Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapter 16

Northanger Abbey comes to a sweet, if somewhat abrupt end.

I love that Catherine’s parents are surprised for about three minutes about the engagement, “but as nothing, after all, could be more natural than Catherine’s being beloved, they soon learnt to consider it with only the happy agitation of gratified pride, and, as far as they alone were concerned, had not a single objection to start.”

Such lovely parents.

I also appreciate their embracing of Henry.

His pleasing manners and good sense were self-evident recommendations; and having never heard evil of him, it was not their way to suppose any evil could be told. Goodwill supplying the place of experience, his character needed no attestation.

I really appreciate how pragmatic and kind these people are. They don’t judge, and they don’t wildly speculate. They trust people.

Of course, the elephant in the room, is the General. The Morlands are so happy at this possible marriage, but rules are rules, and if the General doesn’t approve, well…

The parents handling of the clandestine correspondence between Catherine and Henry is also wonderful. Writing letters was certainly a common practice, but it was frowned upon between unmarried people of the opposite sex. So, rules can be bent.

How marvelous that Eleanor escapes her father’s house and goes into the arms of a man she loves. One commentator explains that what likely happened is her new husband was the younger son in a titled family, meaning, he very likely had very little money and didn’t feel he could wed. What probably happened is that the elder son and heir died without male issue, so younger brother gets the money and the title.

By mentioning the papers that Catherine had found in her misadventure and suggesting these were the Viscount’s, Austen is parodying other writers of the time by trying to tie up loose ends. I wish she’d also told us about Isabella and John and Fred—I’d like to know how they fared. In later novels, Austen will tell us the fates of other characters.

Her final words, seeming to praise the General for helping aid the developing relationship between Catherine and Tilney, is parody as well. Many novels at the time would end with a moral message. It is probably safe to say that Austen does not think that the General is a good man or parent. So please do not go and tyrannize your children and then lay the blame at Austen’s door.

I love this novel. And once again, I feel as though it ended too soon! Really! In the back of my mind, I thought she did speak of Fred and Isabella again. I find that so amusing. But, I am so pleased that Henry and Catherine are together. I think they will have a happy life.

Let me know what you think of this ending and this novel as a whole.

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 13-15

Chapter 13

“A loss may sometimes be a gain,” is a great statement. How much joy and felicity in the loss of the General. Oy.

So much happiness, and then a carriage comes—it must be Fred. I was so curious to see what would happen. I enjoyed Catherine’s thoughts as she wondered how to talk to him and what might happen, and then, instead, there was the bizarre sound outside Catherine’s door.

I was confused by this as well. I thought, are we returning to the Gothic with a strange hand manipulating the lock?

No, what happened is much worse, in my opinion.

The General kicking her out of the house and sending her away without a servant.  This is really terrible. Women weren’t supposed to travel without a male companion because it was considered dangerous. Add to this her youth and never having done this before, and it was a trip in an open carriage for 11 hours. That’s a lot.

Eleanor’s statement, said in total regret and abasement, “my real power is nothing.” She is a woman of means, yet in complete control of her father. She can’t even help her friend and is devastated by this.

Thank God for Eleanor asking about the money. Catherine doesn’t have any. Catherine would have been responsible at each post of the journey to pay for the feeding of the horses and at some point the renting of new horses. What would have happened if she’d suddenly realized she had no money to pay? She would have been truly stuck. This is horrible what the General has done to her.

Ch. 14

I love that there was no problem on the journey.

I love that the family was eager to see her and immediately took her side, but also didn’t dwell on it. Mrs. Morland’s reasonableness is wonderful, though it is sad to me that Mrs. Morland doesn’t understand the extent of the emotional damage done to her daughter.

Catherine has been changed by this whole 11 week time away. Mrs. Morland refers to her as, while living with the family initially, as shatterbrained, which means giddy, and thoughtless (perhaps an adjective we could apply to Donald Trump though it sounds like a kind of sweet word, so maybe not). This is not the Catherine we have come to know. These 11 weeks have changed her amazingly.

I do really appreciate though Mrs. Morland’s pragmatic attitude. She is sad for James but also glad such a bad match didn’t come off. She is mad at the General for putting Catherine in such a bad position, as both a parent and a host, but she also thinks this was good for Catherine, a test of her character and wits.

I love Catherine’s defense of her friends, though her parents remarks are not unreasonable. Also, since the General disapproves of Catherine, Catherine and Eleanor are not allowed to remain friends. This is the nature of the disturbance around Henry—how will he react?

Ch. 15

Mrs. Moreland thinks reading a conduct article will help Catherine. Boo to this, not really understanding her daughter’s problem, but I did find it amusing. When she sees Henry in the living room with her daughter: “Gladly did she set aside The Mirror for a future time.” 😉  Seeing her daughter’s happy face, Mrs. Moreland begins to get it.

Henry is breaking all the rules. First, he visits Catherine. Second, he fights with his father. Third, he asks for Catherine’s hand (against his father’s wishes) and he does so without telling Catherine ahead of time that his father is against this. That is huge, for Catherine would have been under obligation to refuse. That’s a serious social proticol there.

I love that ask to see the Allens and the stupid sibling saying look see and pointing at the Allen house, as obnoxious and clueless siblings do. Mrs. Moreland, continuing to illustrate why I love her thinks it is a great idea for them to go off alone to pay their respects.

