This post is late! If you didn’t notice it was late, take note! It’s so late! I hope you’re all enjoying Northanger Abbey! Or at least hating it energetically.
This post will attempt to cover some of the shenanigans in chapters 10-16.
One thing I love about Jane Austen (and there are a lot of things I love about Jane Austen) is how accessible and universal she still is, hundreds of years later. Take, for example, the dancing scene in chapter 10. Catherine wants to dance with Tilney, and DOES NOT want to dance with Thorpe:
“Every young lady may feel for my heroine in this critical moment, for every young lady has at some time or other known the same agitation. All have been, or at least all have believed themselves to be, in danger from the pursuit of some one whom they wished to avoid; and all have been anxious for the attentions of some one whom they wished to please.”
I mean, that’s super real. It might be real for guys too, I don’t know (girls can get pretty single-minded, after all, especially at dances).
I wish we could get more of an insight into Miss Tilney’s thoughts, but I like the hints we get. Catherine and Miss Tilney talk for a little at the dance, and in that space of conversation it is obvious that Catherine is super into Mr. Tilney, and it is also obvious that Miss Tilney is very aware that Catherine is super into her brother: “they parted -on Miss Tilney’s side with some knowledge of her new acquaintance’s feelings, and on Catherine’s, without the smallest consciousness of having explained them.” Catherine, you’re adorable, but also everyone knows everything about you and YOU NEED TO BE CAREFUL.
One thing I’m noticing this time around is how much we really don’t know about Mr. Tilney, and how easy it would have been for him to be a MAJOR JERK to Catherine. He is clearly more intelligent than her in some ways, and wittier. When he’s talking to her about marriage and dancing and how it’s the same kind of contract between a gentleman and lady, he seems to be faux-serious, whereas Catherine is really confused about his weirdness, and I’m flailing in the background because he is BEING SCANDALOUSLY FLIRTATIOUS. Calm down, Tilney, calm down.
In Chapter 10 we are also introduced to General Tilney, the patriarch. He seems intimidating. STAY TUNED.
Chapter 11 is one of the most frustrating chapters for me. I hate misunderstandings, whether fictional or in real life, and I hate misunderstandings even more when they are purposely instigated by people who just want to get their own way. *looks pointedly at John, Isabella, and James* Catherine, wisely or not, trusts her friends to not lead her astray. I admire that even while I’m exasperated at the results. Besides being very trusting, Catherine is very emotionally invested in her gothic fiction and horrid stories, and the idea of exploring a real castle is too good to pass up. As I mentioned in my previous post on Bath, Blaize Castle isn’t a castle at all, but a folly. So even if they had made it there, Catherine would most likely have been disappointed in any case.
Do you think Catherine learns much from this experience? To me she just seems upset at Thorpe’s lies and intervention. Isabella blames the whole thing on the Tilneys’ lack of punctuality. I think Catherine should be making use of her own agency a bit more. But we will give her some time. She just needs to level up!
I like the little conversation about Thorpe’s complaint that James doesn’t have his own horse and gig:
CATHERINE: “I am sure he could not afford it.”
JOHN: “And why cannot he afford it?”
CATHERINE: “Because he has not money enough.”
The card game that they play at the end of chapter 11 is called “commerce,” which is a nice bit of foreshadowing toward the more mercenary personalities in the room.
Henry Tilney sure gets sulky about Catherine missing their date, doesn’t he? I like how, in her reaction to Henry’s coldness at the theatre, Catherine continues to behave unlike a more traditional, melodramatic heroine:
“Feelings rather natural than heroic possessed her; instead of considering her own dignity injured by this ready condemnation-instead of proudly resolving, in conscious innocence, to shew her resentment toward him who could harbour a doubt of it, to leave to him all the trouble of seeking an explanation, and to enlighten him on the past only by avoiding his sight, or flirting with somebody else, she took to herself all the shame of misconduct, or at least of its appearance, and was only eager for an opportunity of explaining its cause” (chapter 12).
Catherine has no chill and no dignity, but in her honesty, her straightforwardness, and her transparent feelings, she unconsciously wraps Henry around her finger. “Is there a Henry in the world who could be insensible to such a declaration? Henry Tilney at least was not.” Henry annoys me sometimes, but I like that he appreciates Catherine. Even though he teases her a lot, he at least listens to her, unlike Mrs. Allen, James, Thorpe, and, in some ways, Isabella.
Chapter 13 is full of the kind of melodrama I really loathe in real life, and like I mentioned above, Jane Austen knows what’s up! The peer pressure, the attempted manipulations, Catherine trying to decide A. what she wants to do B. How far she will go to do it C. Whether what she wants is also Right, is all very timeless and universal.
