Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapters I-IV

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter I

Catherine calls on the Tilneys at home, but her “expectations of pleasure” are not met by the rather disappointing visit. Henry and Miss Tilney are not in good spirits, though they are unfailingly polite. Catherine does not attribute this to General Tilney’s presence since he is so warm and welcoming to her, but Austen leads us to believe that his children feel suffocated in his company.

Upon hearing about the visit, Isabella speculates that Henry “never thinks” of Catherine and says that he is very fickle, but Catherine is not in agreement. That evening, Henry asks Catherine to dance at yet another ball. His older brother, Captain Tilney, arrives at the ball and steps away with Henry at the end of the first dance. Catherine is full of suspense until they return and ask Catherine whether Isabella will consent to dance with Captain Tilney. Catherine says that her friend is not dancing that night, and Captain Tilney walks away. Soon, however, Catherine sees Isabella dancing with Captain Tilney. After the dancing is over, Catherine asks Isabella why she changed her mind. Always quick to defend herself, Isabella replies that Captain Tilney would not leave her alone until she agreed to dance with him, yet she also inadvertently reveals that she took pleasure in being his partner. Captain Tilney is such a “smart young fellow,” Isabella says, that “every eye was upon us.”

The two girls are distracted when Isabella receives a letter from James stating that his father has settled on giving the couple a yearly income of 400 pounds. However, they must wait two to three years to get married. Isabella has a “grave face” as soon as she reads this news. She thinks that the income will not be enough to give them the kind of comforts she desires, and her mother attempts to console her. Isabella insinuates that Mr. Moreland is being stingy. Catherine is offended at this thrust against her father. Isabella recovers her wits in time to say that she is only upset at the prospects of the long engagement ahead of them because she is so eager to get married to James. Catherine tries to believe Isabella’s assertion and make amends with her future sister-in-law.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter II

The Allens decide to extend their visit to Bath by three weeks, and Catherine is delighted because she does not want to part with the Tilneys. When Catherine goes over to the Tilneys’ house to share the happy news, Miss Tilney tells her that her father has decided to move the entire household back home at the end of the week. Catherine is crestfallen until General Tilney invites her to their house in the country, Northanger Abbey. Catherine is ecstatic and accepts the invitation. Both the Allens and her parents approve of the visit. Not only will Catherine be near Henry, she will also be able to explore the ancient house, which was originally an abbey where nuns lived. Catherine looks forward to exploring the historical building and wonders that the Tilneys should take no apparent pride in owning such an estate.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter III

Catherine and Isabella reunite at the Pump Room one morning. They sit down on a bench near the entrance, in view of everyone who is arriving. Isabella keeps looking at the door, and Catherine thinks that she is looking for James. She assures her that James will be here soon, but Isabella says that she doesn’t always have to be near her fiancée’s side. Isabella tells Catherine that John is in love with her and wishes to “urge his suit” of marriage. John has told Isabella that Catherine encouraged his attentions before he left Bath. Catherine is shocked. She doesn’t have the slightest affection for John, and she tells Isabella to pass along the message.

Isabella returns the conversation to money matters and continues to fret over the small income James will receive. In the form of seemingly altruistic advice to Catherine, Isabella drops several hints that she regrets accepting James’ proposal. She tells Catherine that “if you are in too great a hurry, you will certainly live to regret it.” Captain Tilney appears and sits down on the bench. Catherine is shocked to hear him flirting with Isabella, and Isabella returning his flirtatious comments. As she listens to their whispered exchange, Catherine feels jealous and betrayed for her brother’s sake, but she wants to believe that Isabella is only “unconsciously” encouraging Captain Tilney’s attentions. As their session in the Pump Room concludes, Catherine dismisses John’s affectionate message, but she cannot forget Isabella’s puzzling behavior.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter IV

Catherine continues to observe Isabella over the course of the next few days. Isabella appears less warm to James than before, and to make matters worse she continues to flirt with Captain Tilney. Catherine appeals to Henry to convince his brother to leave Bath, but Henry says that persuasion is not in his power. He reasons that James should feel secure enough in Isabella’s affection not to be threatened by the presence of Captain Tilney. Catherine is comforted by Henry’s logic. Furthermore, Isabella behaves well during Catherine’s last night in Bath, and she is cautiously optimistic about her brother’s engagement as she leaves for Northanger Abbey.


Austen highlights Isabella’s questionable loyalty to her fiancée in Vol. II, Chapter I. Not only does Isabella agree to dance with Captain Tilney after telling Catherine she won’t dance that night, but her greed is made apparent when she receives the news that she and James will only be provided with a modest income. Ever quick to disguise her disappointment, Isabella resorts to a series of appeals designed to convince everyone else that she is a devoted and self-sacrificing woman. She says that she is only concerned about their small income for her fiancee’s sake and that she never thinks of herself. Austen’s characterization of Isabella is thus marked with dramatic irony: while we know that Isabella thinks only about herself and satisfying her own ambitions to marry well, Catherine does not yet know this (though she is beginning to suspect it).

Vol. II, Chapters I and II are also important because through them we get a fuller portrait of the Tilneys. For the first time, Austen lets us know that the Tilneys are a less-than-ideal family. Like his father General Tilney, Captain Tilney is a proud man who seeks to have his own way in all things. Catherine notes that his “air is more assuming” than Henry’s. Although Catherine is quick to excuse Captain Tilney’s behavior at the ball due to his family name, we see his presumptuous nature when he refuses to leave without dancing with Isabella. Similarly, General Tilney’s abrupt departure from Bath is emblematic of his impatient nature. Catherine’s invitation to visit the Tilneys at Northanger Abbey assures us that she will get a deeper glimpse into the inner workings of their fraught family life.

The friendship between Isabella and Catherine is compromised by the former’s growing flirtation with Captain Tilney in Vol. II, Chapter III. Austen characterizes Isabella’s insincerity through her revealing turns of phrase. In the Pump Room, Isabella says that she wants to sit on a bench in plain view of the entrance because it is “so out of the way.” In reality, Isabella desires both to see Captain Tilney and to be seen by him, a mission that is fulfilled when he appears and begins lavishing her with compliments. Catherine has much cause for concern: her friend’s behavior alienates her from their close association. Catherine’s opinion of Isabella as a respectable and loyal is already shifting, though she is eager to dismiss her friend’s scandalous whispering as mere “thoughtlessness.”

In contrast, Isabella is not nearly as generous with Catherine. Isabella slyly accuses Catherine of leading John to believe that she harbored feelings for him and subsequently changing her mind: “what one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next.” But we already know that Catherine always says what she means, especially to her close friends. Isabella’s charges against Catherine reflect her own state of mind more than they accurately capture Catherine’s behavior with John. It is James, and not John, who stands to be slighted and betrayed by his love interest. Thus, Isabella’s comments serve as an unintentional self-portrait.

Although Catherine dismisses John’s proposal as a ridiculous venture, she remains deeply concerned about her brother’s engagement to Isabella in Chapter IV. When she endeavors to discern Captain Tilney’s feelings from Henry, she is sidetracked by Henry’s assertion that Isabella’s “good behavior” should not be dependent on his brother’s absence. Henry paints an idealized portrait of Isabella’s engagement to James. He imagines that “no disagreement between them can be of any duration” and that they will soon laugh over Captain Tilney’s “passion” after they are married. However, Austen lets us know that no such certainty exists: the very foundation of Isabella’s esteem for James was his supposed financial security. Now that it has diminished, her attention is being spent on his rival suitor.