Austen’s explanation of how Henry came to love Catherine is both anti-romantic and beautiful at the same time. What to you think?

Henry is a hero. His standing up to his father and marrying the woman of much less property and wealth, with the possibility of no income from his own father, again, is huge.

I love this comment from the annotated text:

One of Jane Austen’s main goals—and achievements—as a novelist is to show the virtues and vices of ordinary life, and to demonstrate that the consequences of either, and the struggles between them, can have as great a moral significance as the more extreme consequences and conflicts that other novelists present.

I agree with Austen. The little things that people do, sometimes without a thought, can be catastrophic to others. Thoughtlessness and selfishness are responsible for so much unhappiness and so much of that is completely unnecessary.

The General may not have murdered his wife or kept her as prisoner, but he is a terrible villain.

Is Henry a hero? Is the General a villain? Who is most at fault, who is the worst, in the novel?

Only 2 chapters left….

Northanger Abbey Volume 2 Chapters 10-12

Chapter 10

The visions of romance were over. Catherine was completely awakened.

What a great opening.

We find that Catherine hates herself. She has ruined everything forever. Nothing was to be done. All was finished.

One would expect that this would go on for days and poison the rest of her life. In fact, it last about ½ hour, and within a few more hours, Henry, by his kindness, has made everything better. I love Henry.

And I love that Catherine is able to let this go and be happy. Her mind made up on these several points, and her resolution formed, of always judging and acting in future with the greatest good sense, she had nothing to do but to forgive herself and be happier than ever; and the lenient hand of time did much for her by insensible gradations in the course of another day.

She is so healthy! I so want to be more like Catherine.

The letter from James is so sad to Catherine. It pains her to see her brother so upset, but she has also lost a friend. She begins to doubt all that has come before.

Yet, even while unhappy with Fred Tilney, Catherine recognizes that nobody is wholly good or wholly bad. This is another Austen theme, that no one is 100% pure or 100% evil, except for Donald Trump. She was so prescient.

I love that Catherine can’t completely renounce Isabella. Surely, if she marries Fred, she will be constant. Henry’s response is of course, priceless:

“But perhaps,” observed Catherine, “though she has behaved so ill by our family, she may behave better by yours. Now she has really got the man she likes, she may be constant.”

“Indeed I am afraid she will,” replied Henry; “I am afraid she will be very constant, unless a baronet should come in her way; that is Frederick’s only chance. I will get the Bath paper, and look over the arrivals.”

Chapter 11

From this time, the subject was frequently canvassed by the three young people; and Catherine found, with some surprise, that her two young friends were perfectly agreed in considering Isabella’s want of consequence and fortune as likely to throw great difficulties in the way of her marrying their brother. Their persuasion that the general would, upon this ground alone, independent of the objection that might be raised against her character, oppose the connection, turned her feelings moreover with some alarm towards herself. She was as insignificant, and perhaps as portionless, as Isabella; and if the heir of the Tilney property had not grandeur and wealth enough in himself, at what point of interest were the demands of his younger brother to rest? 

I once again bow to Austen. I’d forgotten this, that she does such a great job foiling Catherine and Isabella here. If Isabella’s fortune is so small the General will not approve, then Catherine won’t be approved either. Tension as Catherine remembers all the times that the General has mentioned money. But surely…

Catherine wants Henry to warn the General of this engagement and the part that Fred played in ruining James’ chances. Catherine is worried about all the duplicity. But I like that Henry will not bring tales to the General, and that he believes his brother must tell his story. Catherine, of course, is right to believe that Fred will lie; and Henry is right to suggest, that doesn’t matter. Bascially the whole family has Fred’s number. Even telling a piece of the story will suffice. Austen knows her characters so well.

The whole situation with the General telling Henry to go while not to go is terrific. The General, while a bully, is also passive-aggressive at the same time. So frustrating. I love this response from a confused Catherine:

He went; and, it being at any time a much simpler operation to Catherine to doubt her own judgment than Henry’s, she was very soon obliged to give him credit for being right, however disagreeable to her his going. But the inexplicability of the general’s conduct dwelt much on her thoughts. That he was very particular in his eating, she had, by her own unassisted observation, already discovered; but why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood? Who but Henry could have been aware of what his father was at?

It is all very Alice in Wonderland to me. I also find people like this quite disconcerting. Illogic bugs me too.

One final deeply important comment upon Henry. His friends are a Newfoundland dog and several Terrier puppies. Please do not mention hunting, for I have head cannoned that he gives hunting up and takes it up no more. In my annotated text, I learned that Newfoundlands are, not surprisingly, from Canada, and they were new at the time of the novel.

Interesting additional fact from my edition, is that attached to parishes were glebe lands. These were for farming purposes and the minister could do whatever he wanted with the lands. Some ministers, like Catherine’s father, turned their hand at making orchards, building greenhouses, and planting crops and gardens. Any monies that came from these belonged to the minister. For many ministers, this was their chief source of income, and such seems to be the case with Catherine’s father.

Chapter 12

Serious question:

Is Isabella really so stupid, or so unselfaware? Or does she think Catherine is, or all three?

Catherine has been so badly used, and for Isabella to continue to push is audacious!

Second serious question:

Catherine finally, truly sees Isabella. She still is struggling to assess others. This exchange with Henry over Fred Tilney’s responsibility is really interesting to me, and I don’t understand completely Henry’s response. I do get the explanation that follows it, but this initial statement is almost Greek to me. Someone help me!

