Essay about the book Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. Good for homework assignments.
How does the protagonist of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland, change over the course of the novel
In Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbeythe protagonist Catherine Morland undergoes the mental transition from the naivety of childhood to the maturity of marriage, even though the events of the novel take place in under a year. Another change which occurs in this novel is the loss of both Catherine’s innocence and imagination as she transforms into a more skeptical adult, and moves from her parental home to her marital home. The other transition which occurs in this novel is Catherine’s journey from being an unlikely heroine, as she learns from her mistakes and becomes accustomed to the outside world, becoming much less ignorant and being able to read people much more easily than she could before.
Catherine finds herself in Bath without ‘any acquaintances’, and wishes for one, while Mrs. Allen highlights this fact again and again: ‘That is very disagreeable. I wish we had a large acquaintance here’ and finds herself feeling very awkward at her first ball in Bath. This highlights that Catherine does not know many people outside of her own town. Later on at the ball Catherine overhears two men calling her ‘pretty’ and at once becomes very excited, which highlights her naivety once again by showing that she has not really been complimented much by other people. Later on in the novel Catherine meets her first acquaintances in Bath in the form of Henry Tilney, Isabella Thorpe, John Thorpe and her own brother James. These people begin her social development and as Catherine makes more connections for the future her confidence increases, but she is still unable to read expression or stand up for herself. For example Catherine does not object to, the fickleness of Isabella in chapter 8, where Isabella vows ‘I would not stand up without you for all the world; for if I did we should certainly be separated the whole evening’, but three minutes later Isabella leaves Catherine. Catherine has ‘too much good nature to make any opposition’.
Also, at the same dance, John Thorpe says that he will return quickly, but Catherine can ‘not help being vexed at the non-appearance of Mr. Thorpe’, and cannot see how rude he is because she always sees the best in people, having not really had a bad experience with anyone. ‘She could not help being vexed at the non-appearance of Mr. Thorpe’. All this illustrates that Catherine, even though her social life has developed, has not lost her gaucheness yet, and still is unable to read people’s personalities and understand why they may not follow their morals as closely as Catherine follows her own.
Another scene which highlights this ignorance is in chapter fifteen. ‘Isabella, embracing Catherine, thus began: – “Yes, my dear Catherine, it is so indeed; your penetration has not deceived you. – Oh! That arch eye of yours! – It sees through every thing.” Catherine replied only by a look of wondering ignorance.’ This occurs when Isabella Thorpe who has been flirting with James for the majority of her time in Bath is about to tell Catherine about her engagement to James, and Isabella makes the assumption that Catherine is just as perceptive as Isabella is herself. From this we deduce that Catherine is obtuse in the situation and has no idea what Catherine is talking about. She cannot comprehend people’s true intentions or motivations, while the reader and the rest of Bath understand the imminent engagement of James and Isabella. This shows that by this stage in the novel Catherine still does not have the understanding or insight into the motivations of others.
The next stage in Catherine’s development is her stay at Northanger Abbey. This part of the novel shows the strengthening of relations with both Henry and Eleanor Tilney and the finalization of her social development, while her ignorance remains for part of the stay; for example, the very blatant hints which General Tilney drops about a perspective marriage between Henry and Catherine are easy to see for the reader but they go straight over Catherine’s head. The way that Catherine thinks that General Tilney murdered his wife is another key point that illustrates that Catherine often confuses fiction with real life believing that a bad-tempered widower is an obvious murder suspect – which would be a very typical plot device in a gothic novel. This once again shows that Catherine has not yet learnt to control her imagination and often sees people as though she herself was in a Gothic novel.
The true turning point of Catherine’s change is where she is caught by Henry Tilney on her return from the late Mrs. Tilney’s bedroom. Henry asks Catherine a few questions which she answers honestly, displaying the moral integrity which she has kept for the entirety of the novel ‘‘I have been,’ said Catherine, looking down, ‘to see your mother’s room.’’. After receiving a scolding from Henry, Catherine runs to her room crying ashamedly. Later at dinner, when Henry pays more attention to her, Catherine realizes that ‘Her thoughts being still chiefly fixed on what she had with such causeless terror felt and done, nothing could shortly be clearer than that it had been all a voluntary, self-created delusion…Among the Alps and Pyrenees, perhaps, there were no mixed characters… [but] among the English, she believed, in their hearts and habits, there was a general though unequal mixture of good and bad.’ This quote from chapter 25 shows that Catherine has learnt a great deal from her speculation about General Tilney and her resultant scolding from Henry. ‘The Alps and the Pyrenees’ refers to the typical Gothic settings that Catherine has been reading about. Catherine realizes the thing is that in these novels people are at one extreme or the other, good or bad, rather than their being a middle ground, but in the real world, Catherine finally understands that people can be both good and bad. In this passage, Austen displays that her project was to create fiction that reflects the true world. Later in this chapter Catherine receives a letter from her brother, James, who specifies that the engagement is off between him and Isabella and he implies that she is get going to engaged to Frederick Tilney instead. Catherine finds herself surprised at the fact that she is not sad to have lost a friend like Isabella. This chapter is the turning point for Catherine and shows her loss of ignorance and a gain in maturity.
Catherine’s new-found maturity is put to the test when she is cast out from Northanger Abbey by General Tilney and made to make her own way home via post. This symbolizes Catherine’s new life as an adult with no-one but herself to rely on. Catherine is still puzzled by her abrupt removal from the Abbey but when Catherine returns home she sulks for two days, but then Henry Tilney comes and asks her to marry him. All this seems to the reader to be a tacked on happy ending because the marriage is never described. This shift in direction moves the focus from the marriage onto Catherine’s personal development from her parental home to her marital one.
Northanger Abbey is a Bildungsroman,which is a tale where a heroine or hero loses their youthful naivety. At the beginning of the novel Catherine is unable to see people’s true motives, for example Isabella flirting with her brother James. Then later on when she realizes this, she is unable to see that Isabella is also flirting with Frederick Tilney. She assumes that people do things for the same reason as she does and always act with good morals, as Henry points out, but in reality not many people she knows do. Catherine sees the best in everyone, but as the novel continues she begins to understand people and their motivations. This is often distorted by her love for Gothic fiction with her overactive imagination, but after she receives a scolding from Henry Tilney over her assumptions of General Tilney, she learns that the nature of people does not have to be either good or bad, as in Gothic fiction, because real life is never as black and white as it is often portrayed in the novels she reads.