Northanger Abbey Chapters 11-14: Summary, Musings & Discussion

At half past twelve, when Catherine’s anxious attention to the weather was over and she could no longer claim any merit from its amendment, the sky began voluntarily to clear. A gleam of sunshine took her quite by surprise; she looked round; the clouds were parting, and she instantly returned to the window to watch over and encourage the happy appearance. Ten minutes more made it certain that a bright afternoon would succeed, and justified the opinion of Mrs. Allen, who had “always thought it would clear up.” The Narrator, Chapter 11 

Quick Synopsis 

Catherine anticipates her walk with the Tilney’s but is concerned because of the rainy weather. John and Isabella Thorpe and her brother James arrive and insist that she ride out with them to Blaize Castle in their carriages. She declines because of the Tilney’s invitation, but Thorpe assures her they are not coming for her and she departs only to discover that he has lied as she passes them on the street. He will not stop. The scheme to travel to the Castle is too ambitious and they turn back after an hour. Catherine is miffed all around. The next morning she goes to the Tilney residence to apologize and is turned away. That night at the theatre she meets Mr. Tilney and apologizes. He assures her that they will walk another day. She notices John Thorpe talking to General Tilney. The evening ends well. The next day, Isabella, James and John insist that Catherine ride out with them to Blaize Castle again. She firmly declines because of her engagement with the Tilney’s. They insist and badger her. Thorpe goes to Miss Tilney claiming that Catherine has sent him to change the date. She agrees and Thorpe informs the party of his success. Catherine is horrified and wants to tell Eleanor it is not true. They try to restrain her, but she struggles and is let free to go to the Tilney’s and explain. She is introduced to General Tilney. The next morning the weather is fair, and Catherine walks with the Tilney’s as planned. They discuss books, history, politics and Henry instructs Catherine on the Picturesque and teases them on what nature has given to women.

Musings 

Temptation and judgment are key factors in the next four chapters. We see our heroine Catherine tested on many fronts in social situations, and called upon to evaluate and decided for herself which are the best decisions for her happiness. The first test comes with her friends Isabella and John Thorpe, and her brother James when she is pressured to put aside her commitment to walk with the Tilney’s at the prospect of seeing an ancient castle like the ones she has read about in the Gothic novels that she admires so much. “I should like to see the castle; but may we go all over it? May we go up every staircase, and into every suite of rooms?”  The temptation to see such a fanciful place outweighs her concern of offending the Tilney’s and she is persuaded to go on the drive, only to discover that she has been lied to by John Thorpe regarding his seeing Henry Tilney with another young lady before he arrived. When she passes the Tilney’s on the street she understands the deception, and she begs Thorpe to stop.

“Pray, pray stop, Mr. Thorpe. I cannot go on. I will not go on. I must go back to Miss Tilney.” But Mr. Thorpe only laughed, smacked his whip, encouraged his horse, made odd noises, and drove on; and Catherine, angry and vexed as she was, having no power of getting away, was obliged to give up the point and submit. Catherine Morland, Chapter 11

It is a painful and frustrating lesson to learn, but she understands the consequences of slighting the Tilney’s whose friendship she values opposed to the immediate pleasure of an excursion in the country with friends whose judgment and methods she doubts. When the drive is cut short after an hour because of the eventual reality that they can not make it to the Castle in the time they have, she sees that putting herself under the power of such people is foolish and regrets her actions.

The second test comes when she immediately needs to find Miss Tilney and explain why she did not keep their date to walk. When she arrives at her door, the footman tells her that Miss Tilney is not at home and she departs dejected, only to look back and see her leaving her home with her father. Catherine feels slighted and ashamed. Later that evening she finally meets Henry Tilney at the theatre, aplogizes and learns that it was their father’s doing,  he did not want to be delayed in his walk. But another lesson had been learned. Do not over react in the heat of the moment. Things are not always what they seem and every consideration should be given to cool judgment. The evening ends most agreeably after her chat with Mr. Tilney, his confirmation of another walk, and a complement by his father, General Tilney.

