The protagonist of Northanger Abbey. Catherine is seventeen years old, and has spent all her life in her family's modest home in the rural area of Fullerton. While Catherine has read many novels (particularly Gothic novels), she is very inexperienced at reading people. Her naiveté about the world and about the motivations and character of the people she meets is an endless source of confusion and frustration for her. Nonetheless, Catherine is very intelligent and learns from her mistakes, and can also be witty. Her strongest attributes are her integrity and caring nature.
Henry Tilney is a 26-year-old parson in a small village called Woodston. He is intelligent, well-tempered, and attuned to the motivations and behavior of those around him. He is very well read, and enjoys novels as much as history books. He is good natured, but has a wry cynical view of human behavior. He is often amused at the folly of others, but he takes care to gently instruct them properly, if possible, particularly in the case of the naïve Catherine.
Henry's younger sister, Eleanor is a shy, quiet young woman. She shares an interest in reading with her brother, but for the most part, her reserve prevents her from having many friends. Like her brothers, Eleanor is often subject to the somewhat tyrannical behavior of her father, General Tilney.
The domineering father of Henry, Eleanor and Captain Tilney. He is a widower. Like several characters in the novel (such as Mrs. Allen), the General is very concerned with material things. He takes great pride in his home, Northanger Abbey, which he has refurbished himself. He is preoccupied with both earning money and spending it. He enjoys eating a large dinner and having the best of everything, and he wants his children to marry wealthy people. He has a gruff nature which make some, such as Catherine Morland, think poorly of him.
One Mrs. Thorpe's three daughters, and the sister of John Thorpe. She is Catherine's best friend for the first half of the novel. Isabella is attractive and very spirited, but like her mother, she is a gossip and often concerned with superficial things. She enjoys flirting with many young men, which bothers the more reserved Catherine. Ultimately, Isabella's nature causes her to lose both James and her other boyfriend, Frederick Tilney.
The brother of Isabella, he is conceited, arrogant, and given to boasting and exaggeration. He talks endlessly and rarely listens. Like his sister, John is given to superficiality. John tries to woo Catherine, but his arrogance quickly turns her against him.
The brother of Catherine and a fellow student of John Thorpe at Oxford University. James is mild-mannered and very caring, like his sister. James falls for Isabella Thorpe and becomes engaged to her, but breaks off the engagement when she begins a flirtation with Frederick Tilney.
Captain Frederick Tilney (often referred to simply as "Captain Tilney") is the oldest sibling in the Tilney family. Unlike his brother Henry or his sister Eleanor, Frederick is a flirt and given to mischief. Austen suggests that Frederick is the Tilney child closest in character to General Tilney by identifying both men by their ranks rather than by their names. Frederick flirts with Isabella Thorpe and leads her to break off her engagement with James Morland, then abandons her in Bath.
The couple that invites Catherine to go to Bath with them. Like Catherine's family, the Allens live in the rural town of Fullerton. They are older and wealthier than the Morlands, but they are childless, and they see Catherine as a kind of surrogate daughter. Mr. Allen is a practical man who spends most of his time in Bath playing cards; Mrs. Allen is greatly concerned with fashion, and spends her time either shopping, knitting, or talking to Mrs. Thorpe.
Mrs. Thorpe is the widowed mother of Isabella and of two other daughters. Like her daughter, she is concerned primarily with gossip, fashion, and money. In conversation with her friend Mrs. Allen, Mrs. Thorpe talks mostly about her pride in her children (Mrs. Allen has no children) while Mrs. Allen talks about her gowns (Mrs. Thorpe is not nearly as wealthy as the Allens).
The family, which includes Catherine and James, is from the rural town of Fullerton. We visit the Morlands only briefly, at the beginning and end of the novel. Mr. and Mrs. Morland are relatively simple, practical folk, especially compared to people like Mrs. Thorpe and General Tilney. Both James and Catherine must get the approval of their parents before they can marry their prospective spouses.