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Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen

Volume I, Chapters I & II

Summary Volume I, Chapters I & II

Chapter II introduces the satirical irony that the narrator will often employ. In describing the state of Catherine's mother prior to her daughter's departure, the narrator says, "when the hour of departure drew near, the maternal anxiety of Mrs. Morland will naturally be supposed to be most severe…cautions against the violence of such noblemen and baronets as delight in forcing young ladies away to some remote farm-house must, at such a moment, relieve the fulness of her heart." With her sarcasm, the narrator suggests that Mrs. Morland defies expectations by not minding that her daughter is leaving. These sentences also play on the conventional plots of Gothic novels, as well mainstream works such as Samuel Richardson's Pamela, in which a young lady's virtue is tested by a lecherous nobleman. Austen creates a comic effect by contrasting her imagined reader's expectations with the pedestrian truth of the matter: Mrs. Morland, a relatively simple and practical woman, has no inclination to deluge her daughter with cautionary advice. Thus, there is no dark presentiment of danger, as there might be in a standard Gothic novel's plot.

The rest of the chapter introduces Mrs. Allen and gives the reader Catherine's first impressions of Bath. Mrs. Allen is greatly concerned with fashion, with gowns and dresses and what others are wearing in comparison to her own clothes. She is a passive character, making little or no effort to meet new people, but simply (and repeatedly) lamenting her lack of friends in Bath. Aside from a light conversation with a nameless gentleman, the women are left with no one to talk to until Mr. Allen returns from the card-room. The chapter ends happily when Catherine hears two young men admiring her. The narrator again draws our attention to the difference between sweet, innocent Catherine and the heroines of novels, saying "[Catherine] felt more obliged to the two young men for this simple praise than a true quality heroine would have been for fifteen sonnets in celebration of her charms."