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?

8 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey Chs. 7-9”

  1. I thought it ridiculously funny that Isabella wanted to pursue the odious men at the Pump-room. This is the scene where I allowed myself to assess her as a truly selfish young woman lacking a conscience, but Austen steps out of the way so I can make my own judgment there, much appreciated. I had my suspicions about Isabella, but this chase…smart Austen putting her characters into such a high state of action, out on the streets…only to have C and I run into their brothers…more ridiculous funny. This scene also let me see a kind man (James) and a sort of jerk (John) in action, too. While it makes sense that Catherine would have a kind brother and Isabella a vapid, selfish brother, it is a construct of Romanticism, isn’t it, for the authors then to make pairings, even unlikely (and in that case hopefully not-lasting) ones? This far into the novel, I am definitely feeling the constraints of the form, which MIGHT reflect constraints within the cultural, but I am buddying up to Austen as she writes, listening closely to her attitudes, because this book helps me see Austen is able to work with the form/mores and roll her eyes at them too, and thus encourage her readers and fans to do so. Fun!

    While I liked James from the very beginning (except for my not understanding why he would be in love with Isabella) I was ‘over’ John in the very first scene. A braggart and superficial man. At this point in the story, I find him just awful–I HATE the way he thinks of horses and carriages as his way to claim high human status–and I feel sad that Catherine has to be near him at all. Tilney to the rescue! (?) I fear John’s bullying and pushiness is going to get some people hurt, but ultimately, I hope it’s also his demise.

    1. > I HATE the way he thinks of horses and carriages as his way to claim high human status…

      The going ON AND ON AND ON about the features of the carriage. He’s exactly that guy in high school who won’t stop bragging about his car, that he could only afford because of family money to begin with. Wow what a jerk.

      1. Yes!!!! And that is part of what is so striking about Austen. She gets the human condition. And while they didn’t have cars in her time, OMG they absolutely had car guys. The high social status and bragging about it. She clearly is appalled by this.
        But also, the fact that he is, as James says, a Rattle. Which was something I had to look up. Rattles are basically liars (to me) and in a kinder sense, they are story tellers. They will say anything to make themselves the center of attention. In effect, they are not to be trusted. They do not ever tell the truth, and they don’t care! As you know, I’m obsessed with liars. So, is John a pathological liar? Is he a fantasist? Is he just trying to see what he can pull over on the other guy, searching for the main chance? It actually doesn’t matter to me–I don’t like liars. He’s an ass.

  2. I love this so much! I love your love of Austen, and I concur with everything you’ve said, especially the delicious idea of John’s demise. I really dislike him too!
    You made such an interesting observation about siblings and constraints. Austen will alter the way she displays siblings in later novels in quite dramatic ways…
    Right now, I like to believe that Austen is giving us (and her characters) choices as to what types of people to be with and not be with. Catherine is young–does she want to be with the cool, incredibly beautiful, and wildly fun people (I’m being sarcastic here) or the quieter, nerdier, kind people. I think Austen could write a similar story now.

  3. Sorry, I couldn’t get past pricing the gig in Chapter 7 as “50 guineas.” I had to go look that up.

    Whose brilliant idea was it to have a unit of money that’s 21/20 of a pound? On what planet is that a useful measure?

    England is so weird.

  4. No apologies! Money in Austen is extremely important.
    And, I would think with your mathematical mind that you would love those units of money. I agree, they are so strange.
    Someday, if we ever come out of the pandemic, you can borrow my Annotated edition of this novel which goes into great detail about things like what the different types of carriages are and how much money different people have. It’s quite fun. I love that you looked up that information!

  5. There’s a great exchange about money I’m going to quote in the next chapters, 10-12, because that’s where it exists. It REALLY warmed my heart and made me like Catherine with my heart, not just my head. :).

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