No one who knew Catherine Morland would suspect that she had the potential to be a heroine. Her family is neither rich nor poor. Her father is a respectable clergyman who does not abuse his children. Her mother well tempered, not ill nor did she die bringing her into the world. She has nine siblings who are healthy and in general quite plain like herself. She is a bit of a Tomboy preferring cricket to dolls, she has a propensity to the heroic. Her abilities were quite as extraordinary, not able to learn until she was taught for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid. At the age of eight years she studied piano for a year, and could not bear it. Her taste for drawing was not superior. Her proficiency in writing, accounts and French were not remarkable. At the age of ten, she was a strange unaccountable character, neither bad tempered, overly quarrelsome, seldom stubborn, very kind to little ones and loved nothing better than to roll down the green slope behind the house. At fifteen her features, figure and interests improved greatly, much to her parent’s approval. Between fifteen and seventeen she was in training to be a heroine and read all such works as Pope, Gray, Thompson and Shakespeare that heroines must read to quote at will such lines to sooth their lives. She had reached the age of seventeen and not attracted a beau because there was no one suitable in the neighborhood. Mr. and Mrs. Allen of Fullerton, Wiltshire invite Catherine to Bath. If adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad.
Withstanding Catherine’s faults, she also possesses positive attributes; affection, cheerfulness, genuineness, unpretension, pleasing manners and pretty looks – and her mind about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is. As her departure nears, her mother advises her to stay warm and keep account of her expenses. Catherine is disappointed that her mother does not warn her away from Barons who seduce young ladies, nor her sister Sally insisting that she write daily of the details and that her father only gives her ten guineas, with a promise of more. The journey to Bath was uneventful, lacking robbers or tempests to enliven the experience. They arrive in Bath and lodge on Pulteney Street. Mrs. Allen, neither an beauty or accomplished was fond of going everywhere and seeing everything, and the perfect chaperone for a young lady. Dress was her passion and she and Catherine shop for three or fours days to find the latest fashions before their first venture into the Upper Rooms hoping to pass uncensored into society. They arrive late and the crush is full. Mr. Allen repairs directly to the card room. By unwearied diligence, they work their way through the crowd and the ball is a fine sight. Catherine longs to dance, but she is not acquainted with anyone in the room. The crush continues and they enter the tea room not knowing anyone there either and Mr. Allen no where in sight. Mrs. Allen is happy she did not injury her gown. Catherine feels the awkwardness of having no party to join. Mrs. Allen laments quite frequently that it is a shame they know no one and she had so hoped that Catherine could have a dance partner. The ball ends without success, but she does over hear two gentle say that she is pretty. This must suffice a heroine in the making.
The week continues in regular duties of shopping, visits to the pump-room, and talking to no one. Mrs. Allen continues to lament her disappointment in their lack of connections. They make their appearance at the Lower Rooms and the Master of Ceremonies introduces Catherine to Mr. Tilney, “about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it.” And Catherine feels in high luck. They dance, have tea together and he inquires about her experience thus far in Bath. Henry Tilney teases her about writing about activities and their meeting in a journal. She denies she keeps one, and he proceeds to instruct her on what she should write in it, chiding her on the skills the sexes. “In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.” Mrs. Allen appears concerned about her new muslin frock being torn and Henry engages her in a discussion on his knowledge of muslins, which convinces Mrs. Allen of his genius. Catherine fears that Henry indulges “himself a little too much with the foibles of others.” They continue to dance and the ball concludes. Catherine is inclined to continue the acquaintance. The narrator warns the reader that if a young lady was to dream about Mr. Tilney that it is improper, since a gentleman should dream about a lady first.
Catherine rushes off to the pump-room in hopes of meeting up with Henry Tilney, but he does not appear. Mrs. Allen continues to lament their not having any acquaintance in Bath. Soon after, Mrs. Allen is reacquainted with an old schoolfellow, Mrs. Thorpe who is a great talker of her children. John at Oxford, Edward at Merchant Taylors’, and William at sea. Mrs. Allen does not have children to discuss, but finds satisfaction that the lace on Mrs. Allen’s gown is not as fine as her own. Mrs. Allen introduces her three daughters, of which Isabella is the handsomest. They reveal their acquaintance with Catherine’s brother James through their brother John who are in the same college at Oxford and spent the Christmas holidays with them. Isabella is four years Catherine’s senior. As they take turns of the pump-room, she discusses her experiences at all the area balls, fashions and society gossip much to naïve Catherine’s awe. Isabella escorts Catherine to her door and leaves her in high spirits, grateful that she had procured such an elegant friend. Mrs. Thorpe is a not very rich widow, good-humoured, well meaning woman, an indulgent mother who can talk at length. Isabella, the eldest is the most beautiful of her three daughters.