“There is but one thing that I cannot understand. I see that she has had designs on Captain Tilney, which have not succeeded; but I do not understand what Captain Tilney has been about all this time. Why should he pay her such attentions as to make her quarrel with my brother, and then fly off himself?”

“I have very little to say for Frederick’s motives, such as I believe them to have been. He has his vanities as well as Miss Thorpe, and the chief difference is, that, having a stronger head, they have not yet injured himself. If the effect of his behaviour does not justify him with you, we had better not seek after the cause.”

Finally, Catherine shows how far she has come when she says “there is not great harm done [in Fred ending the relationship] because I do not think Isabella has any heart to lose.”

Wow.  All of this in less than a month (I think). It’s a lot.

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 7-9

Chapter 7

I love how during the storm, all is mystery, but during the light of day, it is all simple and clear. Also, it is funny to me that she blames Henry for being so fearful the night before.

Henry teases Catherine about her new found love of flowers and suggests that that will draw her outside. This is meant ironically. He knows Catherine’s love the outdoors. He is parroting conduct books.  I’m realizing during this Austen project that I’m doubly lucky, having studied history and English, so I know some cool stuff!


Conduct books had been around forever (not the historical term) and were also popular in the medieval era, but for women, conduct books were key to basically surveilling every aspect of a woman’s life. They hit their high point in the 18th century, but  persisted through the 19th century. Conduct books were rules for women that controlled their behavior.  A famous example is from a poem called “The Angel in the House,” which became  a goal for women to reach toward.  Many conduct books explained to young girls and women how to reach this peak of perfection and included advice such as upon waking the first thought should be for the husband. What can I do to help him have a good day? Next, the children. Next, the servants. Next, extended family. Next, the neighbors. And so on. Please note that the needs of the woman are last, if considered at all. She is exerted to not go to bed if even one person’s needs have not been dealt with, for she is to be an Angel to all.

Jane Austen, you might be stunned to know, did not like conduct manuals. People who believe in such stifling rules are not treated well, and thus, Henry mocks these rules throughout the novel, including in this chapter.


I was interested to see that according to my annotated edition, the Army was considered the most prestigious profession. It is interesting that Tilney is a General, and though he is very wealthy, and neither of his sons needs to work, they both are in professions.

Catherine does not like General Tilney, and we have a further comment that once he leaves, everyone breathes easier. That’s terribly sad.

Chapter 8

What do you make of the General and the pride in his house?

I find it interesting (clearly, I find a lot of things interesting) that he is most proud of the quarters he provides for his servants. Here is where I am torn. This is actually a really good thing. His servants are treated very well (except by his great impatience.)  Catherine’s thought that 2 servants at her house do so much work as compared to the multitudes of people at the General’s house. But the quarters he provides for his people really are to be admired. He is doing right by them, and he is rightly proud. But I still think he’s a jerk.

I do not like how he treats anyone, and rank is way too important to him.

Does anyone else believe, as Catherine does, that Mrs. Tilney is locked away somewhere on the estate?

Chapter 9

Catherine has this obsession to find out the truth about her Gothic fantasies. And when we learn that the General is away outside and Eleanor is taking Catherine to the room her mother died in, and is obviously upset about this, Catherine perseveres, ignoring the possible distress she is causing to her friend. This was the second time I got deeply annoyed with Catherine. I don’t think she treats Eleanor very well. This makes four times she operates against her. (I’m thinking of the Thorpes in Bath, so not really Catherine’s fault, but one too many times there). Anyone else feel this way? Am I being unfair to Catherine?

When time passes and Catherine must know what is going on, she takes advantage of time off from social interaction and visits on her own the rooms she has in effect been warned against visiting. Oh, Catherine.  I love the line: “It was no time for thought…” no, it wasn’t. It was no time for possible negative consequences to Eleanor or the anger of the General, or, as we see, running into Henry. Catherine didn’t think.

Henry’s comments are strong, but I don’t feel he was unjust. This is the point. He does understand Catherine. He does know what she was thinking. Remember, Catherine wondered if the General had murdered his wife or imprisoned her. Imagine being Henry, finding this woman in the bedroom where he saw his mother die and knowing the types of thoughts she had. Wow.

One other thing I’d like to add: Henry’s commentary on how now in modern Christian England, bad things don’t happen, or at least not bad things like in Gothic novels. This becomes interesting.

I would love to hear what you think.   

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 4-6

In these chapters, I felt I was almost reading 2 different novels, and I like that.

Chapter 4 is like and not like the previous rest of the book. It begins with Catherine’s concerns for her brother, and for Isabella, because Catherine is kind. And I wonder—is she also blind?

Catherine thinks: “Isabella could not be aware of the pain she was inflicting.”

As Henry says, Catherine assumes good intentions for all because she is good, but at what point does this become a handicap? Just as I was annoyed at Isabella for not understanding Catherine, I wonder at how poorly Catherine understands Isabella.

The conversation with Henry is amazing and deep (and does anyone else think it has a Shakespearean comedy element to it? Kirsten?)

But mainly, this is not amusing, and it touches on very important feelings and values.

Catherine is certain (is she? Is she really? I’m not sure) that Isabella loves her brother and this can not be her fault. If only Fred leaves then all will be well. I think Henry, who knows Isabella so much better than Catherine does, says a perceptive thing:

“Is it my brother’s attentions to Miss Thorpe, or Miss Thorpe’s admission of them, that gives the pain?”

This is the perfect question.

I love when they talk to each other, but especially in this instance, I do think they are talking past each other. In this case, I think both are at fault. (And I would be interested in whether anyone else finds this a problematic conversation.) Henry is trying to do a lot of things here, but one of them is, he is being reticent about his brother.

He has made it clear, though I don’t think Catherine has picked up on it, that he has spoken to his brother. I would surmise that Henry is not best pleased with his brother. More on that later. But Henry also believes (and has shown this through the novel) that he does believe people should be given the choice as to how to act/behave.

The exchange continues even more powerfully:

I think Mr. Morland would acknowledge a difference. No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.”

Catherine blushed for her friend, and said, “Isabella is wrong. But I am sure she cannot mean to torment, for she is very much attached to my brother. She has been in love with him ever since they first met, and while my father’s consent was uncertain, she fretted herself almost into a fever. You know she must be attached to him.”

“I understand: she is in love with James, and flirts with Frederick.”

“Oh! no, not flirts. A woman in love with one man cannot flirt with another.”

“It is probable that she will neither love so well, nor flirt so well, as she might do either singly. The gentlemen must each give up a little.”

After a short pause, Catherine resumed with, “Then you do not believe Isabella so very much attached to my brother?”

“I can have no opinion on that subject.”

Henry is trying to be careful here.  I think it is pretty obvious he doesn’t like Isabella and he also understands his brother perfectly. On the other hand, he does understand that he doesn’t necessarily understand other people’s hearts/intentions.

Of course, part of me just wants to keep cutting and pasting because Henry continues to make it clear that Fred is inconstant in his attentions and that James would not be happy for Catherine to intercede and really what difference would it make anyway? Henry gets it and Catherine can’t see it. But Henry doesn’t want to cause Catherine pain, so he doesn’t spell it out. Catherine sees the whole scenario, Fred returning to his unit, as soothing, while Henry is, to me anyway, making it quite clear that neither Fred nor Isabella is to be trusted, and Fred’s leaving will not save James, for won’t there other Freds? Or so, this is how I read it. What say you?

Chapter 5

Mr. and Mrs. Allen were sorry to lose their young friend, whose good humour and cheerfulness had made her a valuable companion, and in the promotion of whose enjoyment their own had been gently increased.

I thought this was a quite lovely way to begin the chapter, and I hope that I am like this as a guest. OK. Me being me I can think of all sorts of times that I did not advance the happiness of the group. I promise to be better if ever the pandemic ends.

Now might be the time for me to say that I do not like General Tilney. I don’t like people who smother and make others feel uncomfortable. I don’t like people who are rude to waiters; well, I don’t like rudeness at all. He comes across as a bully who is concerned nearly entirely by his own needs. The gesture with the watch when he is outraged that it is 20 to 5 and time is of the essence. Why? Because. Austen does a terrific job writing him because I’ve been around people like this, and it is awful, and we do wish for them to depart and time is spent contemplating how much longer that person will remain. There is such a sense of lightness when he leaves. It is a boon.

Catherine continues to delight. She is so excited about the abbey and the coming adventure, and Henry is such a good sport even though Catherine disparages Henry’s home (parsonage) in juxtaposition to a haunted abbey. I love Henry’s Gothic description of the house, and he does such a terrific job framing what is to come.

Chapter 6

Catherine is initially disappointed in how modern the house is. My annotated text points out that Austen does something unusual in this novel—she has a lot of description about furniture and architecture (she doesn’t do this in other books) but it is necessary, because she is showing the reader of the time just how contemporary the abbey actually is. For example, there are special fireplaces mentioned that had just been invented a few years before Austen wrote the novel. They were superior in giving heat and gave off less smoke. There are many things in the house that indicate that the General loves improvements and he goes after anything new, and he has the money to constantly improve.

This chapter was the first time I truly became annoyed at Catherine. She’s seen how impatient the General is and the impact this has on his children, yet she allows herself to be distracted by the chest. This really bothered me. Of course, what it shows is that her love of the Gothic can trump her love of her friends. She truly is captivated by it. I began to love her again when at dinner, after being rushed by Eleanor and witnessing the General berate her for her own sin, she feels so dreadful for her mistake.

The rest of the chapter is a Gothic tale, and I found myself lost in it. It is no longer Austen I’m reading, but a Gothic novel. Occasionally, I felt touches of irony but overall, this was a shift to another genre. Did anyone else feel this way? I love the moment that she attempts to adjust the candle so as to preserve the light but ends up putting it out before she can read the precious manuscript.  She rushes to the bed and Austen says “Human nature could support no more.” Luscious.

The novel is now split. Actually, multi-directional. There is so much going on. Will it now be a Gothic or what?

Did you like this shift? Did it work for you?

Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chs. 1-3

These chapters have me feeling all out of sorts.

First, such an odd/interesting way to begin Vol. 2. I realized later it made sense. Catherine was to visit the Tilneys, so that was a key event, and the second key event was awaiting the letter from James to find out what his father would do for him and Isabella monetarily.

The visit made Catherine unhappy, and as someone who cares about C I felt bad for her. She had so much hope pinned on this.

Meeting with Isabella made things slightly better in that Isabella so castrophized what happened that even Catherine began to realize it wasn’t quite as bad as she made out. And what a great line of Isabella’s “In all things in the world inconstancy is my aversion.” Truer words have never been spoken, I attest.

