Although “Northanger Abbey” was completed in 1803, it was not published until after Jane Austen’s death in 1818. The book is about a young, naive girl from the country who is determined to find the kind of romance she reads about in Gothic romances. Since she can’t possibly become the heroine of the novels at home she is thrilled when her elderly neighbors allow her to accompany them on a trip to Bath. She is sure to find a hero there and can start her own novel.
But, she soon discovers life is not a novel. Men don’t whisk her off to their castles and highwaymen don’t kidnap her. Instead of a Viscount seeing her across a ballroom, she learns the ballrooms are overcrowded and hot. She doesn’t get to dance until she has been to a few balls and then is finally introduced to Henry Tilney. Since he is also a reader of novels, he takes the time to tease her but also discuss the plots with her. She becomes friends with his sister but unfortunately she also becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe. Isabella is a flirt, and is determined to land a rich husband. She sets her sights on Catherine’s brother James, who shows up in Bath with Isabella’s brother, John. When Isabella finds out John isn’t as wealthy as John led her to believe she dumps him. Meanwhile, Catherine has accepted an invitation to go to Northanger Abbey by Henry’s father, General Tilney. John Thorpe had also told the General that Catherine was from a wealthy family and the General wants her for Henry.
When the General finds out she isn’t as wealthy as he thought he turns her out cruelly. When John Thorpe realizes Catherine will not marry him, he maligns her character with the General. Although Catherine had let her imagination run wild while at the Abbey and tried to affix murder and cruelty to General Tilney, she was surprised when the man who had been falsely kind to her sent her out in a coach to ride across country. A seventeen year old girl traveling alone was dangerous for the time.
Jane Austen sold Northanger Abbey to a publisher in 1803 for ten pounds, but he never published it. Finally, her brother bought is back from the publisher who didn’t know the author of four best-selling novels wrote it. Her sold it for 10 pounds to her brother. She changed the character’s name from Susan to Catherine and had it ready for the publishers before she died in 1817.
Seventeen year old Catherine Morland is from an average family. She is one of ten children, who are all healthy. Her parents are healthy, moderately wealthy and kind. Her father is a vicar and her mother taught the children from home until the boys were old enough to leave home for school. As a child Catherine would rather play with the boys but as she matured, she tried her hand at more ladylike pastimes. She tried the pianoforte, but didn’t want to practice, her needlework is lacking, and she is terrible at drawing. She does like to make up stories for her younger brothers and sisters. Catherine is also kind, and helpful with the children.
At fifteen Catherine began to “curl her hair and long for balls”. Her looks were improving and she even heard her parents remarking that she was “almost pretty today”. Since Catherine had been looking quite plain her first fifteen years, she was thrilled to hear the complement. Catherine liked to read books, as long as they were not books for information.
Catherine likes to read Gothic romances and pictures herself a heroine in them. “But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine.” Unfortunately, there were no opportunities for Catherine to become a heroine in her neighborhood. There were no young men who were dropped into a family and later to be discovered as a long lost Count. There was not even a baronet or a Lord to be found among their neighbors.
But if a young lady is destined to find a hero she must sometimes leave her home to find him. Therefore the Allen’s, a respectable family who owned most of the land in Fullerton, came forward and offered to take Catherine with them Bath. Mr. Allen was ordered by his doctor to go there for his gout. Her parents gave their permission and Catherine was thrilled her adventure was beginning.
Instead of worrying about their daughter, the Morlands were fine with her going, and her father gave her a little bit of money with instructions to let him know if she needs anything else, but to be careful with her money. Although Catherine had hoped for some highwaymen or something exciting to happen, the trip to Bath was uneventful.
After a few days to gather the necessary dresses so as to fit in, they attend their first ball. Catherine is very excited but soon finds that the room is packed with people and no one asks her to dance, although if they could see how improved her looks were the gentlemen would have asked her.
Mr. Allen goes into the card room which leaves Catherine alone with Mrs. Allen. Mrs. Allen cares about her clothes more than anything else and often seems absent minded about anything else. She spends most of the ball lamenting that she doesn’t know anyone at the ball to introduce Catherine to so she can have a dance partner. They also have trouble finding someone to sit near for tea. Although Catherine doesn’t have a dancing partner for her first ball in Bath she feels gratified when she overhears herself spoken of as a pretty girl.
