Northanger Abbey Chapters 15-17: Summary, Musings & Discussion: Day 10 Giveaway

“Nay, my beloved, sweetest friend,” continued the other, “compose yourself. I am amazingly agitated, as you perceive. Let us sit down and talk in comfort. Well, and so you guessed it the moment you had my note? Sly creature! Oh! My dear Catherine, you alone, who know my heart, can judge of my present happiness. Your brother is the most charming of men. I only wish I were more worthy of him. But what will your excellent father and mother say? Oh! Heavens! When I think of them I am so agitated!” Isabella Thorpe, Chapter 15 

Quick Synopsis 

Isabella and James Morland are engaged pending parental consent. Isabella is anxious that she has such a small fortune, but money is nothing to her and she is content to live in a cottage. A letter arrives the next day from the Morland’s and all will be done for the couple. Isabella & Mrs. Thorpe are elated. Isabella envisions herself the envy of all of her friends being so well settled. John Thorpe speaks to Catherine exclaiming that marriage is a fine thing and one gets another. He takes Catherine’s agreement as a form of encouragement. Catherine dines with the Tilney’s who are quite and out of spirits. Isabella credits this to arrogance and pride. Catherine attends the Assembly dance where Isabella declares she will not dance with anyone since her James is not there. Catherine is introduced to Henry’s brother Captain Tilney who is interested in dancing with Isabella, but Catherine tells him she will dance with no one that night, only to be surprised later that she does accept his invitation. Isabella later explains to her that it was for a favor and that he was such a nuisance. A second letter arrives from James revealing that they will have £400 a year and can marry in 2-3 years. Isabella and Mrs. Thorpe are grave and out of spirits. Isabella claims it is because of the wait, but alludes to the low amount of money. Catherine is invited by the Tilney’s to be their guest at Northanger Abbey.


Chapter 15 begins with the announcement of an engagement, which is always a happy event for a Regency era woman, since it fulfills her duty and obligation to her family and society. In this case, it is a bittersweet moment. Isabella and Mrs. Thorpe are elated. They have attained their goal to attract and attach themselves to a wealth young man. Our suspicions about the Thorpe’s true nature are revealed further. Isabella continues to say what she thinks others want to hear, but feels quite the opposite. Here is a great example of her double talk.

“For my own part,” said Isabella, “my wishes are so moderate that the smallest income in nature would be enough for me. Where people are really attached, poverty itself is wealth; grandeur I detest: I would not settle in London for the universe. A cottage in some retired village would be ecstasy. There are some charming little villas about Richmond.” Isabella Thorpe, Chapter 15

This is echoed by her brother John’s proclamation about marriage to Catherine. He sees the advantage of the romantic moment and wants to finish the family plan and attach to her also.

“A famous good thing this marrying scheme, upon my soul! A clever fancy of Morland’s and Belle’s. What do you think of it, Miss Morland? I say it is no bad notion.” 

“I am sure I think it a very good one.” 

“Do you? That’s honest, by heavens! I am glad you are no enemy to matrimony, however. Did you ever hear the old song ‘Going to One Wedding Brings on Another?’ I say, you will come to Belle’s wedding, I hope.” John Thorpe and Catherine Morland, Chapter 15 

He follows this with an almost duplicate pronouncement that we heard previously by Isabella to Catherine about how he needs very little in the way of money to make his life happy.

Give me but a little cheerful company, let me only have the company of the people I love, let me only be where I like and with whom I like, and the devil take the rest, say I. John Thorpe, Chapter 15 

Catherine agrees with him that it is the wickedest thing in existence to marry for money. John takes her speech as a form of encouragement and departs for London content that they are in sync since she has also agreed to let him visit her at her home at Fullerton. Catherine still does not see the deception in their double talk and at the next Assembly when Isabella declares that she will not dance because her James is not there, Catherine takes her for her word and explains that to Henry’s brother Captain Tilney who wants to dance with her.

Catherine, meanwhile, undisturbed by presentiments of such an evil, or of any evil at all, except that of having but a short set to dance down, enjoyed her usual happiness with Henry Tilney, listening with sparkling eyes to everything he said; and, in finding him irresistible, becoming so herself. The Narrator, Chapter 16

Not surprised that she finds him irresistible! ;) But wise Henry sees the folly of her naivety, and follows with a little lesson for her about reading personalities and herself. What transpires is one of those moments when one surprises oneself and friends by saying something quite apt and witty beyond equal measure.

“Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well.” 

“Me? Yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.” 

“Bravo! An excellent satire on modern language.” Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, Chapter 16

Henry continues through his conversation to gently teach Catherine about social interaction and judgment of character. She may be astounded that Isabella did dance with Captain Tilney after she so firmly was apposed to dancing, but Henry asks her to remember if Isabella has every changed her mind before, clarifying her nature and intensions. Later, when Isabella’s explanation to Catherine about dancing with Captain Tilney seems shallow, she starts to get it. When Isabella learns that she and James will only have £400 a year and must wait 2-3 years to marry, Catherine is able to use her new evaluation skills to understand Isabella and Mrs. Thorpe’s two faced reaction to the news.