I love the turn that seeing the Tilneys again restored C’s good spirits, and after dancing and talking with him “and in finding him irresistible, becoming so herself” was lovely to me. Such a lovely way to show how she has been falling for him.

But this next passage is remarkable to me:

Henry smiled, and said, “How very little trouble it can give you to understand the motive of other people’s actions.”

“Why? What do you mean?”

“With you, it is not, How is such a one likely to be influenced, What is the inducement most likely to act upon such a person’s feelings, age, situation, and probable habits of life considered—but, How should I be influenced, What would be my inducement in acting so and so?”

“I do not understand you.”

“Then we are on very unequal terms, for I understand you perfectly well.”

“Me? Yes; I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.”

“Bravo! An excellent satire on modern language.”

“But pray tell me what you mean.”

“Shall I indeed? Do you really desire it? But you are not aware of the consequences; it will involve you in a very cruel embarrassment, and certainly bring on a disagreement between us.”

“No, no; it shall not do either; I am not afraid.”

“Well, then, I only meant that your attributing my brother’s wish of dancing with Miss Thorpe to good nature alone convinced me of your being superior in good nature yourself to all the rest of the world.”

He has such great respect for Catherine (always), and this passage shows how well he knows her. I also think he is concerned for her and sees the potential for great hurt since Catherine believes that people have the best of intentions.

This is powerful stuff.

The chapter could end here on this powerful note, but instead ends on further hurt to Catherine, hearing her father impugned as being cheap towards his son. I love the comment that Catherine didn’t know how much money her father had. The same was true as me. Finances weren’t discussed with the children in my family. Catherine knows her parents to be generous and kind, and to have Isabella imply (actually that’s being kind to Isabella) that he isn’t is mean. Even Mrs. Thorpe gets that her daughter is being unjust.

400 pounds in approximately 1800 would now be equal to about $40,000. That’s how much James would make as a minister. His father is going to add another $40,000 to that, so James would have $80,000 a year. This is not enough for Isabella, and Isabella sees this as Mr. Moreland being niggardly towards her. Mrs. Thorpe’s hope is that in time, Mr. Morland might be willing to give a little more. The amazing misunderstanding about how much Mr. Morland has and also that he has 9 other children to be concerned about is breathtaking to me.

One other note: did anyone else pick up on how Isabella, early on in the chapter, feels disdain for Henry and Eleanor but only praise for the General?

Chapter 2

I love Cahterine’s sense of gratitude. When she is invited to Northanger Abbey, everything in her life is going well. She is grateful to her parents, and to the Allens, to Isabella, and to the Tilneys.

I love her sense of joy at being at a real abbey. Is she more happy about being with Henry Tilney or with being at  a possibly haunted Abbey? I think it is a toss-up. After all, the chapter ends on her fantasizing about what she will discover. (I just had a thought that I feel like Northanger Abbey might in some ways be a precursor to Nancy Drew! I love that idea.)

Chapter 3

Chapter 2 was such a lovely respite. Everything is going well, and then in Ch. 3, Catherine gets zinged multiple times.

Anyone elss surprised that Isabella’s favorite out of the way spot is actually pretty much at the center of things?

The letter from John is infuriating. Marriage was serious business. Becoming engaged was major and life-changing. His assertion that Catherine was in all agreement and in effect, egging him on is so aggravating. And to someone of Catherine’s honesty, and her clear dislike of his actions towards her…but then to have Isabella push John’s claims…

As Catherine protests fervently, quite upset, Isabella throws logs on the fire by a) suggesting that the possibility of engagement is foolish because what would they live on? After all, Catherine’s father would give them so little money, and b) maybe John overreacted but it was promoted by Catherine’s high spirits. After all, we as readers certainly know that Catherine and Isabella are like one, and that Catherine gives her feelings easily to all who ask. (Ugh)

 “Oh! As to that,” answered Isabella laughingly, “I do not pretend to determine what your thoughts and designs in time past may have been. All that is best known to yourself. A little harmless flirtation or so will occur, and one is often drawn on to give more encouragement than one wishes to stand by. But you may be assured that I am the last person in the world to judge you severely. All those things should be allowed for in youth and high spirits. What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next. Circumstances change, opinions alter.”

“But my opinion of your brother never did alter; it was always the same. You are describing what never happened.”

“My dearest Catherine,” continued the other without at all listening to her, “I would not for all the world be the means of hurrying you into an engagement before you knew what you were about. I do not think anything would justify me in wishing you to sacrifice all your happiness merely to oblige my brother, because he is my brother, and who perhaps after all, you know, might be just as happy without you, for people seldom know what they would be at, young men especially, they are so amazingly changeable and inconstant. What I say is, why should a brother’s happiness be dearer to me than a friend’s? You know I carry my notions of friendship pretty high. But, above all things, my dear Catherine, do not be in a hurry. Take my word for it, that if you are in too great a hurry, you will certainly live to repent it. 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. Ah! Here he comes; never mind, he will not see us, I am sure.”

This is what Tilney was warning Catherine about, though she didn’t see it. She trusts people, yet in this whole long comment by Isabella, Isabella is projecting onto Catherine her own belief system. Isabella does not know Catherine at all. And that is for me the chief sin. Catherine has been a placeholder for Isabella this whole time, and a means to get her brother. Which, I think we can safely gather, may not be what Isabella wants anymore.

