Oh, this one has been incubating and marinating for a lo-o-o-o-ong time in the fertile and terrifying back of my brain. And we’re out of Purdah at last, so here she is:
To begin with… have you ever noticed that the front half of your foot looks a little like a cultivated hyacinth? No?
Maybe you just didn’t put enough purple panicles on it.
Now, I will be the first to admit that it is a little fanciful to imagine these hyacinths actually growing on the grounds of the Abbey – given that it’s only March, more probably they actually come from the succession-houses of which General Tilney is so proud – but in fact there is very little about this design that is not fanciful. Besides, it amuses me to contrast the bright vibrant cheerful purple of the hyacinth with the gloomy weathered granite of the building. So indulge me. The hyacinths, then, grow right up to the foundations of Northanger Abbey, and the Abbey’s mouldering grey walls rise dark and forbidding above them.
Mouldering, dark and forbidding? Yes, well.
An abbey! Yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! But she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether anything within her observation would have given her the consciousness. The fireplace, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china. The windows, to which she looked with peculiar dependence, from having heard the general talk of his preserving them in their Gothic form with reverential care, were yet less what her fancy had portrayed. To be sure, the pointed arch was preserved-the form of them was Gothic-they might be even casements-but every pane was so large, so clear, so light! To an imagination which had hoped for the smallest divisions, and the heaviest stone-work, for painted glass, dirt, and cobwebs, the difference was very distressing.
I thought about creating The Abbey in that image, but it hardly seemed worth knitting… so I have replaced it with the Abbey of Catherine’s fevered imagination, as fueled by all the delicious horrors of Gothic romance.
Instead of a comfortable gentleman’s residence in Gloucestershire, furnished “in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste,” surrounded by “lodges of a modern appearance,” and approached via “a smooth, level road of fine gravel, without obstacle, alarm, or solemnity of any kind,” our Abbey is modeled after an ancient ruin, mouldering away in the best terrifying Mrs. Radcliffe style, set high and inaccessible on a gloomy wooded hillside, in that semi-Teutonic part of northern France now known as Alsace-Lorraine.
And about this ruin there is much to tell; not all of it apocryphal perhaps. There are those who refer to it as having formerly been a château where the by-blows of German nobility were sent to conceal their parents’ shame. Older legend has it, however, that the building actually began its existence in the early Middle Ages as the Abbaye Franchemontaise; home to the Schnazellines, a Secular Cistercian order whose particular field of sanctified manual labor was the manufacture of fine textiles. They were famed far and wide for their beautifully-wrought threads and cloths of every description, and it is in tribute to them and to their industry that we offer – for the first time – a Spinner’s Option with this sock; in tribute to them and to their founder, the high-minded and erudite Abbé Franquemont.
The irony of this is not lost upon me. As it happens, the Schnazellines were a discalced order, as such eschewing all but the most spartan of foot coverings – relatively unusual for Secular Cistercians, but an unerring reflection of their founder’s eccentric distaste for the production of hose. Spinners they were, and weavers, and as the innovation of knitting became popular in their part of the world it was not unknown to the good lay brothers; but the Abbé enforced a strict embargo on the making of warm stockings, considering the work a waste of time, its products an unwarrantable luxury.
Indeed, along with an unparalleled knowledge of his art and its history, the Abbé Franquemont cherished a number of powerful if not always comprehensible tastes and convictions, among them some curious prejudices in matters not only sartorial but also architectural. How unfortunate for him that he happened to be away on a pilgrimage during the early stages of the Abbey’s construction! for had he been present you may be sure the building would never have been permitted to flaunt its unconcealed Flying Buttresses before all the world. How the good Abbé did despise these new-fangled naked excrescences! Unnecessary; impractical; indecent. (Some contemporary accounts claim that on his return he was actually heard to refer to them under his breath as “sale espèce d’arc-foutant”; but let us fervently hope that he was alike incapable of both the pun and the obscenity.) Buttresses, he averred, like limbs (if not feet), should always be decently covered. Nevertheless, there they were, flying and flagrant and irrevocable, for by that time it was far too late to tear them down despite all the Abbé Franquemont’s fulminations; and there they remain to this day, as the rest of the structure crumbles dismally around them – an enduring monument to one artist’s frustration in the face of Philistinism.
In their honor I have erected a new kind of heel, the Flying Buttress Wraparound Reverse Flap, which rises directly from the sock’s foundation in the best High Perpendicular tradition.
The Flying Buttresses support a Gothic-arched clerestory…
…while the West front – again in tribute to the tools of the Schnazellines’ humble calling – features an elegant rose window whose tracery emulates a fine old design known as the Spindle Lattice.
Rising above, the upper cloister occupies two storeys:
And atop these the roof is edged with… wait for it… terrifying winged gargoyles, poised as for flight.
Such is the “silent, lonely, and sublime” edifice where “Fate sits on these dark battlements, and frowns”; the edifice of which Catherine Morland “expected with solemn awe… a glimpse of its massy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks, with the last beams of the sun playing in beautiful splendour on its high Gothic windows”; a fit setting for the luridly-imagined woes of “the wretched Matilda.”