Austen for Beginners

Northanger Abbey - the plot

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Northanger Abbey – the text

Setting the scene...
  • Catherine Morland is our heroine. The eldest daughter of a clergyman, and one of a numerous family, she is invited by a kind neighbour, Mrs Allen, to accompany her and her husband on a six week trip to Bath, as Mr Allen has been sent there by his doctor to 'take the waters' to cure his gout. Catherine is delighted and off they go.
  • The ladies acquire new dresses on their arrival in Bath, and suitably dressed make their debut at the Upper Rooms. Mrs Allen knows no one there, and needless to say, neither does Catherine. They are undaunted; determined to enjoy themselves, they stay for the entire evening and return home having spoken to no one else.
  • At the Lower Rooms they are luckier; Catherine is introduced to Mr Tilney and dances with him. At the Pump Room next day they meet an old friend of Mrs Allen, Mrs Thorpe, who introduces Catherine to her daughter, Isabella. The two young ladies rapidly become best friends and are soon inseparable. They discover that their brothers know each other at Oxford. But Mr Tilney seems to have disappeared; even though Catherine watches out for him over the next few days, she doesn't spot him.
The Gothic novel theme is introduced
  • Isabella introduces Catherine to The Mysteries of Udolpho, a novel in the Gothic style which is tremendously popular at this period. The two young ladies spend their time alternately discussing novels and looking out for suitable young men. Perfectly normal behaviour, really.
  • Their respective elder brothers arrive in Bath and are immediately enlisted as suitable dance partners at the assemblies; Isabella is particularly struck with the charms of James Morland, but Catherine is less keen on John Thorpe, who seems to talk of nothing but horses.
  • At the next dance, Mr Tilney reappears with his sister, but although he asks Catherine to dance, she has to decline as she is engaged to dance with John Thorpe. She is highly indignant when Mr Thorpe only emerges from the card room long after the dance has started. Mr Tilney speaks to her again during the course of the evening, but does not ask her again to dance. Miss Tilney, however, seems very pleasant, and Catherine is determined to make friends with her.
Miss Morland and the Tilneys get to know each other better
  • Catherine goes on a drive with her brother, Isabella and John Thorpe. She is bored to death by Mr Thorpe, and returns to find that Mrs Allen has met again with the Tilneys while out walking.
  • Miss Tilney is found at last at the Pump-room, and eventually Catherine catches up with Mr Tilney again at the Cotillion Ball. Finally she manages to dance with him and they agree to go on a walk with his sister the following day.
  • It rains the next day and persuaded by John Thorpe that the Tilneys have forgotten all about their walk, Catherine goes with him, his sister and her brother on another drive, only to find on their return that the Tilneys did call for her and she must have offended them by not being there. She is very cross with Mr Thorpe and horrified at what the Tilneys must think of her. She doesn't get much sympathy from Isabella and is rather irritated by her.
  • She meets up with Mr Tilney at the theatre that evening; he is not offended and nor is his sister. Catherine is much relieved, although John Thorpe is still hanging around, irritating her more than ever. They rearrange their walk and in spite of more interference from Mr Thorpe and attempts to persuade her to go on a drive instead, the walk finally takes place.
An engagement and an invitation
  • James Morland proposes to Isabella Thorpe and is accepted. He obtains his father's consent to their marriage, but it cannot take place until he takes orders as a priest in two years' time. The lovers settle down to wait; meanwhile,Captain Tilney, Henry Tilney's elder brother, arrives in Bath and starts flirting with Isabella.
  • Catherine is invited by the Tilneys to go with them to their home, Northanger Abbey and is beside herself with joy. She is disturbed however by Isabella's behaviour, but is hopeful that Captain Tilney will not stay long in Bath after she and the rest of the Tilney family have left.
  • The Tilneys and Catherine leave for Northanger; Henry, well aware of her fondness for Gothic novels, teases Catherine on the way by telling her all sorts of stories about haunted rooms and secret passages, but Northanger has in fact been substantially modernised, in spite of originally being an abbey, and Catherine is rather disappointed.
  • The ancient building and the behaviour of the General, which Catherine considers rather odd at times, all lead her imagination to run away with her. Before long she is imagining all sorts of Gothic horrors - surely the General must have murdered his wife, or has her imprisoned in some remote attic. Henry discovers what she is thinking, and puts a stop to such nonsense - Catherine is mortified, but comforted that he does not seem to think much the worse of her for it.
Isabella's true colours are revealed
  • Catherine receives a letter from her brother James, to say that his engagement to Isabella is over, and that she is now engaged to Captain Tilney. Catherine is upset; Eleanor and Henry are astonished and do not think their father will approve.
  • Henry has his own parsonage over at Woodston, some twenty miles from Northanger, and they all go to dinner there with him the following week. The General drops some broad hints in Catherine's direction, which lead her to suspect that he hopes that she will marry Henry, but Henry himself has not given her any reason to believe that he thinks so too.
  • Catherine receives a letter from Isabella, which gives the news that Captain Tilney has left Bath and they are not engaged. She pretends that the engagement to James has never been broken and asks Catherine to get her brother to write to her. Catherine is indignant, and does not reply to the letter. The Tilneys are relieved that their brother is not to marry Isabella, and they and Catherine agree that it has all turned out for the best, although Catherine is sorry she ever made a friend of Isabella.
The General is enraged
  • General Tilney goes away to London on business and Henry, Eleanor and Catherine are left alone at Northanger. They have a most enjoyable time together, although Henry has to leave for one night to take services at Woodston.
  • While Henry is gone, the General arrives back late at night. Catherine does not see him, but Eleanor is told that Catherine must be packed off home early the next morning. Catherine is distraught, not knowing what she has done to offend the General, and but she has no choice and leaves as instructed.
  • Two days later, Henry arrives at Catherine's home. He declares his love for her and asks her to marry him; she joyfully accepts. The General's fury at Catherine is explained; he had been led to believe, by John Thorpe, that she was an heiress to a considerable fortune, so he encouraged Henry to court her. It has now been made clear to him that this is not the case, so he has ordered Henry not to think of her again. Henry takes no notice and promptly takes himself to propose to Catherine.
The General is made happy - and so is everyone else
  • The General refuses his consent to the marriage of Henry and Catherine, and Catherine's parents will not give theirs until his is obtained. Then Eleanor announces her engagement to a viscount, and the General is so delighted by her marriage to a man she not only loves, but who is titled, landed and rich, he relents and gives Henry and Catherine his consent.
  • Henry and Catherine are married; the General discovers her family were not as poor or as objectionable as he thought they were, and everyone is happy.

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Austen for Beginners 2007

Austen for Beginners   Pride and Prejudice   Sense and Sensibility   Emma   Mansfield Park   Northanger Abbey   Persuasion