With more than usual eagerness did Catherine hasten to the pump-room the next day, secure within herself of seeing Mr. Tilney there before the morning were over, and ready to meet him with a smile; but no smile was demanded – Mr. Tilney did not appear. Every creature in Bath, except himself, was to be seen in the room at different periods of the fashionable hours; crowds of people were every moment passing in and out, up the steps and down; people whom nobody cared about, and nobody wanted to see; and he only was absent. The Narrator, Chapter 4
Catherine’s interest in Henry Tilney grows with his mysterious absence. Mrs. Allen recognizes an old school fellow Mrs. Thorpe in the pump-room so now they have acquaintances in Bath. Catherine is introduced to her daughter Isabella and their friendship continues to grow as they read Gothic novels together. The Narrator defends novel reading, ‘the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.’ Catherine meets Isabella in the pump-room eager to discuss Udolpho. Isabella wants to read The Italian next, and then produces a list of seven more Gothic novels. She professes her loyalty to friends claiming she loves no one by halves. She warns Catherine that men are conceited and must be treated with spirit. Two men are watching Isabella and she in concerned, but intrigued enough to follow them as they leave when they run into a gig driven by her brother John and his friend James Morland, Catherine’s brother. John Thorp invites Catherine to ride out in his gig, and she accepts, but is anxious over the propriety. Catherine asks him if he has read Udolpho, He balks at the notion of reading a novel, “they are full of nonsense.” His manners are unsettling to Catherine; she does not like him, but tells James she does. She only wants to return to reading Udolpho.
Henry Tilney has disappeared from Bath, but not from Catherine’s imagination, making him all the more romantic and desirable like the heroes in her Gothic novels. What a relief that Mrs. Allen finally has an acquaintance in Bath with Mrs. Thorpe who is quite a talker about her children and all their accomplishments. I laughed when Mrs. Allen, who has no children to discuss, talked about her clothes instead finding satisfaction that her lace is finer than Mrs. Thorpe’s!
Compliments on good looks now passed; and, after observing how time had slipped away since they were last together, how little they had thought of meeting in Bath, and what a pleasure it was to see an old friend, they proceeded to make inquiries and give intelligence as to their families, sisters, and cousins, talking both together, far more ready to give than to receive information, and each hearing very little of what the other said. The Narrator Chapter 4
What great luck for Catherine that Mrs. Thorpe has a single daughter only four years her senior who has been ‘out’ in society and ready to give her the lay of the land on fashion, men and novels. The language that Jane Austen has given Isabella is in turns humorous, and revealing. Everything is amazing, delightful, sweet, beautiful, dearest, or horrid, conceited, and insipid There is no gray area in her thinking as we see in her pronouncement that she defends her friends fiercely.
There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves; it is not my nature. My attachments are always excessively strong. Isabella Thorpe, Chapter 6
Young naïve Catherine seems to be in total awe of Isabella following her eagerly. It is refreshing to see her trust and acceptance, but at times I can see how this could lead her into trouble in the future, making me a bit anxious. Their mutual interest in novel reading is a common thread, a way for Austen to continue the issue of who read novels and who does not. This may seem a bit odd to us today since novel reading is so popular and unquestioned, but in the late 18th-century when Northanger Abbey was first conceived, reading novels was not as widely accepted and a bit controversial. When the Narrator chimes in almost every chapter so far to defend novel reading, I find it quite ironic that I am reading a novel defending novel reading!
“And what are you reading, Miss – ?” “Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. “It is only Cecilia, or Camilla, or Belinda”; or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language. The Narrator Chapter 5
Even innocent Catherine is trying to recruit readers when she engages Mr. Thorpe in a conversation to promote Mrs. Radcliffe’s Udolpho!
(Catherine) ventured at length to vary the subject by a question which had been long uppermost in her thoughts; it was, “Have you ever read Udolpho, Mr. Thorpe?”
“Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t’other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation.” Catherine Morland & John Thorpe, Chapter 7
I would not put it past Jane Austen and her ironic wit that she may have given us a big clue to the true nature of her characters by their desire and approval of reading novels. So far, we know that Catherine, Henry & Eleanor Tilney, and Isabella Thorpe are in favor of it, and John Thorpe thinks they are nonsense. We shall see how all that turns out for each of them.
- Read the online text of Northanger Abbey complements of Molland’s Circulating-library
- Read the Northanger Abbey group reading schedule
- Chapter 1-7 summary of Northanger Abbey
- Chapters 1-7 Quotes & Quips of Northanger Abbey
Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 4 Giveaway
Barnes & Noble Classics Northanger Abbey (2007)
By Jane Austen, introduction by Alfred McAdam
Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of the Barnes & Noble Classics Northanger Abbey (shipping to US residents only)
Upcoming event posts
Day 05 – Oct 8 Guest Blog – Diana Birchall
Day 06 – Oct 9 Group Read NA Chapters 8-10
Day 07 – Oct 13 Guest Blog – Margaret C. Sullivan
Day 08 – Oct 14 Group Read NA Chapters 11-14
© 2008 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose