Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 7-9

Chapter 7

I love how during the storm, all is mystery, but during the light of day, it is all simple and clear. Also, it is funny to me that she blames Henry for being so fearful the night before.

Henry teases Catherine about her new found love of flowers and suggests that that will draw her outside. This is meant ironically. He knows Catherine’s love the outdoors. He is parroting conduct books.  I’m realizing during this Austen project that I’m doubly lucky, having studied history and English, so I know some cool stuff!


Conduct books had been around forever (not the historical term) and were also popular in the medieval era, but for women, conduct books were key to basically surveilling every aspect of a woman’s life. They hit their high point in the 18th century, but  persisted through the 19th century. Conduct books were rules for women that controlled their behavior.  A famous example is from a poem called “The Angel in the House,” which became  a goal for women to reach toward.  Many conduct books explained to young girls and women how to reach this peak of perfection and included advice such as upon waking the first thought should be for the husband. What can I do to help him have a good day? Next, the children. Next, the servants. Next, extended family. Next, the neighbors. And so on. Please note that the needs of the woman are last, if considered at all. She is exerted to not go to bed if even one person’s needs have not been dealt with, for she is to be an Angel to all.

Jane Austen, you might be stunned to know, did not like conduct manuals. People who believe in such stifling rules are not treated well, and thus, Henry mocks these rules throughout the novel, including in this chapter.


I was interested to see that according to my annotated edition, the Army was considered the most prestigious profession. It is interesting that Tilney is a General, and though he is very wealthy, and neither of his sons needs to work, they both are in professions.

Catherine does not like General Tilney, and we have a further comment that once he leaves, everyone breathes easier. That’s terribly sad.

Chapter 8

What do you make of the General and the pride in his house?

I find it interesting (clearly, I find a lot of things interesting) that he is most proud of the quarters he provides for his servants. Here is where I am torn. This is actually a really good thing. His servants are treated very well (except by his great impatience.)  Catherine’s thought that 2 servants at her house do so much work as compared to the multitudes of people at the General’s house. But the quarters he provides for his people really are to be admired. He is doing right by them, and he is rightly proud. But I still think he’s a jerk.

I do not like how he treats anyone, and rank is way too important to him.

Does anyone else believe, as Catherine does, that Mrs. Tilney is locked away somewhere on the estate?

Chapter 9

Catherine has this obsession to find out the truth about her Gothic fantasies. And when we learn that the General is away outside and Eleanor is taking Catherine to the room her mother died in, and is obviously upset about this, Catherine perseveres, ignoring the possible distress she is causing to her friend. This was the second time I got deeply annoyed with Catherine. I don’t think she treats Eleanor very well. This makes four times she operates against her. (I’m thinking of the Thorpes in Bath, so not really Catherine’s fault, but one too many times there). Anyone else feel this way? Am I being unfair to Catherine?

When time passes and Catherine must know what is going on, she takes advantage of time off from social interaction and visits on her own the rooms she has in effect been warned against visiting. Oh, Catherine.  I love the line: “It was no time for thought…” no, it wasn’t. It was no time for possible negative consequences to Eleanor or the anger of the General, or, as we see, running into Henry. Catherine didn’t think.

Henry’s comments are strong, but I don’t feel he was unjust. This is the point. He does understand Catherine. He does know what she was thinking. Remember, Catherine wondered if the General had murdered his wife or imprisoned her. Imagine being Henry, finding this woman in the bedroom where he saw his mother die and knowing the types of thoughts she had. Wow.

One other thing I’d like to add: Henry’s commentary on how now in modern Christian England, bad things don’t happen, or at least not bad things like in Gothic novels. This becomes interesting.

I would love to hear what you think.   

5 thoughts on “Northanger Abbey Vol. 2 Chapters 7-9”

  1. OMG “Conduct books.” Well, I am certainly glad to know this and will research more about them. I remember a book that some of my feminist friends and I in the early 80s in college roundly criticized: The Total Woman. I remember we would read passages aloud to each other in dramatic fashion and laugh. To know now its roots in conduct books is amazing and makes me sad. Feels like The Handmaid’s Tale is knocking on the door. I don’t want to answer. I have to think of Catherine…

    In the light of day all things look better, be it a mere linen inventory or Henry at breakfast chit-chatting about the natural love that her sex can have or cultivate for flowers. (When Catherine discovers the papers she discovered the night before are mere lists of things…far from a mysterious map or letter or decree…Austen writes: “She felt humbled to the dust.” I LOVE that phrase and plan to use it!

