Naïve, innocent, and imaginative, Catherine is the protagonist of the novel. Before going to Bath with the Allens, Catherine has never been away from her family home in Fullerton for an extended period of time. Catherine’s main occupation is reading Gothic novels, particularly Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. This leads her to imagine herself as the heroine of a Gothic murder mystery when she visits the Tilneys at Northanger Abbey. Catherine eventually realizes her mistake and repents her accusations of General Tilney, whom she believed played a part in his wife’s death. Catherine matures over the course of the novel and becomes more independent and adept at assessing the true characters of those around her. Her infatuation with Henry deepens into a genuine affection, and her patience is rewarded by their marriage.
Catherine’s brother, James attends Oxford University during the school year, where he enjoys the pleasures of undergraduate life with his friend John Thorpe. James is studying to be a clergyman, although during the course of the novel we only see him in a domestic setting. When James accompanies John on a family vacation to Bath, he falls in love with John’s sister Isabella, and they become engaged. James eventually repents this affair when he discovers Isabella’s disloyalty, and he leaves Bath in a bitter mood.
Mr. and Mrs. Morland
Catherine’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Moreland play only a minor role in the story. They are depicted as warm, loving, and eager to provide for their children within their limited means. They allow their children to go away for long stretches of time, but they also want their children to appreciate their life at home. This is why Mrs. Morland urges Catherine to readjust quickly to her normal routine after she returns from Bath.
Handsome and kind, Henry is the object of Catherine’s affection. He splits his time between his family home at Northanger Abbey and his parish house at Woodston. Henry is steadfast and devoted to his family, particularly his sister. Henry is also realistic and rational, hence why he reprimands Catherine for her imagined Gothic fantasy during her visit. In contrast to Catherine, Henry has read a variety of books in all kinds of subject areas. This gives him an advantage in their conversations, and Henry seeks to increase Catherine’s knowledge of the world and other people’s motivations, particularly in the case of his brother’s flirtation with Isabella. Although he is generally a good son,Henry has a strained relationship with his overbearing father and is not afraid to defy his father’s most unreasonable wishes—this is made most apparent when he proposes to Catherine despite his father’s disapproval.
Eleanor Tilney (Miss Tilney)
Henry’s sister, Miss Tilney is also a loyal and devoted friend to Catherine. Miss Tilney withstands long stretches of loneliness when Henry is gone from Northanger Abbey and she is forced to endure her father’s temper alone. She is eager to serve others and generally self-effacing. Miss Tilney seldom voices her own desires; instead, she sets out to care for her loved ones and make her guest feel at home. Miss Tilney is a passive figure whose self-sacrifices are meant to stand in contrast with Isabella’s active and selfish scheming.
Isabella is an ambitious young woman who befriends Catherine in Bath. Her goal in life is to marry a wealthy man, but this is difficult since she has no fortune. Isabella sets her sights on Catherine’s brother James, and their mutual flirtation leads to their engagement. Upon discovering that James will only have a modest income, Isabella is infuriated and disappointed, but she attempts to hide her feelings from Catherine. When the dashing Captain Tilney arrives in Bath, Isabella begins a new flirtation with him despite being engaged. Her plot to switch suitors is ultimately foiled, and both men leave her.
Captain Frederick Tilney
The oldest child of the Tilney family, Captain Tilney is proud and insolent, much like his father. He flirts with Isabella in Bath for his own amusement only to take off after her engagement is broken off. In this light, Captain Tilney is an egotist who enjoys toying with women’s affections and soliciting their devotion, even at the expense of another man’s happiness.
Isabella’s brother, John is boastful and arrogant. He courts Catherine by taking her out for carriage rides in the country and spends the entirety of their time together bragging about what a good driver he is. John is clueless about other people’s desires and mistakenly assumes that Catherine returns his sentiments. Late in the novel, we find out that John had been spreading inflated rumors of Catherine’s wealth before his hopes were dashed by her rejection.
The despotic father of Henry, Miss Tilney, and Captain Tilney, General Tilney is a proud, materialistic man who spends his days managing his estate at Northanger Abbey. His wife died many years ago, and he avoids entering her former bedroom so that he will not be reminded of her. General Tilney is a gracious host to Catherine during the majority of her stay at his estate, but we find out that his hospitality is motivated by his misguided greed—he wants to advance his family’s own social position and initially thinks that Catherine is a rich, eligible young woman. His anger emerges when he finds out that he was wrong, but he is placated by his daughter's marriage to a nobleman and later gives Henry his consent.
Mr. and Mrs. Allen
Mr. and Mrs. Allen are a wealthy, childless older couple who host Catherine at Bath. Mrs. Allen is obsessed with fashion and the petty gossip of the town. Mr. Allen is more practical. The Allens serve as parental figures for Catherine during their stay at Bath. They introduce her to the festivities that characterize life in the resort town and introduce her to the Thorpes.
Isabella’s mother, Mrs. Thorpe is an indulgent woman who is eager to make her children happy at any cost. She is particularly permissive towards Isabella, her favorite daughter. Mrs. Thorpe is an old friend of Mrs. Allen’s and shares her concern with the emblems of wealth and refinement.
Northanger Abbey Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Northanger Abbey is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
As far as I can see, insecurity largely comes via the theme of youth. Northanger Abbey is concerned with young people and their feelings. Heroines in other Austen novels—Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and Emma Woodhouse in Emma, for...