Isabella recollected herself. “As to that, my sweet Catherine, there cannot be a doubt, and you know me well enough to be sure that a much smaller income would satisfy me. It is not the want of more money that makes me just at present a little out of spirits; I hate money; and if our union could take place now upon only fifty pounds a year, I should not have a wish unsatisfied. Ah! my Catherine, you have found me out. There’s the sting. The long, long, endless two years and half that are to pass before your brother can hold the living.” 

“Yes, yes, my darling Isabella,” said Mrs. Thorpe, “we perfectly see into your heart. You have no disguise. We perfectly understand the present vexation; and everybody must love you the better for such a noble honest affection.” Isabella & Mrs. Thorpe, Chapter 16

They want Catherine to believe that they are not upset by the amount of money, only the length of time before they can marry. The real ‘sting’ is when Mrs. Thorpe claims that Isabella has a perfect heart and no disguise. We see that the daughter and son have learned all their tricks through the mother, and Catherine now sees that too when she is uncomfortable and hurt when Isabella says “everybody has a right to do what they like with their own money.” This slight in Catherine’s mind implies that Isabella thinks that her parents are ungenerous with their funds, when in actuality; Isabella thinks they are rich and stingy. More misconceptions and misreading of personalities and finances by Austen to perplex and fuel the plot. Catherine may be wary of the Thorpe’s but she is still optimistic of marriage, and now seeing how these things come about with her brother, secretly hoping the same for herself with Henry Tilney. When the Tilney’s invite her to ber their guest at Northanger Abbey, all of her hopes and fantasies come together. Not only will she be with the Tilney’s and near Henry, she will see a Gothic castle with its “long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach.”

Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney – and castles and abbeys made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill. To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour had seemed too nearly impossible for desire. The Narrator, Chapter 17 

Too funny. We are not quite sure if she is more passionate about Henry, or his home! As the story proceeds to the second volume of the novel, we shall see a change in our heroine and the style of writing by Austen as the Gothic parody really comes to light.

  • Online text of Northanger Abbey complements of Molland’s Circulating-library
  • Group reading schedule  

Go Gothic with Northanger Abbey: DAY 10 Giveaway



Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments,

Charades & Horrible Blunders (2006) 

by Josephine Ross (Author), Henrietta Webb (Illustrator)

Leave a comment by October 30th to qualify for the free drawing on October 31st for one copy of Jane Austen’s Guide to Good Manners: Compliments, Charades & Horrible Blunders, by Josephine Ross (US residents only)

Upcoming event posts
Day 11 – Oct 19          Book Review – NA Naxos Audio
Day 12 – Oct 20          Guest Blog – Valancourt Books
Day 13 – Oct 21          Group Read NA Chapters 18-21
Day 14 – Oct 22          Book Review – OWC NA

© 2008 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

12 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey Chapters 15-17: Summary, Musings & Discussion: Day 10 Giveaway

  1. I wasn’t able to put it into words before but I think how you did it was perfect….

    Henry continues through his conversation to gently teach Catherine about social interaction and judgment of character.

    I always learn so much through your blog, it’s better than a library! Another great post! Have a great day!


  2. i am enjoying watching catherine catch on to what is happening around her as she learns, bit by bit, how “society” works. and i find that i am also very much looking forward to the spooky mysteries that the abbey holds!


  3. Here at last I start to breath a little easier. As Catherine’s eyes sharpen, and she starts to see enough of other people’s characters to take care of herself, I start to trust that her ending might be happy. I have to wonder though, how indicative this is of my own modern, feminist perspective. Catharine is no more happy as she loses her niavete, so where do I get my absolute assurance that wisdom and a dose of cynicism are more healthy?

    With this book, I find questions like that constantly on my mind, which I usually don’t with other Austen novels. Is this just where I am in my life, or is it an artifact of the Gothic parody in this particular work?


  4. It pleases me to see Catherine uncovers the true Isabella even though its painful to find out the truth. We don’t see much of James Morland, my heart aches for him just the same.


  5. I love how Catherine’s education about the world is shaped by the ideas of reading. She’s learning to properly read and understand the scenes around her. It’s a very comforting view of innocence giving way to experience: you don’t lose your love for a book because you better understand it – it just makes it that much richer; so you don’t lose your love for life, you just become more perceptive picking out the characters and scenes you enter.


  6. I love this little phrase: “in finding him irresistible, becoming so herself.” To me, it implies that Henry Tilney is not perfect or impartial, but rather a bit susceptible to vanity as well.


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