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?

7 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey Chapters 13-15”

  1. Here’s my favorite bit in Chapter 15:

    Catherine wished to congratulate him, but knew not what to say, and her eloquence was only in her eyes. From them, however, the eight parts of speech shone out most expressively, and James could combine them with ease.

    1. Yes! I swooned when I read that. Lovely lovely.

      And then with the second sentence, the grammar lover in me raised a flag of, “See? This shit matters!!”

  2. First, chapter 13 opens with a very fun sentence. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday have now passed in review before the reader.” She could have said something like, “Now six days have passed…” or “Nearly an entire week has gone by…” but she ticks off the days one by one. It reminded me of an old film technique of pages of a calendar getting turned to show a new page, new setting, new scene. Time passing. Think “Holiday Inn.” It was a fun and opening to a chapter that made me feel a little anxious but at the same time excited because Catherine is coming into her own.

    The lying…spinning of the truth…that Isabella, Thorpe, and James want Catherine to do so they can get from her what they want in this chapter (sure it’s just a social outing and not something truly criminal, but it shows true ruthlessness and selfishness) is banal and despicable. But it’s not as despicable as the person-handling that briefly occurs when Catherine rightly keeps insisting on doing the right thing and not lying and deceiving the Tilneys. “Isabella, however, caught hold of one hand; Thorpe of the other.” Yikes. Desperate measures. She is literally being held for a moment. But, on the same page, listen to Austen’s language as she describes Catherine’s departure to the Tilneys. “Away walked Catherine in great agitation, as fast as the crowd would permit her, fearful of being pursued, yet determined to persevere.” Heroine power! I also love the sibling relationship being tested here (yes, it’s very funny that Austen has Catherine think she never thought of her brother as handsome!). Even James is angry with her. She is beginning to walk her own path. Her exchange with Mr. and Mrs. Allen at the chapter end furthers this. She realizes Mrs. Allen doesn’t give her opinions so openly to Catherine (whether it be men or muslin for a dress), and, of Mr. Allen’s ability to consult with her, he only, at last, flatly states, “I would only advise you, my dear, not to out with Mr. Thorpe again.” I loved Chapter 13 because Catherine is in action on her own with the values starting to drive her actions.

    Chapter 14 made me like Catherine even more because Austen shows a side of Tilney that is a bit brattish. His tendency to mock the way women speak made me wonder if he’s not nice. There, I said it: Nice. “…this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies.” He also mocks the women’s use of “amazingly” in their conversation. Now I have my readerly eye on Tilney, to see his true grit. (He uses the word ‘stupid’ to describe early in the chapter a person who takes not pleasure in reading a good novel. I found that amazing (!) that ‘stupid’ was a word used then.

    And, Katherine, about the character’s discussion about history and other forms of writing that are “solemn,” I have no opinions as to whether I agree with the characters or not. Is she saying that it’s better for little boys and girls to not be tormented by historical fact in their studies and therefore that history learning has a definite age-appropriateness to it? She seems to be sort of pitying the history writer/historian here too. Interesting! I read this passage as Austen’s laying her groundwork defending, again, the novel. And the novel writer. And the novel reader. Viva la fiction! But there is SO much more in this chapter to think about…about intellect, ideas, women’s minds, knowledge, the ‘gossip’ of something coming out in London soon (a book! not a crime act!) and, finally, politics (“There must be murder, and government doesn’t care how much”). I think Chapter 14 is a heavy hitter for all these reasons. The Tilneys’ and Catherine’s visit to Beechen Cliff show us Catherine’s ability and willingness to be comfortable with what she chooses to focus on. She is starting to trust her eye, heart, and her opinions. Yes, she had Henry the all-knowing as her guide in this scene (showing her the landscape), but often on the hero’s journey, there is a teacher. I imagine Catherine will grow beyond Henry, who seems limited in a way I didn’t know he was before.

    Chapter 15 was spiritual for me. “Catherine’s understanding began to awake: an idea of truth suddenly darted into her mind.” This is the chapter where she has the awakening that Isabella and her brother will likely be married. She is awakened to love between two others. This is profound for her. “Catherine wished to congratulate him (James), but knew not what to say, and her eloquence was only in her eyes.” THAT last phrase made me stop and ponder our heroine’s journey so far. Her eloquence was only in her eyes. Brilliant. Because that can be enough. The eyes say it all…etc. She has been watchful and observant throughout the story so far. She has taken all things in with a fair temper and unspoken wisdom. Under-appreciated and under-recognized as a mind and heart and spirit but certainly accepted as normal, good, and lovely woman with social and some intellectual value, she is not the heroine that undergoes an enormous transition, due to her strong qualities, as other characters do. Or IS she?? What lies before us?

