Volume II, Chapters V & VI
Catherine prepares to leave for Northanger Abbey with the Tilneys. She is nervous and tries to be on her best behavior. General Tilney does his utmost to make her comfortable, but his constant ministrations actually begin to bother Catherine. She is also troubled when the General harshly scolds his son Frederick. When Frederick whispers to his sister Eleanor that he will be glad when they have all left, Catherine thinks this is due to the General's tendency to be rude to his children.
The party leaves with Catherine and Eleanor in one carriage, and the General and Henry in the other. After a brief stop, the General suggests that Catherine ride with Henry instead, an invitation she is more than happy to accept. Catherine and Henry have a long discussion during the ride. He tells her that he does not actually live at Northanger Abbey, but in a house twenty miles away in the town of Woodston, where he is a parson. Catherine tells him how excited she is to see the Abbey, and Henry, amused, teases her, asking if she is prepared for the horrors she will meet there. He then tells a hypothetical story about Catherine's visit, complete with mysterious chests, violent storms, and hidden passages. Catherine is enthralled, but at the end of the story she is ashamed of her eagerness and says she is sure the Abbey is not so terrible.
They reach the Abbey, and it turns out to be modern, to Catherine's disappointment. General Tilney has fixed up everything and even replaced an entire wing of the building. Only a few of the original touches of the old structure remain, such as the arched windows. The General quickly sets about describing everything in the Abbey to Catherine in painful detail, then halts abruptly when he realizes it is time for dinner. Eleanor takes Catherine to the visitor's chamber.
Catherine finds that her chamber is pleasant, and nothing like the haunted one Henry described in his story. She discovers a large chest in one corner and, curious, opens it, only to find some of Eleanor's old hats. Eleanor arrives and hurries Catherine down to dinner, nervous about displeasing the General by being late. When they get downstairs, the General loudly calls for dinner, and Catherine nearly trembles from fear of his ornery behavior. He quickly resumes his pleasant attitude toward Catherine, however. The General comments on the size of his dining parlour and notes that Catherine must be used to a larger one at the Allens. Catherine responds that Mr. Allen's parlour is not half the size of the General's, which pleases him.
That night, a violent storms strikes the Abbey, causing creaks and groans that frighten Catherine. She discovers an odd cabinet at one end of her room and, intensely curious, opens all the drawers. In the story Henry told, Catherine discovered a strange manuscript; in actual fact, Catherine discovers a pile of papers. Before she can read them, however, her candle goes out, and she hears the patter of footsteps. She drops the papers and jumps into bed, tossing and turning the rest of the night in burning curiosity.
Henry's hypothetical tale of Catherine's first night at Northanger Abbey is an elaborate parody of the conventions of Gothic novels, and is filled with references to actual novels. It is one of three major scenes that parody Gothic novels, along with the cabinet scene and the later scene in which Catherine sneaks into the late Mrs. Tilney's old bedroom. Henry is teasing Catherine a little, but also indulging her imagination. He enjoys weaving together the elements of several different Gothic novels in order to impress Catherine. In a way, Henry gives Catherine the Abbey he knows she wants and cannot have. We are disappointed along with Catherine at the discovery that the Abbey is boring.
However, part of Henry's story does come true. In the second parody of the Gothic genre, Austen provides her heroine with a mysterious chest nearly identical to the one described in Henry's story. Catherine clings to the few items in the Abbey that strike her as satisfyingly Gothic, and her imagination does the rest.
Austen's use of free indirect discourse, in which the language of the narrator reflects the perspective and the language of a character, increases and becomes tighter. The focus has shifted almost entirely to Catherine, and it moves to other characters only at those times when Henry has a long dialogue with Catherine—and sometimes not even then. The technique becomes more and more focused with each chapter, and almost all of the second half of the book is told from Catherine's perspective. Also, the narrator has stopped interrupting the story to make comments on Catherine or her situation. The last few pages of chapter VI are good examples of Austen's free indirect form of narration.
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