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.
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.
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.
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.