading. The goof is that she’s reading in the carriage. She is in the backward-facing seat in dim light, jostling down a bumpy road. Does anyone actually believe one can read in such conditions? One doesn’t need the physical book in hand to venture into flights of fancy.
5.) Mr. Tilney’s magic goblet. Keep your eye on the liquid in the cup. First, he makes it disappear. Then it reappears. Then it disappears again. I feel sorry for the people in charge of continuity. They have a tough job.
4.) Mary Poppin’s carpet bag has nothing on Catherine Morland’s trunk. Small wonder that she harbors expectations of finding something mysterious in the trunk at the foot of her bed in her Northanger Abbey chambers. Catherine Moreland is the proud owner of a magical trunk herself. Her only trunk is the small one you see at her feet as she waits to be picked up by the public coach. The wardrobe she has sported over the course of weeks could not possibly fit in this trunk. At least six garments of the pelisse, spencer, and capelet varieties, thirteen different gowns, along with gloves, slippers, nightgowns, undergarments, and slippers would have to be crammed into the confines of that little crate. Either the trunk has an interior like the TARDIS, or the prop people did not consult with the costume department. It seems as though she might, at some point, have stuffed the hatbox in there too, since, upon her arrival at Fullerton, the hatbox is nowhere to be seen.
3.) The mysteries of … The Monk? One can only assume that the screenwriter, Andrew Davies, could not find content salacious enough in The Mysteries of Udolpho, the book Catherine is reading in bed, so he substituted a passage from The Monk for her candlelight fare and the ensuing bathtub dream. The light of day verifies that the book in her hand was Udolpho, so the voiceover we hear of her reading material was from the wrong book entirely.
2.) Back again so soon? As Henry leaves in this scene, he calls over his shoulder to Catherine and Eleanor, “I’ll see you tomorrow for dinner.” Having cited his desire to set off for Woodston before nightfall, there is no reason to suppose he would be in the house any time until the next day. We next see Catherine go up the stairs to Mrs. Tilney’s room, where she is almost immediately “caught” by Henry. Unlike in the novel, where he had returned from Woodston a day earlier than expected, he provides no explanation for his sudden appearance. Since both Catherine and Henry are in the same clothing as they were when he rode away, and since it is still daylight, the scene obviously takes place very soon after he was seen leaving. This is a matter of introducing a plot hole by condensing the timeline.
1.) Where did this hat come from? In the scene where Henry shows Woodston to Catherine from a distance, Catherine is wearing a riding hat. She looks rather adorable in it, and as costumes go, I loved it, however, one must ask, did she have sufficient expectations of riding horses when she went to Bath to warrant packing such a hat? She isn’t wearing a habit – her spencer and gown are part of her regular wardrobe, yet we see this particular hat only once, where her other bonnets were worn repeatedly. Would she have even been able to fit it in the hatbox with her bonnets? It would have been easy to establish that it was a loaner from Eleanor, but they didn’t. Of course, the scene itself has other issues, such as Catherine challenging Henry to a horse race back to Northanger Abbey from the Woodston parsonage–a distance of twenty miles–in the rain.
There you have it. Have you spotted any of these goofs or illogical story elements before, or asked yourself the questions that led to exposing them? Do you know of any other goofs I missed? If so, please share them in the comments, along with any thoughts or observations you have about this list or the Northanger Abbey (2007) production.