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!


Northanger Abbey: Gothic Hits

Possible spoilers through chapter 23 of Northanger Abbey.

Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey has a very close relationship to Gothic fiction. However, what is that relationship? The novel has been argued to be a parody or a satire of the genre; it has been argued to be a response to it, or perhaps even an ode to it. I personally think it’s doing some combination of all of these, but I definitely don’t think it hates the genre of Gothic fiction, even if it pokes fun at it.

Regardless, there are a lot of references within Northanger Abbey to other novels it is responding to or spoofing, some of them obvious, some less so. In this post I’m going to list off the major novels that Austen refers to, as well as some of the basic Gothic tropes that we see mentioned in Northanger Abbey.

The Sublime: This is a key concept in Gothic fiction of the time. Edmund Burke wrote a treatise called “Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful” (1757), in which he defines it as “The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature . . . is Astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other.” Basically the Sublime is when terror is added to beauty to create a sense of awe, mysterious and powerful and painful all at once. It’s important to Gothic fiction because these stories are all about scaring the crap out of you on the one hand, but in a way where you also appreciate the beauty and aesthetic of the terror as well.

The Novels

The Castle of Otranto: This book by Horace Walpole is generally named as the first Gothic novel (published 1764). This also happens to be the only one I’ve read (as yet. My TBR list is too long to talk about). It starts out with a giant magical helm falling from nowhere and crushing this rich guy’s son. This makes the rich guy, Manfred, decide that he’s under a curse or something and he decides he had better get a new and better wife to give him another son. After that, things get REAL WILD. Plenty of damsels, creepy interiors and exteriors, and dudes making terrible choices.

Mrs. Radcliffe’s works: Catherine Morland is a huge fan of Mrs. Radcliffe’s work. The Mysteries of Udolpho is probably Catherine’s most-mentioned and favorite novel. This story features Emily St. Albert as the heroine, and as typical in many Gothic romances, she is separated from the guy she is in love with and instead forced to live with her aunt and her aunt’s new husband, Montini, who lives in a big scary castle and has probably done a bunch of dark scandalous things. The Italian features another pair of star-crossed lovers, this time in conflict with The Italian’s mom and her monk-confessor who is the sketchiest dude ever. A Sicilian Romance, The Romance of the Forest, and The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne are other novels by Radcliffe with similar themes and terrifying stories.

The Monk: Published in 1796, this is a scandalous tale about a monk who is supposedly really devout but the whole book is about him being scandalous and murdering, seducing, raping, and generally being pretty terrible. It features many damsels who have a really bad time. This book is more in line with the horror genre than many Gothic novels. John Thorpe is a big fan of this book, but it’s implied Catherine probably wouldn’t be as impressed by it as him.

Camilla: This is a Gothic novel by Frances Burney, and is alluded to several times in Northanger Abbey.  This one features the titular Camilla, along with her cousin Indiana and her sister Eugenia. Their uncle is rich and a bit fickle about which of them will inherit his money. It’s got a lot of melodrama, especially in regards to Camilla’s love interest, Edgar. The reference to a “sister author” in chapter 14 of Northanger Abbey is probably in regards to Frances Burney, whose heroine Camilla is beautiful but not very intelligent.

The Tropes and Jokes

In chapter 1, Catherine is warned to keep good account of her spending. This might be a reference to Frances Burney’s Camilla, who gets her family in big trouble because of overspending.

Later in the same chapter, Catherine and the Allens don’t suffer in their travels by robbers, bandits, or carriage accidents, which is a reference to Udolpho, as the heroine meets her hero in a “lucky overturn” of her carriage.

“It is now expedient to give some description of Mrs. Allen….and how she will, probably, contribute to reduce poor Catherine to all the desperate wretchedness of which a last volume is capable…” In many Gothic novels, there is an older woman who is determined to ruin the young heroine in whatever way possible.