There is a lot of betrayal and inconstancy in these three chapters. Although I laughed a few times, and felt joy a few times, I came away mainly feeling terribly sad and angry on Catherine’s behalf.

Northanger Abbey Chapters 13-15

Chapter 13

We continue to learn about Isabella’s character, and about Catherine’s.

Catherine finally gets to set up the appointment for the walk with the Tilneys, and she is met with entreaties and supplications and then disdain. I love Catherine’s thinking process, that she doesn’t want to disappoint, so she attempts a compromise. That doesn’t work, and while some people might be convinced to do what the majority want, especially people she wishes to continue to like her, she realizes that they are selfish; she understands that they could easily change the day of the walk but just don’t want to. Good job, Catherine!

When John returns from making Catherine’s excuses, my very first thought was “I hate these people!” Anyone else feel that way? Catherine is ill-used by them, and as a reader/observer, I am so upset seeing this. Even her brother James is treating her so terribly. And it dawned on me after I wrote this, they literally are using Catherine for their own ends. Her happiness and needs do not count.

And then I pictured the Tilneys. If you were Eleanor, wouldn’t you be thinking WTF? Things keep being settled and then turned upside down.

“If I couldn’t be persuaded into doing what I thought wrong, I never be tricked into it,” is Catherine’s comment. I think she is wonderful. And she is standing against three very strong-willed people who believe their own happiness is sacrosanct. I believe this is the sort of thing that makes Catherine a heroine.

I am curious: was anyone else surprised or even a bit impressed with Mr. Allen’s response? I really appreciated his comments and attitude and it became clear to me why Catherine’s parents trusted him with their daughter.

Chapter 14

Finally, the walk with the Tilneys occurs.

First, I love that Henry reads novels, and in fact, that he loves them.

Second, I love the banter between Henry and his sister. Well done!

Third, Catherine on history. I loved history as a kid and young adult, so of course, I find her wrong. ;-(  but I do find her very funny…and Henry even funnier:

“That little boys and girls should be tormented,” said Henry, “is what no one at all acquainted with human nature in a civilized state can deny…”  In fact, I think I am Henry.

I was relieved at the end of the chapter that when the walk is over and Catherine is walking home only then did she think of Isabella and James. I love she’d had no thought of them during her time with the Tilneys. I begin to feel that maybe maybe she is finally done with the Thorpes.

Chapter 15

I laughed outloud multiple times in this chapter.

When Isabella is explaining how she had fallen in love with James who is incredibly handsome, we are told that :

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.

Another great capture of sibling relationships.

Of course, the most important part of this chapter, and really the novel, is the engagement between Isabella and James, an event we have waited for with such eagerness, for Isabella is so in


Pardon my enthusiasm, for I know how great her love is. Why, even if she were in command of millions, or James was, or whatever, she would love him if they were both impoverished. Why, she would live in Richmond in a cottage… (come to find out that Richmond was a very wealthy “suburb” at the time. Sometimes Isabella is a bit loose with her truth).

Of course, one happy wedding should lead to another, always, always in comedies, and fortunately, we see John knows when he has a good thing, and suggests shyly and sweetly that courtship between he and Catherine should also proceed.

I love this exchange:

“Shall not you be late at Devizes?” said Catherine. He made no answer; but after a minute’s silence burst out with, “A famous good thing this marrying scheme, upon my soul! A clever fancy of Morland’s and Belle’s. What do you think of it, Miss Morland? I say it is no bad notion.”

“I am sure I think it a very good one.”

“Do you? That’s honest, by heavens! I am glad you are no enemy to matrimony, however. Did you ever hear the old song ‘Going to One Wedding Brings on Another?’ I say, you will come to Belle’s wedding, I hope.”

“Yes; I have promised your sister to be with her, if possible.”

“And then you know”—twisting himself about and forcing a foolish laugh—“I say, then you know, we may try the truth of this same old song.”

“May we? But I never sing. Well, I wish you a good journey. I dine with Miss Tilney today, and must now be going home.”

OMG! Did anyone else wonder if this was Catherine famously not understanding what was being said to her? Or was she actually deliberately making fun of him? This comment, “May we, but I never sing” is what I desperately hope I would have responded. I love it so much.

And then:

“Nay, but there is no such confounded hurry. Who knows when we may be together again? Not but that I shall be down again by the end of a fortnight, and a devilish long fortnight it will appear to me.”

“Then why do you stay away so long?” replied Catherine—finding that he waited for an answer.

“That is kind of you, however—kind and good-natured. I shall not forget it in a hurry. But you have more good nature and all that, than anybody living, I believe. A monstrous deal of good nature, and it is not only good nature, but you have so much, so much of everything; and then you have such—upon my soul, I do not know anybody like you.”

“Oh! dear, there are a great many people like me, I dare say, only a great deal better. Good morning to you.”

The way they are talking past each completely, neither understanding the other’s meaning, is wonderful to behold. Austen is a master.

So are you eager to hear more of the Isabella and James potential nuptials? Are you eager for the return of John? What do you make of the Tilneys, the brother, the sister?

We have finished volume one at this point. What do you think?

Northanger Abbey Chapters 10-12

What incredibly rich chapters these are!