The Allens and Catherine settle into a routine quickly. Visiting shops in the morning, then a visit to the Pump Room and walking up and down the streets, looking at people but speaking to no one. One evening while visiting the Lower Rooms Catherine finally obtained a dance partner. Henry Tilney was introduced to her by the master of ceremonies. Henry is “about four and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it.”
Their conversation during the dance is amusing. Henry’s wit is cheeky, and Catherine is quick with her replies. Catherine leaves the dance enamored with Henry Tilney. Mrs. Allen is even impressed with his knowledge of muslin. He tells Mrs. Allen that he often helped his sister choose a fabric.
Even though a girl should never fall in love with a young man before ensuring he is in love with her, Catherine falls in love with Henry. Mr. Allen approves of the friendship when he discovers that Henry is a clergyman from a respectable family.
But, the romance is put on hold when Catherine can’t find Henry the next day. She is saddened to discover he has left Bath. Her mood is saved when Mrs. Allen runs into an old school friend. Mrs. Thorpe has four children, her husband died and left her with a modest income. Her son is in school but her three daughters are with her. The oldest daughter, Isabella latches onto Catherine when she finds out who her brother is. Isabella likes to gossip and wants to discuss boys, clothes and Gothic novels. Her gregarious nature sweeps Catherine up, especially when Isabella announces that she and Catherine are best friends.
The friendships between the Allens and the Thorpes continues to grow. Isabella pulls Catherine into her gossipy nature and wants her to discuss Henry Tilney. Isabella likes to tease her about Henry. As for Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe their friendship follows the accepted route of friendships in the time. Mrs. Allen brags about her wealth and feels sorry for Mrs. Thorpe who has children and must pinch pennies, and Mrs. Thorpe brags about her children and feels sorry for Mrs. Allen who never had children.
The narrator uses this time to point out the love of her characters for popular novels. She feels that if a novelist writes her characters disdaining novels then they can’t be surprised when novels continue to be denigrated.
One of the novels Isabella and Catherine discuss is The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. It is a Gothic romance full of the supernatural and poetry. They are both thrilled with the romantic horror in the story. As their conversation turns to gossip Isabella tells Catherine about a friend of hers from home. Isabella says that she is loyal to her friends, but it is obvious that she is actually denigrating her friend while garnering the praise of any boy that might show an interest. She tells Catherine that she would always take her side, too.
As the two girls are walking Isabella notices two young men that she thinks are watching them. While complaining about their scandalous behavior she veers Catherine towards an encounter with the boys. But before they can catch up with the boys, the girls are surprised by their own brothers. Catherine is especially surprised because she didn’t know her older brother, James was coming to Bath. Catherine is introduced to John Thorpe, Isabella’s brother. She is surprised to discover her brother already knows Isabella.
John obviously takes an interest in Catherine. But Catherine is oblivious. He tries to impress her with his stories of his fast coach, but she is only polite. He also wants to take her on a ride in his carriage, but although she is pushed by her brother and Isabella to agree, she is still unsure of the propriety. Finally she agrees to dance with him at the upcoming ball. This makes her his date. Although Catherine’s brother, James tries to drop hints that he is in love with Isabella, Catherine doesn’t get it. She erroneously thinks that James came to visit her in Bath.
Later at the ball, Catherine at first thinks that having a guaranteed partner for at least one dance is a good thing until John disappears into the card room and then Isabella and James go out to dance so Catherine is left alone on the side lines. As she waits Catherine becomes angry at John and the folly of committing herself to a partner before the ball. Especially when Henry Tilney arrives with his sister and asks her to dance. She is forced to turn him down, but doesn’t hide her dismay from him. By the time John makes his way to her, Catherine is very annoyed with him. After the dance, Catherine meets Henry’s sister, Eleanor. She immediately likes her and when she tries to point her out to Isabella she only feigns interest in her and Henry. John tries to get Catherine’s interest but she is only polite.
The next day John and Isabella Thorpe stop by with Catherine’s brother, James to urge her to take a ride with them. She isn’t sure of the propriety of riding with John but is soon actually unsure of the safety. He brags about the speed of his carriage, but it doesn’t actually go as fast as he brags. After the ride she is even more sure she doesn’t actually like the man. She is even more disheartened when she returns to the Allens house and learns that Mrs. Allen spoke to the Tilneys while she was out.