Catherine, as we know, REALLY likes Udolpho and is constantly making references to it. In chapter 6, she’s still reading it and talks a lot about what could possibly be behind “the black veil.” In 11, she wants good weather, like they had in Udolpho on the night that “St. Aubin” died; St. Aubin should be St. Albert, the heroine of Udolpho’s father. On her walk with the Tilneys in chapter 14, Catherine talks about the south of France as it is described in her favorite novel. On the one hand, I understand her obsession with a literary work; on the other, Catherine’s gotta calm down. Henry has clearly read many Gothic novels, as he tells us so himself, and his comment about “Julias and Louisas” in this same chapter alludes to the typical names of Gothic heroines, and his reference to Valancourt, a character in Udolpho, shows his familiarity.

When Catherine is anticipating her trip to Northanger Abbey and imagining what it’s like, her reference to an “injured and ill-fated nun” in chapter 17 is probably a reference to the nun Olivia in The Italian by Ann Radcliffe, who turns out to be another character’s mother.

Henry Tilney spins Catherine a ludicrous Gothic tale on their drive to the Abbey (chapter 20). This, of course, includes many stock tropes of Gothic fiction. The “ponderous chest”  he mentions (and which winds up as a real chest in Catherine’s room, to her distress) is one of these; there’s an important chest in both The Romance in the Forest by Ann Radcliffe, and in Caleb Williams by William Godwin. In both cases, really terrible secrets or evidence is found inside the chests.

In this same passage, Henry mentions “Matilda,” which is also the name of the heroines in The Castle of Otranto, The Recess by Sophia Lee, and The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne by Radcliffe.

“She had nothing to dread from midnight assassins or drunken gallants,” Catherine feels in chapter 21. This is yet another reference to her favorite book, Udolpho. The heroine and her nurse almost fall victim to a couple of this sort of hoodlum, and wind up going to the villain for protection.

In chapter 23, Catherine considers the possibility “that Mrs. Tilney yet lived, shut up for causes unknown, and received from the pitiless hands of her husband a nightly spply of coarse food.” This is a reference to Udolpho and A Sicilian Romance, both by Radcliffe, in which this kind of wife-hiding for villainous purposes occurs.

Other Works

Tom Jones: Another of John Thorpe’s favorites, this novel by Henry Fielding is about a guy named Tom Jones! Tom is raised in a wealthy household and has to seek his own path and sleep with a lot of women and learn how to be a man and such. It’s not a Gothic novel, but a bildungsroman (coming-of-age story) and a picaresque novel (a story featuring the scandalous adventures of a lower-class character).

Sir Charles Grandison: This is by Samuel Richardson, the same guy who wrote Pamela, the novel I mentioned in another post about a girl who has to resist all efforts to destroy her virtue. It’s about a Really Nice Guy, Charles, and was written by Richardson as a response to Tom Jones, and also as a male version of Richardson’s virtuous heroines in other books. Apparently Jane Austen liked this book (as does Catherine Morland).

*Sources for this post are in the links or in the Oxford’s World Classics of Northanger Abbey, published 2003.*



Northanger Abbey: Ch. 10-16

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).

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Catherine, getting ready for the dance and Thorpe-avoidance

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.”


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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.

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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.”


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.

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General Tilney, probably 

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.


Northanger Abbey Readalong: June 2017

Our Northanger Abbey readalong begins in June! We will be reading the entire book from June 1 to June 30. You can read it online for free at Project Gutenberg,  get it for free on Kindle, or purchase it at the book depository of your choice.

I’ll be posting a couple of times a week here. Let me know if you’ll be blogging anywhere! Do the reading, join the conversation, ask questions or write posts, as you will! Join us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, or whatever social media you desire.


The discussion hashtag will be: #ReadMorland 

Reading Schedule

By June 9th, you should have chapters 1-9 read.

By June 16th, you should have chapters 10-16 read (or through volume II: chapter 1).

By June 23rd, you should have chapters 17-23 read (or volume II: chapters 2-8).

By June 30th, you should have chapters 24-31 read (or volume II: chapters 9-16).

Thanks for joining us!