Chapters 10-12, if nothing else, should cement in us how little we can trust Isabella and John. With Isabella, I suppose, if one wishes to be kind (sigh), we could say she is just overexcited, and self-absorbed, and doesn’t truly mean any harm. I guess we could conclude that on limited acquaintance. But, I think we could also say, she is not to be trusted. I don’t even necessarily mean that darkly, but she exaggerates everything, and she proclaims to deep friendship yet regularly ignores her alleged cherished friend. I think this is in part what draws Catherine to Miss Tilney. Catherine hasn’t realized it completely, but she is definitely feeling left out. I think she is beginning to cotton on that something isn’t quite right about Isabella.

Chapter 10

So I was thinking about how I adore thrillers and mysteries. I love the suspense (though lately with my jangly emotions even fictional suspense is a little difficult). There certainly has been no danger, no sense of possible murder in Northanger Abbey, and yet, for me, this whole business in Chapter 10 as to whether or not Catherine will get to see Miss Tilney carries with it great weight. How does JA do that? This is impressive. And what I realized is this: Catherine really likes Tilney. And I believe she is realizing that Isabella is not the right friend for her and that in Miss Tilney, maybe she could be that new friend. Also, knowing Miss Tilney will help in her relationship with Tilney.  So this new friendship is deeply important.

By this point in the novel, I really like Catherine. And she is a good person, and her desire and goal is pure.  I don’t believe in the end that Isabella can harm Catherine, in that Catherine will make the right decision for herself. But I admire people who do the right thing. So that is the suspense—Catherine will try to do right, but other people can certainly get in her way: Isabella, John….The suspense is, will Catherine be able to overcome these obstacles? Will it take too long and perhaps Miss Tilney and her brother might not want to wait for obstacles to be overcome?  And, simply by Catherine being associated with people who display poor judgment, how much of the bad feelings towards them accrue to her?  In addition, there are social proprieties to observe. These, too, can block relationships from forming. So, suspense is also, will Catherine win or will social mores?

I love that Catherine persists. And I love that there is such great suspense here for me in something that seems so innocuous.

I love the whole exchange with Thorpe at the dance when he claimed that Catherine “owed” him her dances. She is so horrified and appalled, and after he argues with her a bit, he then asks if she thinks Tilney might want to buy a horse. I laughed out loud at this. Here was this great moment of romance, men fighting over her (sort of), and then this. Perfect. Thorpe is such an ass.

The contrast between Tilney and Thorpe is so extreme, it as if they are different species.

I continue to love the exchanges between Tilney and Catherine. She has zero understanding of satire. She takes things at face value (though is learning to see subtlety). She is matter of fact and doesn’t quite grok Tilney’s humor. Since Tilney is kind, and would not harm Catherine, I think he is really good for her. She needs (this is an incredibly biased view on my part) to not be quite so literal.

Chapter 11

Did anyone else think Mrs. Allen’s comment to Catherine that, “I know you never mind dirt” was strange? Mrs. Allen is vapid and self-absorbed, so it probably was just a nothing comment, but I’m an English major. Does it have meaning? Was it judgmental? Hmmm.

This whole business with the walk and the castle are so important.

Here again, Austen takes something that would seem so trivial—going for a walk with new friends, and turns it into a whole social and world catastrophe. Look, Catherine is 17 years old. She’s a teenager! Teenagers (and 57 years old like me) can catastrophize small events. But Austen doesn’t think this is small, and it isn’t. Stupid little social niceties in civilized society (and not so civilized) can doom relationships. And this is part of Austen’s brilliance. She knows that people’s feelings get hurt. She knows that beginning of relationships whether romantic or friendship, are very important. I love that Austen knows when to mock and when to regard something as keen. Added to this is that, again, we like Catherine (I do, anyway) and I want her to be happy.

Is anyone else surprised that Catherine still has any trust at all for Isabella and John?

Was anyone else horrified that John wouldn’t stop the gig?

I think this was played for comedy, but mainly I think it wasn’t. Austen is drawing a connection to Gothic novels throughout. Here is Catherine being kidnapped. Of course Thorpe isn’t going to treat her as a Gothic heroine would be—rushed to his castle where he would threaten rape and abuse and possible murder. But—she wants him to stop, and he doesn’t. Instead, he whips his horses (I hate him), and he shouts at her (I hate him). She is desperate, and she thinks of throwing herself out of the carriage, which would have been dangerous. The text says, she “submits.” I think this is awful.

I feel genuinely upset for Catherine. I hate that she has no control while in the carriage. That she is with an odious man who whips the horses and yells and is a real jerk and she has limited agency. And I hate that she hurts the feelings of the people she cares about and can do nothing about it for the time being. She feels terrible about this. And I believe Austen that Catherine feels desperately upset.

Chapter 12

In praise of Austen again, she does not leave us hanging for long. Catherine delays not in trying to resolve this. She is honest and caring, so she strives to make this better. Her treatment by the Tilneys when she goes to the door is nearly heartbreaking. (Again, isn’t this extraordinary? I love Austen for this, that something as simple as making a social call is raised to such heights. Wow. I am trying to figure out how to do this in my own writing. I think again it comes down to we care about Catherine and her goal and know how sad it will make her to not achieve it. But maybe it is more than that?)

And when at the theater, which she attends with the odious Thorpes (how could she still hang out with them? Yes, I know but still) I love how she rushes out her story to Tilney with no concern that she preserve her own dignity. She accepts responsibility and makes it clear she was upset. And I realized as I was looking at my notes that I forgot to notice that Tilney, while being cold with the bow, does come to the box to talk to her and Mrs. Allen. That’s cool. He didn’t need to do that. He certainly isn’t as open as Catherine, but he went out of his way to come to her. He gave her an opening. He is really mature. I really like him.

