Artboard Created with Sketch. Close Search Dialog
! Error Created with Sketch.

Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen

Volume I, Chapters IX & X

Summary Volume I, Chapters IX & X

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.