Northanger Abbey: Ch. 17-23

I’ve been posting a lot this weekend, so if you need to catch up:

Chapters 10-16

Gothic Fiction in Northanger Abbey

Catherine’s going to Northanger Abbey! At last we will see the titular architecture, and as usual Catherine is building it up in her mind (pun intended) to be as extraordinary and medieval as she could wish.

Isabella is getting a little too interested in Captain Tilney for Catherine’s comfort. “I am amazingly absent; I believe I am the most absent creature in the world. Tilney says it is always the case with minds of a certain stamp” (chapter 18). I have no idea what this means, but I like that Catherine and Isabella both have their own “Tilney” that refers to completely different people. Imagine if James fell in love with Eleanor and called her “Tilney” and him and Isabella and Catherine got together to talk about their Tilneys and just pretended everyone was talking about the one true Tilney.

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I like how not only does Catherine remember John Thorpe proposing to her (because he didn’t, he vague-tweeted at her about weddings and marriage and visiting and was that incredibly deplorable type of person who leaves himself an out at all times), she doesn’t even remember TALKING to him that day. Cold, Catherine. Ice-cold.

Isabella is like, Well, good thing you don’t want to marry him because neither of you have any money – “I only wonder John could think of it; he could not have received my last.” i.e., Isabella wrote him to tell him James Morland doesn’t have any money after all, and possibly John should save himself. This goes right over Catherine’s head, as she’s super distressed about accidentally/unknowingly leading John on. Isabella is absolutely not bothered by the idea of leading anyone on: “What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next.” Yikes. And one last gem of advice from Captain (not Henry) Tilney: “Tilney says, there is nothing people are so often deceived in, as the state of their own affections, and I believe he is very right.” I mean, I can’t really disagree, and it’s especially hilarious in light of Austen’s novels, but Isabella is searching for a justification, and is trying to get Catherine ready for any future decisions Isabella makes in regard to James. The Thorpes are REALLY good at leaving an escape route open.

In chapter 19, Catherine is doing her best to think well of everyone, but between Captain Tilney pursuing Isabella in spite of knowing she’s engaged, Isabella allowing herself to be pursued, and Henry’s lack of control over his brother, Catherine is a PRETTY DISTRESSED HEROINE. I’m glad she tries to pin Henry down on his brother’s behavior; Henry is flippant about the entire situation. He’s probably seen a lot of ill-fated flirtations, and seems more socially-aware in general, but Catherine is NOT impressed by his apathy. Like Mr. Allen, Henry advises Catherine against interfering – James and Isabella have to sort out their situation by themselves. Catherine’s conclusion is that “Henry Tilney must know best” which, you know, sounds fake, but he’s not wrong that Catherine can’t do anything in this situation.

So, General Tilney terrifies me, and I want his kids to get some therapy. Even Catherine (or maybe especially Catherine) notices his affect on his kids, even if she finds him both charming and alarming (charlarming): “General Tilney, though so charming a man, seemed always a check on his children’s spirits” (chapter 20). Before they leave Bath, General Tilney lectures Frederick on keeping them all waiting, to which Frederick gives absolutely no response, and is relieved to see them all be going. I’m not sure if I like Frederick or not, but all of the kids are quiet, subdued personalities when their dad is around, and I don’t like it.

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Catherine is comforted by being able to ride with Henry in the curricle – “To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world” (chapter 20). Cath, you are adorable and it needs to stop. Henry admits that he spends a lot of his time at his actual house in Woodston, which Catherine thinks must be so sad, and Henry says “I am always sorry to leave Eleanor,” not the house, or the general. Henry is very honest and at the same time very good at avoidance. Then again, Catherine just decides what’s true anyway, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

Chapter 21 is an exercise in Gothic teasing. Catherine, unable to explore the rest of the abbey, finds plenty to fascinate her in her own room, between the old chest in the corner (pushed aside because it’s heavy and ugly, according to Eleanor) and the “locked” cabinet, which turns out to be almost completely empty. The old abbey, combined with the big storm outside, limited light, and Catherine’s overactive imagination, combine to terrify her over nothing. The only thing she finds are some old papers, revealed in the light of day to be laundry lists. If Northanger Abbey were a proper Gothic novel, she would have found something terrifying in one or either of those places. Is this chapter making fun of the genre, or making fun of Catherine’s determination to put herself into the genre, or something else? DISCUSS.

Chapter 22, subtitled: In Which the Heroine Wants A Freaking Tour But the Villain Puts Every Obstacle in Her Way. General Tilney is one of those people who is unfailingly polite, and yet at the same time never lets anyone else speak or have an opinion, and acts out of his own conviction that he knows what is right and what others want. “What say you, Eleanor?” (chapter 22) the General asks, before immediately giving his own opinion on everything. Catherine is too polite to fight this kind of behavior, and his children are too well-trained.

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Eleanor, understandably, idealizes her dead mother, since she has no other friend or mentor, and only occasional time with Henry to keep her in pleasant company. “A mother would have been always present. A mother would have been a constant friend; her influence would have been beyond all other” (chapter 22). Eleanor’s declaration might be true, as it sounds like Mrs. Tilney was pretty great. On the other hand, there are a lot of terrible or mediocre mothers in the world, and she might have been disappointed. I really, really want an Eleanor Tilney book, can you tell? I want an Eleanor bildungsroman! It would be amazing.

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Between the General’s incomprehensible (to Catherine) behavior, and his aversion to spending any time in his late wife’s favorite places or rooms, Catherine is getting a lot of Shocking Ideas about his relationship with Mrs. Tilney. Catherine doesn’t have any experience with grief, and doesn’t realize that different people deal with it in different ways. Eleanor wants nothing more than to be close to her mother, and so wants to spend time in her favorite walk, etc. Whereas the General either murdered his wife OR MAYBE he just misses her and doesn’t want to be reminded of her.

TO BE CONCLUDED next week!

#ReadMorland 

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2 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey: Ch. 17-23

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