The romance between Isabella and James is progressing quickly. Catherine is unaware of their flirtations and takes Isabella’s words at face value. While at the Pump Room Catherine is left out of their conversation and tries to locate Eleanor Tilney. Finally she sees her and they have a conversation that lets Eleanor know that Catherine is interested in Henry. Catherine is naive and doesn’t know that her honesty made her feelings for Henry so transparent.
That night at the ball Catherine is excited to see Henry. Although John tries to get her to agree that she loves him. Then he tries to get Henry’s notice onto something other than Catherine. John then tries to pull her into a conversation during the dance which irritates Henry. He soon realizes that Catherine isn’t trying to be coy and is mollified. He points out his father, General Tilney to her. Then she makes plans with Henry and Eleanor to take a walk the next day. Catherine is thrilled at the prospect of spending the day with them.
The next morning begins with rain. As the hours pass Catherine begins to lose hope of a walk with the Tilneys. Finally the rain stops and instead of the Tilneys, the Thorpes arrive with James in tow. They insist on Catherine riding with them. When she tries to tell them that she is to meet with the Tilneys John tells her that he saw them on the walk without her. After she finally gives into their pressure and gets into the carriage, since they are planning a trip to a castle that she would love to see, she realizes that John lied to her about seeing the Tilneys.
They drive past the two of them and Catherine is mortified. She tries to get John to stop and let her out but he refuses. She becomes more and more angry, especially when the ride is cut short before they reach the castle. John is rude and blames her brother for renting a cheap hack. But when she tries to explain that he probably rented what he could afford, John remarks that people with so much money should not be so cheap. By the time she returns home Catherine is livid.
The next morning Catherine goes to the Tilneys house but she is told that Eleanor is out. When she walks away she sees Eleanor leaving with her father and wonders if she is being snubbed. That evening she sees Henry at the theater and apologizes profusely to him. She explains that she tried to get John to stop the carriage but he refused. Although Henry was angry, he quickly forgives her because she is so genuine in her apology. He is also glad to discover that she doesn’t like John Thorpe.
Although Catherine has made plans to go with the Tilneys the next day, the Thorpes and her brother come to collect her for another ride. She stands fast in her refusal against their pressure. While Isabella is making snide comments to Catherine, John sneaks away to tell Eleanor that Catherine can’t go and must reschedule. Catherine is furious and James finally tells the Tilneys that Catherine is being stubborn and will not change her mind. Catherine rushes to Eleanor’s house to apologize. There she meets General Tilney, their father. She is surprised at how much he seems to like her. He invites her to have dinner with them soon.
The next day the long awaited walk with the Henry and Eleanor finally happens. Catherine is thrilled to be with them. They discuss nature and novels. Henry teases her and his sister. After Catherine reveals that she doesn’t know as much about nature as Henry does, he teaches her a new way to look at the landscape. They have a nice visit and Catherine is even more enamored.
Catherine receives a note from Isabella the next morning asking her to come over. When she does she discovers that Isabella and James are engaged. When she is alone with John he makes some comments about marriage. Afterwards he thinks they are engaged and Catherine thinks he is talking about marriage generally. Isabella wonders if James’ parents will be against the match because she hasn’t any money, but Catherine assures her that their parents only want him to be happy.
At the dinner with the Tilneys Catherine is surprised by how quiet Henry and Eleanor are. She can’t understand it since the General is so nice to her. Later, their older brother, Captain Frederick Tilney arrives in Bath. He flirts with Isabella at a dance and persuades her to dance with him, which surprises Catherine because she had said she wouldn’t dance with anyone since James was gone.
A few days later Catherine is called to Isabella’s house because of a letter she received from James. He informs her that they can be married in three years when he will be given a living of 400 pounds. It quickly becomes evident to the reader, if not Catherine, that Isabella thought the family had a greater wealth and she is quite angry. Meanwhile Catherine is growing closer to Henry and Eleanor. But before the romance can advance further she learns the Tilneys are leaving Bath. The General has his daughter ask Eleanor to go with them to their Abbey. She is thrilled and writes her parents for permission. They agree on the approval of the Allens, who were scheduled to leave in a few days.
Its been three days since Catherine has seen Isabella and she is surprised at the changes. She learns that Isabella received a letter from John who thinks they are engaged. She assures Isabella that she never accepted an engagement from him. Soon Capt, Tilney enters and begins to flirt with Isabella who flirts back. Catherine is bothered by this and worries that Capt. Tilney will fall in love with Isabella even though she is engaged.