Catherine is unsuccessful in her hopes of meeting up with Henry Tilney at the theater. The next day she attends church service with the Allen’s and afterward visits the pump-room with the Thorpe’s. No Henry. She and Isabella walk arm in arm to the Crescent and talk in unreserved friendship with much enjoyment. Catherine continues to watch out for Henry, but he appears to have left Bath. This mystery increase Catherine’s anxiety to know him more. Isabella encourages Catherine to think of him adding that ‘She liked him the better for being a clergyman, “for she must confess herself very partial to the profession.” Mrs. Allen is satisfied that they now have acquaintances in Bath, and that her clothes are finer than the Thorpe’s. She encourages the relationship between the two families and talks at length with Mr. Thorpe, though each talk, but neither listens. Catherine and Isabella’ friendship progresses with great tenderness. They are always arm in arm, pin up each other’s trains and when the weather drives them inside, read novels together. The Narrator proceeds to defend novel reading against threadworm critics; ‘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.’
It has been eight or nine days since Catherine first met Isabella. Today, they meet in the pump-room and discuss bonnets and Udolpho, and Catherine is anxious to know what is behind the dreaded black veil. Laurentina’s skeleton? But she does not want the plot spoiled and entreats Isabella not to tell her. Isabella wants to read The Italian together next and then presents a list of seven other Gothic novels. Isabella talks about how she scolds gentlemen for not admiring her friends, loyally not loving any of them by halves. Isabella encourages Catherine to think of Henry even though she feels she may never see him again. She can think of nothing else except reading Udolpho. Isabella wants Catherine to dress alike at the ball that night because gentlemen take notice of it. Isabella gives her opinion on men as they “give themselves such airs. They are the most conceited creatures in the world, and think themselves of so much importance” and must be treated with spirit. Isabella requests that they move to the front of the room as two impertinent fellows have been watching her for half n hour. The men depart and Isabella wants to leave quickly to show Catherine the bonnet she admired at Edgar’s Building in hopes of overtaking them. This is puzzling to Catherine, because she thought that Isabella wanted to avoid them, but now they are in pursuit.
Isabella and Catherine depart the pump-room post haste in pursuit of the two gentlemen. Cheap street is crowded and they have difficulty in proceeding and are blocked by a wildly driven gig. Surprised, they discover it is their own brothers, James Morland and John Thorpe who commence after introductions to dispute the swiftness of their travel time. John Thorpe asks Catherine how she likes his new gig and proceeds to describe all of its features including how he negotiated the price. They depart for the Thorp residence at Edgar’s building escorted by the two brothers, passing the two gentlemen who they had previously been in pursuit but now have better partners and only look back at them three times. Thorpe asks Catherine if she is fond of an open carriage and promising to drive her out every day. She accepts, in some anxiety over the propriety. As they continue to walk, Thorpe either praises or condemns every female face they pass and Catherine fearing to hazard a different opinion, changes to subject and asks him if he ever read Udolpho. He balks at the notion of reading a novel, “they are full of nonsense.” Catherine encourages him to read Udolpho, but he claims to only want to read Mrs. Radcliffe’s novels. She hesitates to inform him that she wrote Udolpho, and they discuss the other stupid book Camilla by that woman who married a French immigrant. They arrive at Mrs. Thorpe’s door. Her son John greets her with a hearty shake of the hand and, “Where did you get that quiz of a hat? It makes you look like an old witch.” And tells his two sisters they look ugly. This manners are unsettling to Catherine. James returns Catherine to the Allen’s. She does not like John Thorpe at all, but tells James the opposite. James praises Isabella as amiable and unaffected and encourages Catherine in their friendship. Catherine was then left to “the luxury of a raised, restless, and frightened imagination over the pages of Udolpho, lost from all worldly concerns.”
© 2008 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose