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.

15 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey Chapters 10-12”

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

    Yo. John in particular. Just one or two chapters ago she was marveling at how John didn’t give a shit about contradicting himself in a single breath.

    And while we’re at it, it always pisses me off when you’re perhaps thinking out loud about plans and the other person thinks you’ve made a commitment. Sigh. No. It’s not a commitment until you both say “Yeah, this is on. Confirmed.” But John’s playing this game of { oh we mentioned maybe going for a ride so you have to do it now }. Christ what an asshole.

    I’m not reading this as literature, I’m reading it like a really bad Reddit post.

    1. You can read it as both!
      Yes, he is playing a game, and it is a game he has gotten away with because of his privilege, based on money and gender. What a jerk!
      I’m guessing that Catherine is with the Thorpes because she is loyal to Isabella and blames herself for any issues, and because you are supposed to be with people you know, and these are the people she knows. Oh, and key too is her brother James, whom she loves and trusts, is infatuated with Isabella and really seems to like John so there must be something good about John, right? (Of course not, but I know people who think like this.) Part of what Austen does so well is she really understands how people think and relate. The people that get tolerated because others hold them up, and people who get eschewed because the “right” people dislike them. I see this all the time.

    2. Hahahaaa re Reddit!! Also: We’ve all gone through this. Cringe-worthy and maddening and setting me completely off balance when it happens to me. I’ve got the deep feels growing for Catherine.

      And YES I am surprised that C still has trust for I and J. You’re better than that, dear heroine! So much better.

  2. I think the suspense comes from the fact that these “friends” can destroy her happiness so easily. Will she realize in time? Thorpe does not play fair and men had such power…as we will see with Father Tilney. A womans reputation was paramount and could be ruined by no action of her own. Will she survive this trap unsquathed?

    1. Does this book count as a “comedy of manners”? Is that what that term means?

      It does seem to place very high stakes on the most trivial things. These people have nothing at stake! Ooooh, I might have to ride my horse tomorrow instead of today. I might get the third dance instead of the first. The horror!

      In that vein, it bothers me that literally nobody in this novel has a job. I believe the first mention of any working person at all is in the first paragraph of Chapter 9, where it’s barely noted that “a servant” was driving a carriage. We go to the Pump House, we get drinks (that are served by magic, not people), we’re dancing to music (that appears by magic, not from musicians), we’re riding our horses (which are cared for by magic, not by stable hands), and so on. It’s weird that workers do. not. exist. in this world.

      1. Since I need to make tea but can’t let this go, here is the Wikipedia def. of comedy of manners (so cool you dropped this in, Shelby!) and I like it. It works for now: The comedy of manners, also called anti-sentimental comedy, is a form of comedy that satirizes the manners and affectations of contemporary society and questions societal standards.

        In terms of work, to be fair, Catherine is 17 and Isabella slightly older. Female, of a certain class, yada. James and Thorpe are college students at Oxford. That’s how they met, and that’s why James knows Isabella. Tilney I won’t say yet. We find out soon. Tilney’s dad is retired military. Catherine’s father is a minister. Mr. Allen, I think is a businessman, but I don’t remember. Part of what happens in Bath is it is a vacation resort. Bath is famous for its waters, and that is part of why Mr. Allen is there. He has gout and is drinking the mineral waters. Other people go there as an alternative to London, and that is why there is theater.

        As for trivial? I totally get what you are saying, and when I see the actions of a Thorpe and James and Isabella and Mrs. Allen, I agree with you. All they care about (though I like James) is entertainment. I don’t personally put Catherine in the same category though she fits. I mean, think of the typical contemporary kid when school is out. Some get jobs and some get part time jobs and some go to Canada. But while these people aren’t working or doing volunteer work or studying or what have you, I don’t see these actions as trivial. That was my point. I really feel for Catherine and the slight she felt when Miss Tilney apparently snubbed her at the door (we know differently later) and how deeply hurt she was by her own slighting of the Tilney’s. That did not read to me as trivial. How John treated her, rushing her away in the carriage, was not slight either. So I think it is a mix of silliness and seriousness.

    2. I’m replying to Shelby here: Yes!
      And I think part of what makes this key is we like/care/want the best for Catherine.
      And then the suspense becomes, for me anyway, while I trust Catherine to do the best thing, I don’t know that I assume anyone else will come out as well as she does.

  3. Is it a comedy of manners? A little yes, a little no? IMO: not really a comedy because I don’t laugh when I read it (of course, I’m sort of a serious person). But a satire on classes? Yes. Oscar Wilde…now I think his work brilliantly exemplify this genre.

    I like, Mark that you are bothered no one works in this novel AND that things are given to this class of people through magic and NOT through servitude. In fact, the invisibility of servants is so stark that I remember very well, because it shocked me, the same scene you point to where Austen mentions a servant is driving a carriage. Makes me wonder if servants will make a stronger appearance in the novel. These characters tend to have occupations, but when they are at the resort, they certainly act privileged to the hilt. I keep thinking of Austen (because: me=new Austen fangirl) like this: WHAT A HARD WORKER SHE WAS to be (somewhat, yes?) in the circles of the rich and upper (pretty upper?) crust but to be writing about them with such zest and commitment that look at her oeuvre! OMG she takes the cake when it comes to being a working writer. I imagine she would have been a hell of a journalist. But journalistic writing wouldn’t have given her all she needed as a wordsmith.

    I have to get ready to teach yoga in a sec, but I must add here my favorite passage, as promised, involving money and Catherine’s lovely, open-minded head and heart.

    Thorpe (I hate him), talking to C: He criticizes James for not keeping a horse and a gig of his own, calls him a fool.

    “No, he is not,” said Catherine warmly, “for I am sure he could not afford it.”
    “And why cannot he afford it?”
    “Because he has not money enough.”
    “And whose fault is that?”
    “Nobody’s, that I know of.”

    Zap! A Thorpe (I hate him) sees some people as less-thans because they don’t have the things he considers valuable. But as we know, the way he lies about the cost/exaggerates (like a fetish almost) the value of gigs, the way he brags about his own gig, and the way he treats another ‘commodity’, a HORSE, which he whips and pushes hard to go fast, shows us Thorpe’s utter emptiness as a human being. In fact, such a man is not only empty, but he seems empty by choice, which then makes room in his mind for taking advantage of others for personal gain and even hurting others.

    I HATED it when he refused to turn the carriage around at Catherine’s beckoning. She was being kidnapped! She so needed to reconcile a problem, and he wouldn’t let her. This was so awful to me that now I think he’s going to do even worse things.

    1. sorry about typos and such. In a hurry to eat a piece of my homemade bread that just came out of the oven before I log on to teach! and now it’s pouring rain! perfect reading night.

      1. I saw no typos–please never worry about that. I loved your passage, Marcia! And now I’m desperate for homemade bread, so I’ll be there soon.

    2. Yes to all of this! John’s tirade against James (his alleged close friend) and anyone he deems as “poor” is so appalling! And don’t we know people like this? I do. Don’t we read people who write comments about how much money people deserve to make (I have ranted so often about $15 minimum wage. It strikes me deeply). John is that ass who has had everything handed to him (wow, like Trump?) who then begrudges anyone actually doing work having any money at all. What has changed since Austen’s day? We revere frontline workers as heroes yet see their sacrifice as necessary…ugh.
      I hate John Thorpe and anyone who abuses their power.

    3. I have to reply to something that I noticed on a second read of Marcia’s comment. Comedy doesn’t have to be laugh out loud funny, so while I think Austen is often laugh outloud funny, it is comedy in another sense; it is a commentary on social mores/values and taking a comedic view of them rather than a tragic one. This doesn’t rule out irony (which Austen is a master of) or sarcasm or satire (and there is some satire in Austen) so comedy can be bitter and strong. You might know all of this already, but I wanted to jump in. I think Mark was uncertain about comedy of manners? Anyway, that’s not the main reason I wanted to jump in–Marcia, this is so interesting. Do you see yourself as a serious person or more serious then comic? This intrigues me. I am always difficult–I do both. I naturally cleave to comedy–sarcasm, irony etc. It is how I survive, but I also think of myself as extremely serious and then comic and then…my retirement plan is probably to end up in an asylum from a mental breakdown. I would really appreciate it if one of my friends could be very rich so I could live out my days in a little cottage on your land. Please work on that, everyone.

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