At this point you may have finished Northanger Abbey. Or you may not have. No judgement. Everyone is welcome here. That being said, this post contains spoilers for the entire book!
This is the last day of #ReadMorland! You can check out the conversations we’ve been having on Twitter here.
Here’s a quick Gothic reference at the beginning of chapter 24: “Catherine had read too much not to be perfectly aware of the ease with which a waxen figure might be introduced, and a supposititious funeral carried on.” This is an explicit reference to a scene in Udolpho where a character expects to find a dead body and finds a wax figure instead. It’s also an implicit reference to a trend in Gothic novels where characters are mistakenly thought to be dead.
Again due to her extreme amounts of reading, Catherine is convinced that General Tilney is either a murderer or a kidnapper. Although I think she would be terrified of him even if she didn’t; she seems to find him extremely intimidating. When General Tilney interrupts Catherine and Eleanor from exploring other parts of the Abbey, Catherine doesn’t hesitate in abandoning her friend and running away.
This chapter includes a fairly intense showdown between Henry and Catherine, in which he realizes she’s been taking her imagination a tiny bit too far, and she finds out how, underneath his teasing and trolling, he’s a pretty serious and sensible Englishman. His lecture at the end of the chapter is, in spite of the seriousness of the scene, almost comically Anglocentric: “Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians.” He explains further that murders can’t “be perpetrated without being known” but I don’t know if his reasoning really covers all that much. In any case, everyone is distressed.
In the next chapter, on the same note, Catherine has realized Henry is right, and that of course THIS IS ENGLAND and we don’t do that kind of thing, but but she reassures herself that it COULD happen in other countries. OH, CATHERINE. Still so silly and piling on a little casual racism for kicks.
Henry, of course, knows Catherine well enough that he knows she is well-chastened, and treats her even better than before. I like Henry, and I like Catherine, and I like Henry/Catherine, I just wish he wasn’t quite so superior all the time. He treats her like a student or a kid sometimes, and it’s kinda weird. However, in the same chapter, when he is mockingly describing Isabella as “Open, candid, artless, guileless, with affection strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise,” (chapter 25) is a perfect description of Catherine and really shows that Henry likes Catherine a LOT for all of these reasons. Eleanor shows her sassy sisterly side with her rejoinder: “Such a sister-in-law, Henry, I should delight in.”
At this point, we still don’t know all the details about James and Isabella, only that she was leading him on and is in love (?) with Frederick Tilney. Henry and Eleanor, interestingly, dismiss Isabella entirely as a horrible girl that they don’t want to be related to, but seem protective of their brother Frederick, or at least hopeful that he isn’t going to marry her. What is Frederick’s deal? I always think of him as The Worst because of the 2007 movie, and he probably is The Worst, but we really don’t see much of him except flirting with a girl who everyone considers a mercenary social climber with no heart, and rejecting her in turn. Later in chapter 27, Henry confirms that Frederick interfered with Isabella “for mischief’s sake.” So. Rude, but not necessarily evil. His siblings seem concerned for him at a couple different points in these later chapters, especially in regards to him displeasing their father.
DISCUSS, I guess.
Chapter 26 was a combination of adorable and cringey for me. Like, it was really fun to see Woodston, and Catherine was just so happy about everything, but the General implying All The Things about her marrying Henry was soooo awkward I wanted to protect everyone. Home Improvement With Your To-Be Father-in-Law. Yikes!
Isabella’s letter to Catherine in chapter 27 is a masterpiece of vanity, emotional manipulation, and cunning. If Isabella didn’t use people so obviously, I would admire her a bit. But again, we don’t get Isabella’s point of view at any point, not an honest one. Henry, in response to Catherine’s rebuke of Fred’s behavior, says coldly: “We must first suppose Isabella to have had a heart to lose.” Ouch.
Catherine’s conclusion is that “Frederick could not be unpardonably guilty, while Henry made himself so agreeable” (chapter 27). In other words, Catherine is getting REAL THIRSTY at this point.
Chapter 28 is a bit of an emotional ride. I love the conversation that Catherine and Eleanor have about Catherine’s visit….
CATHERINE: I guess I should probably go home soon…
ELEANOR: No, why? Do you WANT to go home?
CATHERINE: Do you WANT me to go home?
Both together: WHAT A RELIEF.
Of course, then it’s all for nothing because General Tilney returns In A Fury and kicks Catherine to the curb with no explanation. What I am fascinated by in this scene, is that upset as Catherine is, she immediately dismisses the idea that Henry betrayed her to his father – Henry is perfect and therefore would never do such a thing. I guess the timing is weird, too: why wouldn’t Henry have told him earlier? In any case, Catherine is more bewildered than anything, and while she has complete faith in Henry on the one subject, she doesn’t expect him to protest at her mistreatment or say anything to annoy his father.
“I bring back my heroine to her home in solitude and disgrace; and no sweet elation of spirits can lead me into minuteness. A heroine in a hack post-chaise, is such a blow upon sentiment, as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand. Swiftly therefore shall her post-boy drive through the village, amid the gaze of Sunday groups, and speedy shall be her descent from it” (chapter 29). I’m taking this as a last-ditch effort by the narrator to retain her melodramatic Gothic spin on the story.
Catherine returns to her family, who are pleased to see her and gratifyingly judgmental and dismissive of General Tilney; I like Mrs. Allen better for her repeated refrain of “I really have not patience with the General!”
Mrs. Morland’s comments on James manage to evoke Henry’s situation as well, to Catherine’s distress: “for it could not be a desirable thing to have him engaged to girl whom we had not the smallest acquaintance with, and who was so entirely without fortune; and now, after such behaviour, we cannot think at all well of her. Just at present it comes hard to poor James; but that will not last for ever; and I dare say he will be a discreeter man all his life, for the foolishness of his first choice.” Mrs. Morland is possibly the most sensible and pragmatic character in the story; but at the same time, her words and attitude do Catherine no good at all. Catherine can’t help comparing herself and Henry to Isabella and James; Catherine has no acquaintance and little fortune to give an important family like the Tilneys, and Henry will probably get over her really fast (if he ever cared about her that way at all).
Of course, we know everything will be fine. Because this a novel about a heroine.
Mrs. Morland recommends a book to Catherine in chapter 30 called “The Mirror.” According to my notes, this is a periodical called Mirror, with an article in it called “Consequences to little folks of intimacy with great ones, in a letter from John Homespun.” I refuse to believe “Homespun” is that guy’s real name, no matter what.
In any case, Catherine doesn’t have to suffer through it because HENRY RETURNS and he is more adorable than ever! In his many explanations of everything that happened and why Catherine is kicked out, all the mysteries are explained, and hilariously, none of the bad stuff that happened hinges on Catherine’s behavior at all, only on John Thorpe and General Tilney. Apparently the heroine had her one moment of weakness, and repented, but everything else was completely out of her control. Fascinating.
I’m so glad Eleanor gets a happy ending, too! She’s a great character and would have made an excellent heroine of her own Jane Austen novel.
The final lines leave it up to us to decide if Northanger Abbey is supposed to “recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.”