    “The money is nothing, it is not an object, but employment is the thing.” The General is talking about how it’s important to have a position, not for money but for building character, I guess, or perhaps to help one’s reputation. What a different kind of world many of us live in from the Tilney world. And yes his home is vast. And that is pretty nice. I LOVE your observations about how well cared for the servants are. I think of Mark’s earlier comment how no one in the novel seems to have jobs. Well, there are lots of them now!

    Learning of the death of Mrs. Tilney felt real and sad and the exchange between Catherine and Eleanor tender in this chapter, but Austen jacks up the Gothic almost immediately afterwards: Catherine goes into a tizzy of overactive imaginings and makes me feel like she is a teenage sleuth who is barking up the wrong tree. No, I don’t believe Mrs. Tilney is still alive and imprisoned in the home. How could that even be possible? If it is, I’ve been rightly fooled and missed clues and will forever be humbled to the dirt for it. I am nervous for Catherine as she sets out to the part of the house she could not see before, for she is snooping around on her own without a guide, and as we know, nothing good can come from that. She doesn’t seem to be much of a heroine here. I wonder sometimes why Austen in the early stages of the story called Catherine Our Heroine. Maybe I am being unfair to her.

    1. Austen called her OUR HEROINE to draw attention to Gothic heroines and mainly to show the contrast. Austen, I have spent the last 40 years arguing, really has serious issues with sentimentality and sensibility. In these ways, she is anti-romantic. She doesn’t like Isabella type characters who over=emote and over exaggerate. She likes practical and pragmatic and honest. I don’t think she is 100% opposed to flirting, but she is opposed to feelings being hurt and people being taken for granted. Isabella chasing after men but saying her heart is only for James, except, hey look! Let’s go after those guys who won’t stop looking at us. Catherine is our heroine, our guide. Catherine is constantly confused by things Isabella does. If she loves James, how can she be so entranced by Fred? And so on. Catherine has a bit of the Gothic heroine in her–the wanting to explore where she doesn’t belong, the suspicion of others (though not when it matters–I can say more later, but all we need to see is how long she tolerates Isabella, Fred, General Tilney, and even John), the certainty of evil/nefariousness, though again, not when it matters. What bothers me so much about the Gothic adventure she had is that SHE completely ignores the possible impact on the friend. I picked up pretty readily, and Eleanor is the direct opposite of Isabella, so in her own way she is somewhat difficult to read, that she was unhappy, still, after 9 years, about her mother’s death. I think she is really saddened by having been away from home. Instead of being concerned about the impact on Eleanor, Catherine puts her own need for “answers” above the feelings of her friends. This is not typical of Catherine, and it is very childish and immature. When she is humbled to the dust (I agree, great phrase) it is really powerful. And I think that Henry has shown incredible restraint. He really says very little, and it is enough, and afterwards, he is quite kind to her. But Catherine’s initial actions reflect badly on the family and were hurtful.

      As for conduct books, I could have written pages, so you should be grateful for that. 😉 We read a bunch of conduct books in a 19th century lit class I took, and they are awesome and awful to behold. Virginia Woolf has at least one essay on conduct books and the like and wow she does a great job attacking them. Women were constrained this way and that, but in some ways, it did pay off. There is a terrific book called Victorian Murderesses written by a historian on how views about women as being angel in the house and so on actually sometimes helped them avoid hanging for the crimes they committed. It would be argued in their defense: yes 19 people saw her do it, but is that really possible since women are the softer sex? Good times, good times.

  2. You are so right about the conduct books! Henry’s comments make more sense now. His teasing was bugging me; it’s been so long since I’ve read the conduct books. I also felt like his teasing and stories sort of set Catherine up for thinking about all of the possibilities of Mrs Tilney being locked up somewhere. Her behavior made me groan, “No don’t do this. There’s nothing to find.”

    1. Absolutely about Henry setting her up. I interpret their conversation on the drive to NA as his getting caught up in the fun. He also likes these novels (which is part of why I like him–he doesn’t detest them or make fun of them). He admitted earlier that he becomes entranced. So he is playing with Catherine. I don’t think there is anything malicious in it. But one commentator has suggested that part of why Henry really lets Catherine off pretty easily after the misadventure in his mother’s room is because he realizes he had a role to play. I have certainly been guilty of the same thing. People may be shocked to discover that I am sometimes sarcastic, and many people are unaware that I am being incredibly amusing. It’s sad. Sometimes, there are consequences to the things we say to people that we may understand our meaning, but they don’t. I think that’s another Austen message.

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