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?