“His name was Tilney. He seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance.”
In anticipation of the premiere on Sunday of the new adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey presented by Masterpiece PBS, I thought it helpful to introduce the hero Henry Tinley, and highlight some of his most insightful quotes and humorous passages from the novel.
I believe that Jane Austen has created her most charming, quirky, clever, and well-spoken male character of any of her heroes in Henry Tilney. In one of her few physical descriptions of her characters of any length, we are given more than a brief introduction.
The master of the ceremonies introduced to her (Catherine Morland) a very gentlemanlike young man as a partner; his name was Tilney. He seemed to be 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. His address was good, and Catherine felt herself in high luck. Chapter 3
If by some happy chance, you are reading the novel or viewing the adaptation for the first time, you have quite a treat in store for yourself. Henry is the unique voice of reason and witty humor throughout the novel. When he speaks, it is usually in conversation with our heroine Catherine Morland, and he is all about winning her respect with bright and insightful little nuggets on life philosophy or personal opinion on a variety of topics! In fact, his decided views of love, marriage, dancing, history, politics, and human nature make him quite possibly Jane Austen’s strongest male character, not only because we have no doubt of his mind, but the fact that he has absolutely no trouble expressing it.
If you have previously read the novel, or seen the 1986 BBC adaptation starring Katharine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland and Peter Firth as Henry Tilney, you are well aware of his esteemable nature and are quite possibly already a fan. He is hands down my favorite Jane Austen hero. Why? Many of Jane Austen’s heroes have fine qualities, but in my estimation, none reach the level of Henry. For who could not fall in love with a man of such “pleasing countenance” and “lively eye”; – – who dances quite well, is passionate about expressing himself with alacrity, certitude, and acumen, and happily rescues our heroine? Who indeed?
Henry Tilney on the fair sex, marriage, and dancing:
“I should no more lay it down as a general rule that women write better letters than men, than that they sing better duets, or draw better landscapes. In every power, of which taste is the foundation, excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes.” Ch 3
“I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.” Ch 10
“Come, shall I make you understand each other, or leave you to puzzle out an explanation as you can? No – I will be noble. I will prove myself a man, no less by the generosity of my soul than the clearness of my head. I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours.” Ch 14
“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.” Ch 14
“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.” Ch 19
“At any rate, however, I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing; and a teachableness of disposition in a young lady is a great blessing.” Ch 22
“The world, I believe, never saw a better woman. But it is not often that virtue can boast an interest such as this.” Ch 24
Henry Tilney on life’s pleasures, convictions, horrors, and principles:
“Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement – people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.” Ch 14
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Ch 14
“It is as much as should be said of anyone. To be always firm must be to be often obstinate. When properly to relax is the trial of judgment;” Ch 16
“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?” Ch 20
“If I understand you rightly, you have formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to-Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from?” Ch 24
“You feel, as you always do, what is most to the credit of human nature. Such feelings ought to be investigated, that they may know themselves.” Ch 25
“I am come, young ladies, in a very moralizing strain, to observe that our pleasures in this world are always to be paid for, and that we often purchase them at a great disadvantage, giving ready-monied actual happiness for a draft on the future, that may not be honoured.” Ch 26
“But your mind is warped by an innate principle of general integrity, and therefore not accessible to the cool reasonings of family partiality, or a desire of revenge”. Ch 27
Mark your calendars and set your watches for the premiere of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, presented by Masterpiece PBS, Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm. Starring Felicity Jones as Gothic novel influenced Catherine Morland, and J.J. Feild as her hero, and ours, Henry Tilney. Watch out for the stellar performance by Carrie Mulligan as Catherine’s flip, hip mentor, Isabella Thorpe. You can read the review An Austen Heroine with a Fertile Imagination in the Los Angeles Times, and tune in to PBS for all the horrid and romantic escapades of our heroine in the making on Sunday, January 20th at 9:00 pm.
Read additional posts about characters and quotes in my Northanger Abbey blog archive, including my introduction to our heroine Catherine Morland entitled Northanger Abbey: Acquisition of Higher Delight. Check out my musing on that despot General Tilney at my other co-blog, Jane Austen Today, and round out the Northanger coverage at Jane Austen’s World’s post on the likable hero & heroine Catherine Morland & Henry Tilney.