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Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen | A heroine’s coming of age romance

By Lisa R. Cheng

What was Catherine Morland thinking while she was staying at the Northanger Abbey? In the stormy night, in her room, her curiosity about an old chest in the corner sent her into a frenzy of mystery discovery. She believed this house was not a happy one. The death of the mistress, the serious and ill-tempered general, the quiet although good-natured daughter of the general had made Catherine, a daughter of a clergyman who’d been welcomed as a young guest spend her days at the Abbey in both wonder and perplexity.

For Catherine Morland, seventeen-year-old country girl who was first away from home, every new encounter in Bath was full of fancy. Her beauty and candid nature attracted attention and friendship from every possible connection. At a ball Catherine was charmed by a very amiable young man Henry Tilney, the son of General Tilney who owned Northanger Abbey. Their mutual impression had been built on conversations over novel reading and judgement of human intention. Catherine was also endeared by a new friend Isabella, who became engaged with her brother James Morland. Isabella’s flirtation with Henry Tilney’s brother bewildered Catherine and eventually killed their friendship.

When Catherine was invited by General Tilney to stay at Northanger Abbey she was thrilled. Her fascination about gothic novels and mysteries stirred her enthusiasm in finding secrets she had believed. When her self-imposed belief in the dark secret of Northanger Abbey proved to be false and disappointing, she felt ashamed and wretched.

The very sudden dismissal of her stay at Northanger Abbey by general Tilney was most unpleasant. Catherine was sent home by public carriages. She was devastated and felt very mad about herself for her poor performance as a guest. Unaware of the reason of her dismissal, she was left to believe that her being overly curious about the death of Henry Tilney’s mother had irritated General Tilney. And she doubted that Henry Tilney would ever meet her again.  

Jane Austen at this point made her young heroine look very bad indeed! If she had not done that, as a reader I would not have felt so satisfied when Henry Tilney showed up in the front yard of Morland’s home two days after, intending to offer his hand to Catherine. His affirmation about marrying Catherine regardless his father’s disapproval is the victory in every reader’s heart.

Again, Jane Austen had mocked about the ridicule of social ranking, the irony of human misjudgement, the evil of confinement of women, and the power game through marriages. Throughout the pages, her insights about courtship, human nature and intentions flash brilliance. So much so, the plots, characters and the romance only serve the purpose of sending her strong messages. 

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