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Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen

Volume I, Chapters IX & X

Volume I, Chapters VII & VIII

Volume I, Chapters XI & XII

Summary

Chapter IX

Catherine wakes with the intention of becoming better acquainted with Eleanor Tilney. Before she has the chance, however, John Thorpe arrives at the Allens' with his sister Isabella and Catherine's brother James. The trio pressure Catherine into joining them for a carriage ride—James and Isabella in one carriage, and Catherine and John in the other. During the carriage ride, Catherine attempts to divert John's self- interested monologue, but always fails. She is particularly perplexed by his tendency to exaggerate. One minute he claims that James's carriage is far inferior to John's own and is about to break apart; the next minute, to quiet Catherine's alarm, he claims James's carriage is more than solid enough for the trip. Having been raised by straightforward parents, Catherine is perplexed by John's manipulations, as she is by those of his sister. Still, she decides that despite her brother's approval of John, she does not find John "entirely agreeable."

The group returns to the Allens', and Isabella protests that their trip could not have been three hours long because the time flew by so pleasantly. Catherine speaks to Mrs. Allen and discovers that Henry's father (General Tilney) is in town. Catherine decides that had she known Mrs. Allen was going to run into the Tilneys, she would not have gone on the carriage ride.

Chapter X

Catherine, James, the Allens, and the Thorpes go to the theater. Isabella is her tiresome self, talking Catherine's head off. Isabella chats senselessly about her time with James on the carriage trip. She cannot believe that Catherine is still oblivious to the romance developing between Isabella and James.

The next day, Catherine heads to the Pump-room, a social meeting place, with the intention of finding Eleanor Tilney and becoming better acquainted with her. She spends some time with James and Isabella but gets sick of their whispering, giggling talk (she still hasn't caught on to their flirtation). Catherine finally gets her desired meeting with Eleanor. The two seem to be more similar than Catherine and Isabella are. During the course of the conversation, Catherine praises Henry's dancing skills, asks who he had been dancing with the previous night, and even asks if Eleanor thought Henry's dancing partner was pretty. By the time the two separate, Eleanor is aware that Catherine likes Henry, although Catherine is unaware that she has revealed this.

The following night, Catherine excitedly prepares for the ball, hoping to meet Henry there. She successfully avoids John Thorpe until Henry arrives and asks her to dance. Just as the dance starts, John finds her and acts a bit annoyed. John is not worried when he finds Catherine is dancing with Henry Tilney, for he is sure that Catherine could not like any man but himself. He asks whether Henry might be interested in buying a horse. The dance pulls Catherine away, but Henry meets her once more, indignant at John Thorpe's behavior. He suggests to Catherine that dancing is like a brief marriage, with a set of responsibilities on both sides for the duration of the dance. Catherine does not entirely accept this theory, but she sees his point. Henry tells her not to be so enchanted with Bath, saying eventually she will tire of it. Before the dance ends, he points out his father, General Tilney. The chapter ends with Henry and Eleanor arranging to meet Catherine for a walk the next day, much to Catherine's delight.

Analysis

In these chapters, Catherine begins to make judgments of character at last, even grasping the odiousness of John. The ride with John is predictable. He blathers about his own business, never asking for any opinions from Catherine, expecting only exclamations of wonder or praise. In his egotism, John is as blind to Catherine's indifference toward him as Catherine is unaware of the imminent engagement of James and Isabella, who are flirting in the carriage behind them. Finally, after a carriage ride which would have driven most to a frenzy of irritation, Catherine decides she does not like John Thorpe much, despite his kinship with Isabella and the praises of James. Catherine is not perceptive about motives, or she would understand that Isabella and James praise John to her because they are hoping that she and John will fall in love.

This recognition of John's unpleasantness marks a new level of independence for Catherine. Unable to rely on the perceptive powers of her friend Isabella, who has become attached at the hip to James, Catherine must perceive things on her own.

There is a good example of free indirect discourse (mentioned in the analysis of the last two chapters) in Chapter IX. After returning from the carriage trip, Isabella discovers that it is already past three in the afternoon. The narrator says, "the astonishment of Isabella was hardly to be expressed…'Past three o'clock!' it was inconceivable, incredible, impossible!" This last phrase is not dialogue, and Isabella did not actually utter it, but it mimics the tone that Isabella would have used in referring to the event. This use of free indirect narration is one of Austen's best tools for conveying irony and for satirizing her targets.

Chapter X begins with a reminder that Catherine has hardly perfected her powers of perception, for she has not yet caught on to the romance between James and Isabella. Even Isabella is incredulous at Catherine's naiveté. She probably realizes that Catherine will not help urge James to propose, as Isabella had been hoping. Austen makes Isabella's chatter constant and inane, inviting us to wonder how James can stand it. As Isabella and James whisper away, Catherine decides to make new friends of Eleanor and Henry Tilney. During her conversation with Eleanor, Catherine's inexperience with society is evident when she "artlessly," as Austen writes, comments Henry's skill at dancing. Catherine is artless because she blurts out praise of Henry with no ulterior motive other than to lead Eleanor into a discussion of Henry. Unlike those expert in the rules of social intercourse, Catherine does not realize that her attempts to secretly find out about Henry are transparent to Eleanor, who instantly understands Catherine's romantic interest in him. Naïve Catherine has no idea she has revealed her crush. Eleanor is as perceptive as Henry, with the mild earnestness of Catherine and the social savvy of Isabella, and she instantly understands Catherine.

The conversation between Henry and Catherine as they dance is one of the key exchanges in the novel. It is the first real conversation between the two, and the first time Henry treats Catherine not as a fresh acquaintance, but as a friend. It is possible to argue that in this scene, Henry begins to think of Catherine as a potential wife. He tests her by suggesting that dancing is like a marriage: in both cases, men have the power of choice, women only the power of refusal; it is an engagement between a man and a woman, to the advantage of both; and "once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other until the moment of…dissolution."

Catherine protests at this interpretation of dancing, but gives no reason for her protest. She is shy, and not a practiced flirt, so while she likes Henry, she is uncomfortable even play-acting at marriage with him. Henry satisfies himself that she does not like John and then leads her into a discussion of the merits of Bath. Henry shrewdly investigates whether Catherine is a woman of expensive tastes, or if she would be happy living in a modest country home such as his own home at Woodston. Henry is an accomplished listener and reader of people. He sees the inner value of Catherine, despite her shyness, her naiveté, and the strong personalities that influence her.

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