Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey Summary and Analysis of Volume I, Chapters IX-XII

Summary of Vol. I, Chapter IX

After the ball, Catherine recoils from her disappointment at not being able to dance with Henry. She recovers her spirits in time to make preparations to go to the Pump Room the next morning, where she hopes to run into Henry’s sister Miss Tilney. But just as she is about to set off, John Thorpe arrives at the Allens’ house and reminds Catherine that she promised to go on a carriage ride with him to Claverton Down. Catherine reluctantly goes with John, and Isabella and James follow them in another carriage. John brags about his skill handling horses, and Catherine begins to doubt that he is as agreeable as Isabella made him out to seem. John asks if Mr. Allen is rich. Catherine says that he is, and John insinuates that Catherine might inherit his fortune since the Allens are childless.

John and Catherine go on to banter about college life in Oxford before John reverts to bragging about his skill as a horseman. Catherine begins to find his company extremely tiresome. When they return to the Allens, Isabella expresses her surprise that it is already past three o’clock, which means that she has to return directly home. Catherine is left alone with Mrs. Allen, who reveals that she took a walk with Henry and Miss Tilney that day. Mrs. Allen reveals that Mrs. Tilney, their mother, was a rich woman who died some years ago, leaving her daughter a pearl necklace. Catherine feels “most particularly unfortunate” at missing a meeting with Henry and his sister.

Summary of Vol. I, Chapter X

Chapter X opens at the theater, where Catherine and Isabella have reconvened only hours after they returned from the carriage ride to Claverton Down. Isabella compliments Catherine profusely on her hairstyle and assures her that John is “quite in love” with her. Isabella then recounts her carriage trip with James and how their “opinions were so exactly the same, it was quite ridiculous.” Isabella spends the rest of the evening talking with James, and Catherine begins to feel left out and alienated. She doubts “the happiness of a situation which confining her entirely to her friend and brother, gave her very little share in the notice of either.”

Luckily, Miss Tilney appears and begins exchanging pleasantries with Catherine. Catherine remarks that Henry dances very well, thus betraying her feelings for him unintentionally. Miss Tilney tells Catherine that they will be at the cotillion ball tomorrow, and Catherine spends that night debating which dress she will wear for the ball.

At the cotillion ball, Isabella dances with James, and Catherine does her best to avoid John. She is pleased when Henry finds her and asks her to dance again. This time she grants his request. John Thorpe interrupts them briefly and complains that Catherine already pledged to be his partner. When he realizes that Henry is Catherine’s partner, he acknowledges that Henry is a “good figure of a man” and asks Catherine if Henry wants to buy a horse that his friend is selling. John moves away, and Henry complains that he had “no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me.” Henry turns the conversation to a metaphorical discussion comparing the relationship between dancing partners to a marriage contract. They go on to discuss Bath, and Catherine insists that she finds it much more amusing than her hometown in the country.

Catherine sees Henry’s father General Tilney, a handsome and imposing man across the room, and she is impressed by his appearance. The evening concludes with Miss Tilney inviting Catherine to go on a walk with her and Henry tomorrow morning, provided that it doesn’t rain. Catherine is full of anticipation as the ball concludes.

Summary of Vol. I, Chapter XI

On the morning that she is scheduled to go for a walk in the countryside with the Tilney, Catherine is dismayed to wake up to a cloudy day. It begins to rain as Catherine watches through the window. The walk is scheduled for twelve o’clock, and Catherine waits for the Tilneys until half past twelve. She is summoned to go for a carriage ride with John, Isabella, and James. At first she refuses to go, but John tells her that he just saw Henry and Miss Tilney driving away from Bath in a carriage. Catherine agrees to go with John.

As soon as they head out, Catherine sees Henry and Miss Tilney walking down the street. Catherine implores John to stop the carriage, but he only goes faster. Catherine consoles herself with the prospects of seeing Blaize Castle, a country house, and she imagines that it will meet her expectations of encountering a Gothic castle with “winding vaults” and a “low, grating door.” However, the traveling party have set out too late to reach their destination, and Catherine feels let down for a second time that day. The rest of the ride is spoiled for Catherine. When she comes home to the Allens, the footman reveals that the Tilneys called for her just minutes after she departed. Isabella makes light of Catherine’s distress that night when they gather at the Thorpes to play cards.