This chapter has great Mr. Allen content! I wish we got more with him. He’s very low-key and wise and I love him a lot. After all of the peer pressure, his advice to Catherine is like a breath of fresh air. He also is the only person who gives her straightforward advice on how to deal with Isabella, who, everything else aside, is very strong-minded and difficult to disagree with:
“You had better leave her alone, my dear, she is old enough to know what she is about; and if not, has a mother to advise her. Mrs. Thorpe is too indulgent beyond a doubt; but however you had better not interfere. She and your brother chuse to go, and you will be only getting ill-will.”
Everyone else, when Isabella comes up in conversation, seem to think she can either do no wrong (e.g. James) or that Catherine probably knows her friend best, after all.
We get more novel-chats in chapter 14! The commentary and discussion of novels as a form of entertainment and/or art is one of my favorite parts of Northanger Abbey. As Henry Tilney claims, “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” Granted, he is probably teasing Catherine a little here (when is he NOT?), but he has clearly read many novels and enjoys them, regardless of what intrinsic or intellectual value he places on them.
I enjoyed Henry’s dumb, pedantic rants about different words, such as “nice,” that are so over-used as to be abused. I have a hard time in my own writing to use words that do their proper amount of work, rather than “nice” or “interesting.” But I also sympathize with Eleanor, who after Henry has ranted a while, tells Catherine: “let us leave him to meditate over our faults in the utmost propriety of diction, while we praise Udolpho in whatever terms we like best.” Sometimes you just want to yell about your feels, you know? Who do you side with, in this argument?
Setting sidebar: They have this conversation while Catherine and the Tilneys are going on their long-awaited walk, up Beechen Cliff. It apparently has the best view of Bath. I found this fun video tour of the view here.
After they discuss fiction and history, they enter a subject wherein Henry once again knows a lot about something that Catherine doesn’t: the picturesque. Henry likes the fact that Catherine doesn’t know anything and is open-minded, because he can tell her whatever he wants. I mean, on the one hand, that’s nice of him to educate her, and on the other, his superiority kind of annoys me? “But Catherine did not know her own advantages–did not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward.” This seems unkind to both girls and guys. Do you agree or disagree? Am I oversensitive? DISCUSS.
Chapter 15 is a wild ride. Isabella and James are engaged! Everyone is talking over Catherine’s head! No one understands each other! Thorpe proposes????
Hilarious quote when Isabella calls James Morland the most handsomest ever: “Here Catherine secretly acknowledged the power of love; for, though exceedingly fond of her brother, and partial to all his endowments, she had never in her life thought him handsome.” This cracks me up. Again, TOO REAL, JANE AUSTEN.
The real mystery is how Catherine, who is a very content and humble person for the most part, finds herself surrounded by so many people who are so obsessed with money. It makes me so angry when Isabella is engaged, and Catherine is hanging out with her fam, and they’re all talking over her head because they know she’s too stupid (STUPIDLY GOOD) to know what they really mean.
And still, no one ever listens to Catherine even when she tells them the straight truth about her family’s situation. For example, when Isabella is concerned about the difference in fortune between her and James:
CATHERINE: “The difference of fortune can be nothing to signify.”
Isabella: “Oh! my sweet Catherine, in your generous heart I know it would signify nothing; but we must not expect such disinterestedness in many.”
No seriously THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE IN FORTUNE.
Thorpe gives Catherine the vaguest proposal of all time, and while we know what he’s hinting at, it doesn’t occur to straightforward Catherine that he’s referring to anything besides the literal. I wish I could see his face when she declares, “And to marry for money I think the wickedest thing in existence.”
In the next chapter, we get more of General Tilney and meet Captain Frederick Tilney. I dislike the general based entirely on the way Eleanor and Henry act around him; they clearly have to regulate themselves and behave in order to cause the least amount of drama with their dad possible. I’m not saying General Tilney is directly cruel or abusive to them, but there’s clearly something going on, even if it’s just neglect or carelessness, and I don’t like it.
I have to say, rereading this, I think I was a bit biased against Captain Tilney by seeing the 2007 movie first. He’s SO gross in that movie. Here, he’s just sort of that ridiculous, schmoozy, good-looking guy at parties that everyone admires but isn’t that threatening. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll change my mind again later on. He dances with Isabella, in spite of being told that she has no intention to; but it looks like she enjoyed having everyone’s attention since she had his. Bleh. Her defense is absurd: “I told him he had taken a very unlikely way to prevail upon me; for, of all things in the world, I hated fine speeches and compliments;–and so–and so then I found there would be no peace if I did not stand up.” IZZY, THAT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. There wasn’t even an attempt at a progression, there!
Of course, then there’s more nonsense about money. I’m surprised Catherine still doesn’t think less of Isabella and John when they’re constantly slurring her family for not spending very much. But. Catherine is a better person than I am.