    Thorpe: he’s really trying hard, isn’t he? For the first time, even though I have disliked him so far, I have a little pity for him. He’s trying to bond with Catherine. But she has grown, and her family (Isabella as a future sister) is growing, and she in standing in that strength. Thus my pity for Thorpe. He doesn’t stand a chance.

    1. Marcia, I so wanted to respond to this yesterday, but I began to have my jangly emotions and couldn’t, so today’s commentary might not be as good as it could have been. You have packed so much into your comments! I want to do them justice!

      For now, since I just wrote a long blog post on Vol. 2, let me defend Henry Tilney. Not because I love him (though, OK, I do a little) but more because I think, as I said in another post, I am Henry.
      I think Austen is doing so much (as you pointed out).
      Northanger Abbey is about so many things, relationships, friendship, love, but also reading. And what were people reading? And how does what we read influence the way we see the world?
      This last question is of such great significance to me. I realized several years ago, that by mainly reading mystery (my favorite genre) I was closing myself to other perspectives. I heard this great episode on a favorite podcast called “Romances for people who hate romance.” The three women who spoke were women I admired, and I thought, why not. So I wrote down the titles that interested me, and, this is a huge deal, I read them. Most of the ones I chose, I loved. In fact, The Rosie Project (I’ve read 2 in the series so far) has one of the greatest protagonists I’ve ever read. I adore it/the books. Why do I say all this? Because reading romance novels changed to some extent the way I see things. Do I now love romance? No. But I love some romance books. I find that when I watch a lot of comedy, especially lighthearted comedy, I feel better/easier in the world. When I watch a lot of crime, especially of the darker variety, I feel less sanguine about the world. There really is a reason for my prattle! I think Austen is saying the same.
      Catherine is making it clear that what she wants is horror and Gothic though she’ll read some poetry and plays. History is boring. She wants fantasy and mystery and suspense. (Though I love her comment about how many historians (she says all) faked some of the history by putting words in people’s mouths. I was a history major. I hated that too. It is why still, I dislike historical novels.)
      Henry and Eleanor love novels–that has been established. But they also both like history. And they read newspapers. And they study art.
      I liked the tormenting comment simply because I found it funny, and I also have had numerous people over the years tell me when they find out I’m a teacher that they always hated English or it was their worst class. Great! Thanks for that! As I had just turned in grades on Monday, reading about children being tortured who are forced to read was funny to me (that’s my bitter sarcastic heart, and why I like Henry so much.)
      So, I don’t think Henry is mocking Catherine, unless we agree it is gentle. I just saw an interesting note in my annotated version that suggests that Henry is particular about language (like the whole “nice” business you point out) in opposition to how Isabella uses language. Henry cares about what he says and how he says it, whereas Isabella changes on a dime and exaggerates everything. Also, Henry is very ironic. He has great respect for women–does not believe they are unequal in intelligence. (This is a very important theme for Austen. You’ll see it elsewhere.)
      And finally, another note from my annotated text: Stupid in our day has very strong, negative connotations. In Austen’s day, it meant “slow-witted” but was not meant as a huge insult as we mean it. My sense of it was that someone was being sluggish in thinking, like wake up! He was behaving as a brother but not in the way that John is towards his sisters.

  3. I think Catherine really doesn’t understand John Thorpe’s attempts to gauge her interest in marrying him; she is too kind of a person to string him on, even though he is a jerk. I like that she doesn’t understand his intent, and I do not feel sorry for him at all. He has been a brute, bully, liar, and braggart. My biggest fear for her at this point is his going about telling people he “loves” her and she encourages him, etc. His previous deviousness suggests that he is not above that.

    I was confused by the comment about history being a way to torment children. Quite frankly, I was confused. I was thinking that education was such a grind for kids (Dickens’ gradgrind and Forster’s Mr. Pembroke) that maybe he was saying, “Why yes, kids should be tortured because that is the only way they learn.” On the other hand, why would he say that, being someone who likes history. I admit to laughing, but mostly because I have teenagers in agony over their homework assignments: this is the way of the world?

    I think Isabella is a money grabber and I keep wondering if James really does have money. He is the eldest, but he is also from a family with 10 children! I can’t even think about how horrid that must be. I liked Catherine’s very practical comments to Tilney about why learning is so arduous for a mother who must teach all these children. Tilney has no idea what a busy household must be like.

    So much more to think about but I have to stop writing right now…

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