“Psha! My dear creature,” she replied, “do not think me such a simpleton as to be always wanting to confine him to my elbow. It would be hideous to be always together; we should be the jest of the place. And so you are going to Northanger! I am amazingly glad of it. It is one of the finest old places in England, I understand. I shall depend upon a most particular description of it.” Isabella Thorpe, Chapter 18
After two or three day absence from each other Catherine and Isabella meet at the pump-room. Isabella confides that her brother John is in love with Catherine and wants Isabella to speak on his behalf. Astonished, Catherine denies encouraging him. Isabella agrees that it was “a very foolish, imprudent business” since neither have money to live on. She does not wish her to sacrifice her happiness to oblige her brother. Captain Tilney arrives and Isabella flirts with him. Catherine is concerned for her brother James, convinced that Captain Tilney must not be aware of their engagement. She asks Henry Tilney to talk to his brother. He tells her that Isabella and James are the best judges of their own relationship. Catherine departs Bath and travels to Northanger Abbey with the Tilney’s. On the way Henry excites her passion for Gothic novels by teasingly describing plots and comparing them to Northanger Abbey to heighten her anticipation. When she arrives, it is not the ancient edifice, but less what her fancy had portrayed. On her first night, a storm howls outside and she investigates an ancient chest.
Even though Catherine has begun to mature from her experiences in Bath, she is still unschooled in the ways of courting and love. When her friend Isabella tells her that her brother John is in love with her and that she has encouraged him in his attentions to her, she is astonished. When she “solemnly protest that no syllable of such a nature ever passed between” them, Isabella credits her to a little harmless flirting and quickly acquits her because it is “a very foolish, imprudent business” since neither of them have any money to live on. So the real reason comes out! Isabella fulfills her obligation to promote her brother’s case to Catherine and in the same turn lets her know that she can not pursue him because of their finances. Obviously Isabella is not one of those virtuous females that marry for love alone, even though she has proclaimed the opposite during her engagement to James. More Thorpe double talk. I knew something was up with her when she quoted Tilney twice in her conversation with Catherine and was not surprised when he showed up and sat next to her. We quickly learn that there is much more between them as they brazenly flirt with each other to Catherine’s amazement and distress.
She wished Isabella had talked more like her usual self, and not so much about money, and had not looked so well pleased at the sight of Captain Tilney. How strange that she should not perceive his admiration! Catherine longed to give her a hint of it, to put her on her guard, and prevent all the pain which her too lively behaviour might otherwise create both for him and her brother. The Narrator, Chapter 18
Confused by Isabella and Captain Tilney’s flirtation and concerned for her brother James, she entreats Henry Tilney to speak to his brother convinced that he is not aware of their engagement. When he assures her that “He knows what he is about, and must be his own master“, he also gently reminds Catherine that if his brother’s attention to Miss Thorpe give her brother pains then who is to blame, his brother for giving them, or Isabella for encouraging them? He understands that she is in love with James, but flirts with his brother. “No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.” Catherine continues to question Henry intent that he knows the answers to his brother’s actions. He assures her he does not know his heart and can only conjecture. She is still uneasy and asks that their father General Tilney be made aware and intercede. His response is so sophisticated and kind to her I was touched.
I will not say, ‘Do not be uneasy,’ because I know that you are so, at this moment; but be as little uneasy as you can. You have no doubt of the mutual attachment of your brother and your friend; depend upon it, therefore, that real jealousy never can exist between them; depend upon it that no disagreement between them can be of any duration. Their hearts are open to each other, as neither heart can be to you; they know exactly what is required and what can be borne; and you may be certain that one will never tease the other beyond what is known to be pleasant.” Henry Tilney, Chapter 19
I think that he is projecting his own personal perspective upon this couple, since I doubt that Isabella would ever be capable of an open heart. I was satisfied with his answer and Catherine was determined to think that Henry Tilney knew best (smart girl), blamed herself for her fears, and resolved to not dwell upon it again, moving on to her visit to Northanger Abbey.
They set off at the sober pace in which the handsome, highly fed four horses of a gentleman usually perform a journey of thirty miles: such was the distance of Northanger from Bath, to be now divided into two equal stages. Catherine’s spirits revived as they drove from the door; for with Miss Tilney she felt no restraint; and, with the interest of a road entirely new to her, of an abbey before, and a curricle behind, she caught the last view of Bath without any regret, and met with every milestone before she expected it. The Narrator, Chapter 20
So Catherine begins her second journey of enlightenment as she departs Bath and is placed in the care of the Tilney’s. And what excellent hands she is under as Austen clearly shows her preference for our dashing hero.
But the merit of the curricle did not all belong to the horses; Henry drove so well – so quietly – without making any disturbance, without parading to her, or swearing at them: so different from the only gentleman-coachman whom it was in her power to compare him with! And then his hat sat so well, and the innumerable capes of his greatcoat looked so becomingly important! To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world. The Narrator, Chapter 20
That other gentleman-coachman is of course that crude and boisterous fellow John Thorpe, who we thankfully know she has no interest in. So, Catherine thinks that dancing with Henry and driving with him is the greatest happiness in the world, just wait dear one until he speaks with you along the road on a topic near to your heart that you both share, Gothic novels. This is one my favorite conversations in the novel between them as he teases and incites her imagination, heightening her anticipation of the ancient edifice that she has longed to visit, Northanger Abbey.
“You have formed a very favourable idea of the abbey.”
“To be sure, I have. Is not it a fine old place, just like what one reads about?”
“And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as ‘what one reads about’ may produce? Have you a stout heart? Nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry?” Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, Chapter 20
He suggestively asks her if she has a stout heart and steady nerves? “Will not your mind misgive you when you find yourself in this gloomy chamber? Will not your heart sink within you?” She denies that this will happen to her. Henry continues to talk of haunted chambers with doors that do not lock, and Catherine is gleeful because it is just like the book. She recollects herself and is certain that Miss Tilney would not put her in such a room as he describes. When they reach Northanger Abbey, the view was not as grand nor the road “without obstacle, alarm, or solemnity of any kind, struck her as odd and inconsistent.” The Abbey is not the old edifice that she had envisioned, “less what her fancy had portrayed“, the furniture and decoration modern, lacking dirt and cobwebs, and the difference was very distressing. Her chamber is comfortable and well appointed with a high old fashioned ebony chest similar to the one that Henry described that very day. She is determined to discover what is inside its locked contents. With a storm raging outside, the winds howling and one candlestick to light her way she investigates the chest working the lock for sometime before she succeeds to reveal the inner drawers.
but at length it did open; and not vain, as hitherto, was her search; her quick eyes directly fell on a roll of paper pushed back into the further part of the cavity, apparently for concealment, and her feelings at that moment were indescribable. Her heart fluttered, her knees trembled, and her cheeks grew pale. She seized, with an unsteady hand, the precious manuscript, for half a glance sufficed to ascertain written characters; and while she acknowledged with awful sensations this striking exemplification of what Henry had foretold, resolved instantly to peruse every line before she attempted to rest. The Narrator, Chapter 21
Poor Catherine. I fear that Henry has so pumped up her expectations and fueled her Gothic imagination that she is sure to be disappointed. We shall see.
- On line text of Northanger Abbey complements of Molland’s Circulating-library
- Group reading schedule
- Read Northanger Abbey Summary: Chapters 15-21
- Read Northanger Abbey Quotes & Quips: Chapters 15-21
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Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey Stage Play (2005)
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