Wow, these chapters were so significant to me.  And I haven’t even begun to talk about the importance of money which keeps popping up throughout the novel. The most interesting in these chapters was Thorpe’s insistence that the Morelands are rich, and his inability to understand why James doesn’t own his own carriage.  Needless to say, money is always important in Austen.

Northanger Abbey Chs. 7-9

I love these chapters. We continue to see Austen’s pragmatism, and at least for me, a great understanding of why Catherine is such a terrific heroine, even if she isn’t a practicer of sensibility and sentimentality. I love her moral compass. I love her value system.

What am I harking on about? Look at how she is with John Thorpe. How did you feel about him when you first met him? Well, I don’t remember my initial thoughts, since it has been many years ago that I first read this novel, but reading him this morning, I hated him immediately, even before he said much. His treatment of the horse was enough to put me off.

I continued to dislike him, but as the group was walking down the street through the throngs of people, and he felt the need to rate every woman he saw, I was done with him.

His xenophobia and anti-Semitism were further signs of a despicable person. Notice Catherine’s response to his slur against Mr. Allen. I love that Austen does not provide us with a new suitor to Tilney that is an actual rival. She continues to push against romantic tropes. I love it!!!!

I think Chapter 8 is incredibly important because it shows what matters most to Austen—a theme that runs through all the novels. It is obvious that James is infatuated by Isabella. By this time, we know not to trust Isabella. She’s not evil, she is just vapid. It is so funny (and not, at the same time) that James is so enchanted by her that she is everything and he wishes Catherine to emulate her while at the same time, we know Catherine to be her superior in pretty much every way. Catherine doesn’t know this, but we do. But, because Catherine is wonderful, and her brother truly loves her, (and all the ways that James is not Thorpe) we care for him, even with short acquaintance. And it was in this section that I begin to worry for James. I don’t want him attached to Isabella. She is not right for him.  Keep in mind that in Austen’s time, people didn’t divorce. You were married for life. Austen shows us in all of her novels unhappily married people. For me, this is the first sense of menace in the novel. It isn’t sweet and fun; for me, there is real tension here, and a real sense of foreboding.

In terms of Catherine and Thorpe, I have zero misgivings. I trust Catherine.

There are all sorts of moments that a lesser writer would make much of, and Austen doesn’t do that. I admire that so much. Do you see what I see? Are there moments where you assumed that Austen would go in one direction, but she did something else entirely? Do you wish she’d made other choices?

I love the foiling Austen does. We see Tilney’s sister Eleanor vs. Isabella. We see Thorpe vs. Tilney. We witness different family groups. And Catherine takes this all in, mostly without judgment. She is learning and widening her perspective.  Only occasionally does she make a decision about what she has seen, and at the end of Chapter 9, for example, she concludes, to herself, that Thorpe is disagreeable. I have no fears for Catherine on that front.

What do you make of Thorpe?

Thoughts on Austen’s use of the triangle? (or lack thereof?)

Feelings about Isabella, about James?

Northanger Abbey Chs. 4-6

Chapters 4-6

I love Austen’s commentary on empty-headed people. Her depiction of Mrs. Allen’s joy in meeting with her old friend Mrs. Thorpe is fabulous. Much is made of the fact that they talk more than listen with the goal of impressing the other. True communication is not what is important.

…Mrs. Allen had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend, and was forced to sit and appear to listen to all these maternal effusions, consoling herself, however, with the discovery, which her keen eye soon made, that the lace on Mrs. Thorpe’s pelisse was not half so handsome as that on her own.

Chapters 5 and 6 I think are most important for what they show us about Austen’s opinion of novels.

“In general, heroines do not read novels except as a prelude to seduction” –J.M.S. Tompkins The Popular Novel in England

Part of what I love about Northanger Abbey is all the reading and the shared love of Gothic and Romantic texts. In the late 18th/early 19th century, books were extremely expensive. Catherine’s family certainly were doing relatively well financially, but buying books would have been a strain. It is also unlikely that they belonged to a lending library, which at the time would also have been a great expense. Bath, with its bookshops and greater access to books would have delighted Catherine, and thus the lists of books she gets to read. This was a real vacation for her in so many ways.  While Austen likes to make fun of many of the tropes of romantic novels, she doesn’t make fun of the novels or novel reading itself. In fact, Austen’s own family did belong to a lending library service, and in fact, she notes in letters that all her family happily read novels and didn’t go along with the times in condemning novel reading.

Finally, I constantly find things to admire about Catherine. She misses Tilney. She likes Tilney, but unlike what Isabella claims that Catherine must yearn for him, Catherine basically say, hey, I’ve got a great book to read and others to follow, so I’m good. Isabella is a bit gobsmacked by this. Catherine is an innocent, but she is honest and remains true to herself. She really is not a very good Romantic heroine.

What do you think? 

Are novels and libraries, as a character in Sheridan’s The Rivals says, “evergreen trees of diabolical knowledge” ?

I think it is interesting that Austen gives a bit of a lecture (and she isn’t prone to lecturing at all!) on the value of novels. Clearly, she is passionate about this.

Anyone out there a fan of Gothics?  Have you read any of the books discussed on Isabella’s list?

Are any of Austen’s characters at all similar to characters in a Gothic?

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