Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 4-6

In these chapters, I felt I was almost reading 2 different novels, and I like that.

Chapter 4 is like and not like the previous rest of the book. It begins with Catherine’s concerns for her brother, and for Isabella, because Catherine is kind. And I wonder—is she also blind?

Catherine thinks: “Isabella could not be aware of the pain she was inflicting.”

As Henry says, Catherine assumes good intentions for all because she is good, but at what point does this become a handicap? Just as I was annoyed at Isabella for not understanding Catherine, I wonder at how poorly Catherine understands Isabella.

The conversation with Henry is amazing and deep (and does anyone else think it has a Shakespearean comedy element to it? Kirsten?)

But mainly, this is not amusing, and it touches on very important feelings and values.

Catherine is certain (is she? Is she really? I’m not sure) that Isabella loves her brother and this can not be her fault. If only Fred leaves then all will be well. I think Henry, who knows Isabella so much better than Catherine does, says a perceptive thing:

“Is it my brother’s attentions to Miss Thorpe, or Miss Thorpe’s admission of them, that gives the pain?”

This is the perfect question.

I love when they talk to each other, but especially in this instance, I do think they are talking past each other. In this case, I think both are at fault. (And I would be interested in whether anyone else finds this a problematic conversation.) Henry is trying to do a lot of things here, but one of them is, he is being reticent about his brother.

He has made it clear, though I don’t think Catherine has picked up on it, that he has spoken to his brother. I would surmise that Henry is not best pleased with his brother. More on that later. But Henry also believes (and has shown this through the novel) that he does believe people should be given the choice as to how to act/behave.

The exchange continues even more powerfully:

I think Mr. Morland would acknowledge a difference. No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.”

Catherine blushed for her friend, and said, “Isabella is wrong. But I am sure she cannot mean to torment, for she is very much attached to my brother. She has been in love with him ever since they first met, and while my father’s consent was uncertain, she fretted herself almost into a fever. You know she must be attached to him.”

“I understand: she is in love with James, and flirts with Frederick.”

“Oh! no, not flirts. A woman in love with one man cannot flirt with another.”

“It is probable that she will neither love so well, nor flirt so well, as she might do either singly. The gentlemen must each give up a little.”

After a short pause, Catherine resumed with, “Then you do not believe Isabella so very much attached to my brother?”

“I can have no opinion on that subject.”

Henry is trying to be careful here.  I think it is pretty obvious he doesn’t like Isabella and he also understands his brother perfectly. On the other hand, he does understand that he doesn’t necessarily understand other people’s hearts/intentions.

Of course, part of me just wants to keep cutting and pasting because Henry continues to make it clear that Fred is inconstant in his attentions and that James would not be happy for Catherine to intercede and really what difference would it make anyway? Henry gets it and Catherine can’t see it. But Henry doesn’t want to cause Catherine pain, so he doesn’t spell it out. Catherine sees the whole scenario, Fred returning to his unit, as soothing, while Henry is, to me anyway, making it quite clear that neither Fred nor Isabella is to be trusted, and Fred’s leaving will not save James, for won’t there other Freds? Or so, this is how I read it. What say you?

Chapter 5

Mr. and Mrs. Allen were sorry to lose their young friend, whose good humour and cheerfulness had made her a valuable companion, and in the promotion of whose enjoyment their own had been gently increased.

I thought this was a quite lovely way to begin the chapter, and I hope that I am like this as a guest. OK. Me being me I can think of all sorts of times that I did not advance the happiness of the group. I promise to be better if ever the pandemic ends.

Now might be the time for me to say that I do not like General Tilney. I don’t like people who smother and make others feel uncomfortable. I don’t like people who are rude to waiters; well, I don’t like rudeness at all. He comes across as a bully who is concerned nearly entirely by his own needs. The gesture with the watch when he is outraged that it is 20 to 5 and time is of the essence. Why? Because. Austen does a terrific job writing him because I’ve been around people like this, and it is awful, and we do wish for them to depart and time is spent contemplating how much longer that person will remain. There is such a sense of lightness when he leaves. It is a boon.

Catherine continues to delight. She is so excited about the abbey and the coming adventure, and Henry is such a good sport even though Catherine disparages Henry’s home (parsonage) in juxtaposition to a haunted abbey. I love Henry’s Gothic description of the house, and he does such a terrific job framing what is to come.

Chapter 6

Catherine is initially disappointed in how modern the house is. My annotated text points out that Austen does something unusual in this novel—she has a lot of description about furniture and architecture (she doesn’t do this in other books) but it is necessary, because she is showing the reader of the time just how contemporary the abbey actually is. For example, there are special fireplaces mentioned that had just been invented a few years before Austen wrote the novel. They were superior in giving heat and gave off less smoke. There are many things in the house that indicate that the General loves improvements and he goes after anything new, and he has the money to constantly improve.

This chapter was the first time I truly became annoyed at Catherine. She’s seen how impatient the General is and the impact this has on his children, yet she allows herself to be distracted by the chest. This really bothered me. Of course, what it shows is that her love of the Gothic can trump her love of her friends. She truly is captivated by it. I began to love her again when at dinner, after being rushed by Eleanor and witnessing the General berate her for her own sin, she feels so dreadful for her mistake.

The rest of the chapter is a Gothic tale, and I found myself lost in it. It is no longer Austen I’m reading, but a Gothic novel. Occasionally, I felt touches of irony but overall, this was a shift to another genre. Did anyone else feel this way? I love the moment that she attempts to adjust the candle so as to preserve the light but ends up putting it out before she can read the precious manuscript.  She rushes to the bed and Austen says “Human nature could support no more.” Luscious.

The novel is now split. Actually, multi-directional. There is so much going on. Will it now be a Gothic or what?

Did you like this shift? Did it work for you?

2 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 4-6”

  1. These chapters made me feel like things are dramatically shifting, that the novel is shifting, that Austen is moving us in a new direction, which seems fitting since we are moving to a new setting. I immensely enjoyed taking this shift and eventually journeying to Northanger.

    I feel the same way you do, Katherine, about the conversation between Henry and Catherine regarding the triangulated Isabella/Henry brother/Catherine brother relationship. All this familial stuff. I thank you for your comments about spy stories…about trust…who characters can trust. I don’t know who Catherine can trust. Eleanor, certainly? Probably? The Allens, I guess. I’m not sold on General Tilney. And Henry…he’s still on my review-to-do list. But now that she’s leaving the Allens to be with the Tilneys, I am afraid for Catherine. Catherine, oh Catherine. Is that girl naive???

    The trip to Northanger is great one because Henry goes off into Gothic narrator land, describing the abbey in order to stir up Catherine’s imagination, delight her, or scare her. The writing–yes, it felt here like I was beginning to read another novel–was riveting. I was thinking how much the writing was tight and exact and not written to show us the manners between people and their relationships but to heighten our senses with mystery: strange and hidden objects, creepy things, who is lurking???

    And then, Chapter 6: OH WOW. My favorite chapter yet. Gothic as all get-out, and I couldn’t have been happier for it. Catherine’s imagination AND the influences upon her (what she reads, what Henry has said) lead her to snoop and discover the very first night at NA. She shakes, she breaks out in a cold sweat, she is breathless, she is all together very much alive here. The mood of the night (the high, howling winds) add to the excitement in this chapter. I don’t know how Austen managed it (another review-to-do item!), but managed it she did; it does feel like a new novel. But I felt like that to a lesser degree at the beginning of volume 2.

    General Tinsley is a bad dude. I disliked him early on in the novel when Catherine goes to their place, and he behaves so overly attentive to her and at one point, probably when she is leaving, he bows so deeply that I think Austen describes it as something majestic like a stage bow, and I felt then that he was a fake and not to be trusted. And voila: we see now how much of a bully he is. And super moody/prone to anger easily.

    1. I love your comments.
      This description of the General’s bow I missed entirely, but now I am buying into your view of it completely. It is perfect. Everything about the General is stagey except when it forgets himself in his selfishness. I can’t stand him.

      I also had the feeling you did when we shifted to the Gothic story. It became timeless for me and moved so fast. Austen went to town. I still prefer the conversations and the society gazing over Gothic, but something shifts when she writes in that mode, and it is really interesting.

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