In Jane Austen’s words, Henry Tilney, the hero of Northanger Abbey, seemed to be about “four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it.”
In addition he came from a respectable family in Gloucestershire. A second son, he had just recently been ordained. Even more attractive than his respectability are his sense of humor, his close relationship with his sister, and the fact that he can make such insightful statements as this one:
“Miss Morland, no one can think more highly of the understanding of women than I do. In my opinion, nature has given them so much that they never find it necessary to use more than half.”
Catherine, NA’s heroine, is sweet, adorable, and unworldly. As she reads her favorite gothic novels, she can imagine herself in the same perilous situations as the fictional heroines. Her imagination is so vivid that her unsupported suspicions about Henry’s mother’s death places her in an awkward situation with the young man who has stolen her heart. Catherine’s infatuation with Henry is such that her flattery flatters his ego, and he starts to fall in love with her. When General Tilney boots Catherine unceremoniously out of Northanger Abbey, unchaperoned and in the middle of the night, Henry’s eyes are opened to his father’s unpardonable behavior. He sees that in one sense, Catherine was right about his father’s monstrous behavior.
As for Catherine, who in this world has not met a young coltish miss who suddenly grows up and fits this description by Jane?:
At fifteen, appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexion improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart; she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. “Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl – she is almost pretty today,” were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.
In fact, these two characters are so likable, that one tends to forget that Jane wrote Northanger Abbey as a spoof of the Gothic novel so wildly popular at the turn of the 19th century. For an excellent review of the upcoming Masterpiece Classic presentation this Sunday at 9 p.m. EST, visit Remotely Connected and read Heather Laurence’s and Natalie Zee Drieu’s excellent thoughts on this film adaptation.
Read my other Northanger Abbey posts here.
Update: Arti just reminded me of the Andrew Davies interview yesterday, which I forgot to include. Click here to enter Arti’s site, Ripple Effects, and read the interview. You can also find Mr. Davies NPR interview on Jane Austen Today. Click here to listen.