That General Tilney, instead of disliking, should admire her, was very delightful; and she joyfully thought that there was not one of the family whom she need now fear to meet. The evening had done more, much more, for her than could have been expected. The Narrator, Chapter 12

Austen seems to follow good news with bad quite swiftly, as our heroine in high spirits after meeting with Miss Tilney the next day and confirming their walk, is assaulted by her friends for accepting the invitation which interferes with their desire for Catherine to drive out with them to Blaize Castle, again. Even though she firmly declines their invitation determined not to allow their plans to spoil another engagement with the Tilney’s, they will not accept her decision and press her to change the date. I am amazed at the length that they go to pressure her as Isabella shames her and cries, her brother James calls her quite unkind and selfish and John Thorpe approaches Miss Tilney under the guise of Catherine’s authority requesting a change of date. Catherine is horrified at their behavior, firm in her resolve and I applaud her new found confidence.

She had not been withstanding them on selfish principles alone, she had not consulted merely her own gratification; that might have been ensured in some degree by the excursion itself, by seeing Blaize Castle; no, she had attended to what was due to others, and to her own character in their opinion. Her conviction of being right, however, was not enough to restore her composure; till she had spoken to Miss Tilney she could not be at ease; The Narrator, Chapter 13 

Score one for Miss Morland. A difficult situation that she handled to our relief and her satisfaction. Peer pressure can be the worst form of friendship, if one can call such action friendship. She has made a good decision for herself and her walk to Beechen Cliff with the Tilney’s proves a much more worthy excursion as she sees, experiences, and learns so much more than with the society of the Thorpe’s. After being taken down so low by the Thorpe’s ill manners, walking with Eleanor and Henry Tilney is the height of perfection in good views of countryside, witty banter, and educated conversation. There are so many excellent dialogue passages in this chapter that one is hard pressed to narrow them down. We begin to see Henry and Eleanor’s sibling relationship more closely as he teases her and she him, playing off each other to amuse Catherine and themselves. By the end of the chapter he has undoubtedly the charming, clever and witty man that we and Catherine had suspected. He loves Gothic fiction, though Catherine is concerned to discuss it with a man, his Oxford education has not ruined his sense of the sublime in nature which he shares with Catherine in his description of the picturesque countryside, he talks eloquently of history, politics and art with ease, and knows when to complement and please.

“Miss Morland, I think very highly of the understanding of all the women in the world – especially of those – whoever they may be – with whom I happen to be in company.” 

“That is not enough. Be more serious.” 

“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.” Henry and Eleanor Tilney, Chapter 14

And that gentle readers is quite a man.

  • Online text of Northanger Abbey complements of Molland’s Circulating-library
  • Group reading schedule
  • Summary of Northanger Abbey chapter 8-14
  • Quotes and quips from Northanger Abbey chapters 8-14

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9 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey Chapters 11-14: Summary, Musings & Discussion

  1. Oh, I just wanted to cheer when Catherine started to stand up for herself and think for herself, and began to see that the Thorpe’s may not be such great friends to her (or even good people). And that varied and intellectual conversation with the Tilney’s is such a wonderful breath of fresh air (for the heroine and the reader.) Such a change from the normal banality and cajoling of the Thorpe’s!

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  2. It is delightful to watch Catherine learn to stand up for herself and what she knows is right. She is also learning to question the judgment of her friends without losing faith that they are all essentially good, which just makes her more loveable, and lets us see why Mr. Tilney finds her company so refreshing.

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  3. It’s interesting to contrast Henry and Eleanor’s brother-sister dynamic with James and Catherine’s. Henry’s interactions with his sister are gentle, and involve some give-and-take, whereas James participates in the “peer pressure” exerted by the Thorpes. Not exactly considerate big-brotherly behavior! I see in James a foreshadowing of Edmund Bertram–someone too easily swayed by a pretty face into doing things he ought to know are inconsiderate.

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  4. i agree with courtney, the contrast in the brother/sister relationships (for everyone, including the thorpes) is pretty important. i think it’s significant as well that catherine and james come from a big family and that catherine didn’t even know that james would be in bath to begin with. there is a lot more distance in their relationship.

    i’ve been keeping a list of my favorite quotes and love this one from this section

    “A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.”

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  5. “Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.” Henry and Eleanor Tilney, Chapter 14

    I always laugh at this quote, but then I get the feeling I should be quite offended! ; )

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  6. Just the way Jane Austen uses the English language makes me smile knowing that things weren’t too different back then…. espcially hearing the charms from the likes of a Mr. Tilney!

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  7. I really enjoy your summaries of the chapters and the discussion of them as well. Mr. Tilney certainly comes out well at the end of this section :)

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