When James returns Isabella continues to give attentions to Capt. Tilney which Catherine can see makes her brother unhappy. She tries to get Henry to speak to his brother, but he tells her that there isn’t anything he can do. Besides James probably wouldn’t like him interfering and his brother will be leaving Bath soon anyway.
The day of the trip to Northanger Abbey has finally arrived. At first the General and Henry are in one carriage with Eleanor and Catherine in another. But at a stop the General suggests she ride with Henry. They have a long talk while riding together. Henry tells her he lives at a parsonage about twenty miles away from the Abbey. Then he begins to tease her on her preconceived romantic notions of the Abbey. When she sees how modern it is she is a little disappointed.
Catherine is shown to her room and told to dress for dinner. The General likes promptness for his dinner. But Catherine is almost late because she has become interested in a chest that matches one Henry was telling her about in his teasing. It has hats in it.
At dinner the General continues to tell Catherine about the improvements he has made to the Abbey. He wants her to compare his dining room to the Allen’s dining room. When she assures him that his is larger he is appeased.
That night a violent storm hits. Catherine begins to think she is in Gothic romance and sees another cabinet that she is sure must contain thrilling. She thinks she finds an old manuscript but the lights go out and she can’t read anything. She jumps back under her covers in fright.
In the light of the morning Catherine is dismayed to discover the manuscript she found the previous night is a laundry list. Catherine scolds herself for her imagination and goes down to breakfast where she sees Henry. When the General joins them he drops hints that he wants Catherine and Henry to marry, but Catherine does not get the hints. After breakfast Henry leaves for a few days to check his vicarage. Meanwhile the General and Eleanor show Catherine around the Abbey.
Soon Catherine’s imagination begins to travel again, and she sees the General as the murderer of his wife. Then she begins to wonder if the woman could be locked in her room and tortured. She is especially curious when the General tells her some of the rooms are not open for viewing and he has no paintings of his dead wife. She decides to investigate the room. When she does, she discovers that there is nothing mysterious about it.
While heading back to her room she runs into Henry. She breaks down and tells him of her suspicions and is mortified. He assures her that he and his brother were present at his mother’ death which was not at all suspect.
Although she is worried Henry will treat her differently at dinner, he is actually more kind to her. She vows to herself to keep a tighter reign on her imagination. Later she receives a letter from James telling her the engagement is off and that he thinks Isabella will soon become engaged to Capt. Tilney.
At first, she tells Henry that she must leave before his brother comes home so she won’t have to see Isabella but Henry assures her his brother will never marry Isabella since she is poor. He asks her if she is sad to lose Isabella as a friend, but she is surprised to learn she isn’t sad. She begins to realize Isabella was not that good of a friend.
The General tells Henry that they will come out to his vicarage for a visit. Although Catherine hears him tell his son not to make a fuss, Henry knows he must head home to prepare for the visit. He knows his father’s exacting ways. At the vicarage, the General makes more hints about a match between Catherine and Henry. He is so obvious that even Catherine understands it.
Time passes and Catherine realizes that she has been at the Abbey for a month. She begins to ask Eleanor if she should go, but she is assured that they would love it if she stayed longer. The General leaves on a business trip for a few days leaving Catherine, Eleanor, and Henry to blissfully enjoy their time together without his hovering presence.
Henry leaves to go back to his vicarage for a few days. Meanwhile the General arrives late in the evening and calls Eleanor to him. Visibly shaken Eleanor comes to Catherine’s room and tells her that the family will be leaving on a forgotten engagement. The General wants Catherine on a coach and out of the Abbey the next morning at seven. Catherine can feel she is being sent away and wonders what she could have done to anger the General. She accepts some money from Eleanor since she realizes that she would have been turned out of the house without a dime otherwise. Eleanor asks her to let her know that she has arrived home safely but she must send the letter to another address so her father can’t see who sent it.
The trip is long but uneventful. The Morlands are happy to see their daughter, but are angry at the General. Catherine quiets their anger and they are just glad that she was able to manage on her own. After a few days Henry arrives at their home. He explains to her that John Thorpe told the General that she was rich and was to inherit the Allen’s wealth. On his second trip to Bath, Thorpe told the General that he had discovered her family was poor and in debt. They were “a forward, bragging, scheming race.” The General believed him and decided Catherine was making a fool of him. Henry asks Catherine to marry him and she accepts. Her parents will only allow it if his father agrees.
