Saturday, July 31, 2010

Northanger Abbey, Chapters 21-31

This section begins shortly after Catherine’s arrival at Northanger Abbey. Eleanor takes her to her room in the thoroughly modern edifice, which disappoints Catherine -- at first. There’s a storm that night and she discovers some old papers in a chest of drawers. Before she can read them, the candle goes out and she hears footsteps. She immediately goes to bed, but discovers the next morning that they’re merely a washing list -- so far Northanger does not meet her expectations.

The General and Eleanor show her around Northanger, and Catherine begins to sense that the General is hiding something --- he won’t go down a path that was his late wife’s favorite, he tells Eleanor not to show Catherine more of the house until he can be there. Catherine jumps to the conclusion that his killed his wife and starts to question Eleanor about how she died. Suddenly, it turns out, and of an illness -- it's somehow a confirmation of Catherine’s suspicions. She develops an alternate hypothesis as well: that Mrs. Tilney is alive and hidden in the cellar. When she finally sneaks away from the others to see Mrs. Tilney’s room, there’s nothing of note.

Henry catches her at it, and he tells her what she suspects. He tells her he was present for his mother’s death and he scolds her for thinking that. Catherine is beside herself thinking that she blew it with Henry, but he acts no differently toward her. She does, however, chastise herself for getting too caught up in her books.

James writes to tell Catherine that he and Isabella broke off their engagement and says she’s now engaged to Frederick Tilney. Henry tells her that he doesn’t think it’ll really happen and that Isabella is probably doing it for money. He and Eleanor don’t think the General will let the engagement go through since she doesn’t have much money, which makes Catherine upset as she doesn't have a lot of money either.

The gang goes to visit Henry’s house at Woodston, and the General hints about Catherine marrying Henry -- she loves the house, but isn’t sure of Henry’s feelings. Isabella writes to say that Frederick left her and asks for help in getting James back. Catherine’s outraged, but Henry tells her she should be happy her brother's engagement didn’t go through.

When Catherine has been visiting for a month, she asks Eleanor if she should get ready to leave, but Eleanor tells her she can stay indefinitely. Suddenly, the General tells Eleanor that they have to go make good on a previous engagement and that Catherine has to leave immediately. There’s no explanation, and Catherine is forced to undergo a strenuous journey home.

She can’t imagine what possibly caused the General to do a 180 in his feelings for her, and her family is upset to see how she returned. Catherine has a tough time readjusting to life with her family, but after a few days Henry comes. He tells her that the General believed that the Morlands were wealthy, but learned lately from John Thorpe that they were not. Henry apologizes and proposes to Catherine. But the general won’t consent to the marriage so the Morlands won’t either. Luckily, Eleanor quickly gets engaged to a nobleman, which makes the General happy -- everyone consents and Henry and Catherine marry.

That’s the end of Northanger Abbey. Austen’s gently mocking riff on the Gothic novel doesn’t have the same depth as Pride and Prejudice, but it is an entertaining read. Catherine is a younger heroine than in some of the other novels, and  she spends a lot of time dealing with peer pressure and trying to figure out what makes a good friend -- things the other Austen heroines have already figured out for themselves.

A good chunk of the dramatic tension in this novel takes place in Catherine’s head, which is, in a way, what causes the dramatic tension of all of Austen's novels. Marianne imagines that Willoughby is more in love with her than he is, Elizabeth and Darcy each imagine things about the other that isn't true, Emma imagines that Mr. Elton loves Harriet, and so on. It's a more obvious example of Austen's point about how people imagine things and project desires onto situations rather than discussing them. There's so much gossip in all her books, but so little serious talks that need to be had -- Catherine's situation is the same.

Attic Salt's Jane Austen Challenge draws to a close with Persuasion, Austen's final novel. It's another short one, which means it'll give you some extra reading time to catch up on any books you may not have completed. Here's the schedule:

August 7: Chapters 1-6
August 14: Chapters 7-12
August 21: Chapters 13-18
August 31: Chapters 19-24


  1. I can't wait to hear what you think of Persuasion. It's my favorite, I think, though my rankings have been changing so much with this bout of re-readings that it's hard to say for sure.

  2. I agree. Although her people lived worlds away from me in time and place, Jane Austen's Persuasion is my favorite. I think it's the best Austen book for anyone over 30!