Skip over navigation

Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen

Volume I, Chapters XIII, XIV, & XV

Volume I, Chapters XI & XII

Volume II, Chapters I & II


Chapter XIII

John, James and Isabella have made plans to visit Clifton again. They come to collect Catherine, but she has already made plans to take a walk with Henry and Eleanor. The trio put tremendous pressure on Catherine to go, but she remains steadfast in her refusal. This puts a strain on the friendship between Isabella and Catherine. Alhough Isabella has ignored Catherine for several days now, she makes her feel guilty for refusing to come. Isabella even makes a snide comment that Catherine has "no great struggle" in choosing between the trio and the Tilneys, a comment that bothers Catherine enough to pull away from Isabella. John takes the initiative and, without Catherine's knowledge, tells Eleanor that Catherine cannot go for the walk. When John tells her this, Catherine is outraged and immediately leaves to join Henry and Eleanor and apologize for John's behavior. John calls Catherine "obstinate," but James restrains him from chasing after her.

Catherine runs to the Tilney's Bath residence and explains what happened, with her apologies. There she meets General Tilney for the first time, and he is very gracious to her. Catherine spends some time talking to Eleanor and the General, and at the end of their conversation, the General invites Catherine to dine with them some day soon. Catherine returns to the Allens'. She uses their disapproval of the Clifton scheme to justify not joining that group. Mr. Allen even advises Catherine not to go out with John Thorpe any more, and Catherine gladly agrees.

Chapter XIV

The morning arrives with no fresh invitations from James, Isabella, and John. Catherine goes on her walk with Henry and Eleanor. Catherine, timid from her encounter with John, mentions novels, but suggests that Henry might not read them since they are not "clever enough" for gentlemen like him. Henry responds that those who have no pleasure in a novel must be "intolerably stupid." Henry allows himself a little vanity by noting the "hundreds and hundreds" of novels that he has read. Henry quibbles with Catherine's use of the word "nice," revealing himself to be a linguistic perfectionist, for which Eleanor playfully chides him. Catherine notes how much she prefers novels to history books, and Henry tries to defend historians and the value of the books they write.

The Tilneys then begin to discuss the landscape in terms of drawing, and Catherine soon finds herself out of her element. She knows none of the artistic terms, and is a little ashamed of her ignorance. The narrator defends Catherine by noting that many men are attracted to well-mannered women with an ignorant mind if they are eager to learn. After Catherine asks many questions, Henry begins teaching her to see the world through the eyes of an artist, and is satisfied that she has "a good deal of natural taste." Catherine notes that something "shocking will soon come out in London," referring to a new Gothic novel; but Eleanor mistakenly thinks Catherine means something like a riot or a conspiracy of war. Henry makes light fun of the intelligence of women. Eleanor assures Catherine that he does not really think this way, but Henry remains playfully defiant. Upon returning to Bath, Catherine discovers from one of Isabella's younger sisters that James, Isabella, and John went to Clifton anyway, with one of the other Thorpe sisters.

Chapter XV

Catherine receives a note from Isabella, bidding her to visit as soon as possible. Catherine goes to Isabella's and discovers that her friend is engaged to James. Isabella praises James, and expresses her worries over his parents' consent to the marriage. Catherine assures her their consent is certain. Isabella expresses some doubt due to her relative poverty compared to James, for she has not yet realized that the Morlands are not that much richer than her own family. Catherine spends the rest of the day discussing the details with the Thorpes, and the next day a letter arrives from James telling of his parents' consent. The chapter ends in a brief scene between Catherine and John Thorpe, who is leaving Bath for several weeks. John hints that he is interested in marrying Catherine, but she is unaware of his intentions. John leaves Bath convinced that Catherine wishes to marry him.


In this chapter, Catherine splits definitively from Isabella and begins to strengthen her friendship with Eleanor. Chapter XIII makes us feel tense and worried that Catherine will cave in to the inconsiderate demands of James, Isabella, and John. When John lies to the Tilneys, telling them that Catherine cannot go for a walk, he confirms our opinion of him as a selfish, conceited twit. Of all the characters in the novel, including Isabella, John is the most self-obsessed, and the most oblivious to the feelings of others. Even Isabella can tell how much Catherine likes Henry—although Isabella might be attuned to it because she knows it could cause problems in her relationship with James. Catherine's decision to forego the trip to Clifton is essentially a rejection of Isabella, though she does not think of it in those terms.

The long dialogue between Henry, Catherine and Eleanor during the walk is one of the major set pieces of the book. It allows Henry a chance to flaunt his linguistic wit and to playfully show off a bit. He is flirting, although Catherine does not notice it. The discussion ranges from the virtues of novels to the intricacies of language and the intelligence of women. Henry remains playful throughout, and Catherine is enchanted by him. The dialogue in this section sparkles. Catherine gets to speak much more in the presence of Eleanor and Henry than she ever did with Isabella or John. In fact, except for the discussion of drawing, in which Catherine is out of her element, Catherine speaks more than Eleanor.

The narrator intervenes only at one point, commenting when Catherine is ashamed of her lack of artistic knowledge. When Catherine expresses her desire to learn, Henry is more than happy to instruct her, and it is likely that this instruction makes Catherine and Henry feel closer. But the narrator defends Catherine, saying her ignorance is nothing to be ashamed of and furthermore, it actually makes girls like Catherine more attractive to men "too reasonable and too well-informed themselves to desire any thing more in woman than ignorance." Henry enjoys a young, curious mind.

This brings up one problematic interpretation of Henry Tilney. Literary critic Marilyn Butler points out that many critics have interpreted Henry's tendency to "teach" Catherine as patronizing, perhaps even bullying. People of this opinion say that Henry likes Catherine because she has an empty mind that he can fill as he likes, molding her to his pleasure. This is not the only interpretation, however. Catherine is not a malleable innocent ripe for victimhood. She can be very resistant when she wants, as her interactions with Isabella and John prove. She only goes on the first carriage ride with John because she wants to see a castle, and when she is pushed to go a second time, she refuses despite their absurd pressure and scheming. Catherine has already partially rejected Henry's theory that dancing is like marriage (see Volume I, Chapter X). In this chapter, Henry is a bit patronizing toward Catherine and Isabella, but he is being playful, and showing off for Catherine.

Chapter XV contains one of the most amusing scenes in the novel. When Catherine goes to Isabella's and discovers the engagement, she waits outside for a few minutes, chatting with Isabella's sister. Then Isabella floats in, glowing, and seeing Catherine's surprised face, she says, "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." We know Catherine well by now, and know that the chances of her guessing anything are slim. Indeed, she has not guessed at the engagement. This ignorance is due to her innocence of mind and her lack of life experience. Leaps of intuition, such as the idea of James and Isabella becoming engaged, are out of her experience. It is not a problem of her intelligence, and the narrator never suggests that it is. Catherine simply has a long way to go in terms of reading people.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us