This takes a while, but when Eleanor marries nobility, (a man who the laundry slip belonged to) he finally relents for his youngest son to marry Catherine.
In the end, the author says, “I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work is altogether to recommend parental tyranny or reward filial disobedience.”
Catherine Morland – Catherine is a seventeen year old girl from the country. She comes from a large, moderately wealthy family. She is pretty, but not beautiful. She is of average intelligence and is often confused. She often doesn’t understand the actions of others. This makes her an easy mark and seem naive. Catherine is a romantic. She reads Gothic novels and begins to attribute them to her daily life. This leads to a few embarrassing moments, especially when she all but accuses General Tilney of keeping his wife locked in her room or killing her. Catherine does not play games with her own romance. When she is interested in Henry Tilney she does not play coy, nor does she hide her true emotions. Catherine is very loyal and honest. Although she is very young, she is always seeking to learn and expand her knowledge.
Henry Tilney – A handsome twenty-six-year-old man from a wealthy family. He is the vicar of a small village that is near his family home. Henry is intelligent and friendly although he is also quietly cynical. He instantly sees Catherine’s naivete has an asset. He knows that she is kind, loyal and honest. These are traits he doesn’t see often. Henry is close with his sister, Eleanor, but doesn’t agree with his father and is embarrassed by his brother.
Isabella Thorpe – Isabella is pretty and ambitious. Her goal is to marry the wealthiest young man she can find. Isabella declares herself one way, but acts another. She will say she would never gossip and then start gossiping. She will state that she couldn’t possibly dance and then dance with the first young man who asks. Isabella maneuvers James Morland into believing she is in love with him and then loses interest in him when she discovers he isn’t as wealthy as her brother lead her to believe. She is only friendly with Catherine when she wants to use her to get closer to James, then has no interest in her as a friend when Isabella decides to set her sights on a wealthier man.
John Thorpe – One of the main instigators of the problems in the book. John lies constantly. He decides his the Morlands are wealthy because he won’t have a friend who isn’t and he spends James’ money. So he tells his sister James would be a good catch, and he sets his sights on Catherine. He then tells General Tilney Catherine is wealthy and will be the inheritor of the Allens wealth, too, because he thinks he will marry her and wants to impress the man. Then when she turns him down and his sister dumps James, he tells the General that Catherine is a liar, poor and searching for a rich husband.
General Tilney – A proud, arrogant man. He is the owner of Northanger Abbey and has raised three children who is determined will improve his lot by marriage. He believes John Thorpe when he says Catherine is from a wealthy family and then believes him again when the rejected suitor tells him she is poor and scheming for a rich husband. Because of Thorpe’s lies, he turns a seventeen year old girl out on the streets. She must travel all day to her home alone. Something that was unheard of and dangerous. His actions cost him the respect of Henry and Eleanor. He is harsh and judgmental.
Jane Austen Biography
Born 16 December 1775 in Hampshire, England. She died 18 July 1817 at the age of 41. In her life, she wrote 6 novels that are the most widely read in English literature. Her books are considered romantic fiction. Her irony and wit bring the stories of Regency England to life. Although popular now, her books were originally published anonymously. During the years between 1811 and 1816, she published four novels and began to gain some notoriety.
As the youngest daughter in a large family, she received some of her education from her father, a minister who ran a boy’s school, and her older brothers. But, the vast majority of her education came from books. She was a voracious reader. During her childhood, she, her brothers and sister, Cassandra spent their evenings entertaining their parents and neighbors. They put on plays, played music and read stories.
Jane was not the only writer in her family, but, the only one to take the time to pursue it. It was her brother, Henry and her father who pushed her to publish and even paid for the first publications. Henry became her agent, and her whole family was helpful in her writing career.
After she died, her brother, Henry, and sister, Cassandra had her last two books published, “Persuasion” and “Northanger Abbey”. For the first time, her name was put on the book, instead of ‘ by a lady’. Henry pulled a few strings with some contacts in the clergy and had Jane interred in Winchester Cathedral. Her brother, James wrote a lovely epitaph praising her personal qualities and mentioning the “extraordinary endowments of her mind” but managed to leave out her achievements as a writer.