Summary of Vol. I, Chapter XII

Catherine goes to the Tilneys’ house the next day to seek out Miss Tilney and explain why they saw her on the carriage with John, but their servant tells her that Miss Tilney is not at home. As she starts back to the Allens, Catherine spots Miss Tilney exiting her house with her father. Catherine is “dejected and humbled” but manages to enjoy herself at the theater that night until she sees Henry in the opposite box. Henry bows to her stiffly, and Catherine almost rushes over to make amends with him. After the play, Henry visits Catherine’s box, and Catherine explains she was lead to believe that he and his sister had already gone out. Henry accepts her explanation. Catherine is puzzled to see John talking with General Tilney and looking in her direction. John tells Catherine that he was discussing her with General Tilney, and both of the men agreed that Catherine is the “finest girl in Bath.” Catherine is flattered to be singled out by General Tilney, but she does not enjoy John’s compliment. Nonetheless, she reflects that the evening had done “more, much more, for her than could have been expected.”


Austen establishes two sets of parallel relationships in Chapters IX and X. The flirtation between Isabella and James intensifies, as made apparent by Isabella’s coy comments to Catherine at the theater. While Isabella insists that she is glad Catherine was not there to tease her and James about their shared opinions during the carriage ride, we may infer that Isabella enjoys testing Catherine’s reactions just as much as she enjoys flirting with her brother. As a younger and more inexperienced woman, Catherine serves as Isabella’s ideal audience in the theater of desire that masquerades as polite society. Although Isabella privileges the notion of privacy here, she is much more concerned with gaining a reputation as a public success, whether it is as the most beautiful girl at the ball or as the object of James’ attention. On his end, James seems just as infatuated with Isabella as she is with him, although he is less concerned with the propriety of his actions—this is why is he unafraid to ask Isabella to dance past the two-dance limit and potentially set off rumors of their growing attachment.

In contrast, Catherine comes to find John’s company suffocating. John’s character is boisterous, loud, and self-aggrandizing, and his obsession with horses makes the carriage ride an exercise in patience for Catherine. Catherine’s thoughts are constantly diverted by the dawning knowledge that John’s vanity leads him to make “idle assertions and impudent falsehoods.” For a girl who has seen so little of the world up until now, this is a rather shocking realization. It is no wonder that Catherine is eager to be distracted by news of the Tilney family. After the carriage ride, Mrs. Allen’s revelation to Catherine that Mrs. Tilney is dead is an instance of foreshadowing: the second part of the novel will deal substantially with Catherine’s quest to determine the cause of Mrs. Tilney’s death.

For now, Catherine’s acquaintance with the Tilney family is still in its first stages. Catherine’s desire to become friends with Miss Tilney mirrors Isabella’s desire to become friends with Catherine, but with a crucial difference. While Isabella wants to use Catherine as a means to reach James, we may infer that Catherine wants to be friends with Miss Tilney for her own sake. Nonetheless, Miss Tilney provides Catherine with crucial information regarding Henry’s plans to attend the cotillion ball.

In Chapter 10, Henry’s extended metaphor comparing a dance to a marriage is an example of his verbal wit. Much like a marriage, Henry says, in a marriage “fidelity and complaisance” are the “principal duties”: both men and women must be faithful to the partners they have chosen and not covet the partners of others. However, men have the “advantage” of choosing their partners in both a dance and a marriage, while women only have the “power of refusal.” While Catherine dismisses the validity of the comparison, she is struck by the force of Henry’s comparison. Unlike her one-sided conversation with John, Catherine’s exchange with Henry shows us that she is unafraid to speak her mind in the presence of good company.

Catherine’s readerly imagination is ignited by the mention of Blaize Castle during her second carriage ride with John. She invests the image of the castle with the preconceptions she has gained from reading Radcliffe’s Gothic novel: “the delight of exploring an edifice like Udolpho, as her fancy represented Blaize Castle to be, was such a counterpoise of good, as might console her for almost anything.” However, Catherine’s romantic associations with the unseen house are thwarted when they turn back early, and her desire to indulge in a Gothic fantasy does not truly manifest itself until later in the novel, when she visits the Tilney estate. Thus, the failed carriage ride to Blaize Castle is a preparatory episode that spells out Catherine’s wish to match her reality to the books she has read, namely Radcliffe’s novel.

Isabella’s friendship with Catherine has visibly cooled by the closing scene of Chapter XI. Isabella is insensitive to Catherine’s plight about the Tilneys. Catherine could “almost have accused Isabella of being wanting in tenderness towards herself and her sorrows.” Isabella’s hypocrisy is also apparent to the reader when she berates the Tilneys for failing to appear on time. She tells Catherine that “I never mind going through anything, where a friend is concerned,” but we already know that she is out to serve her own selfish interests.

In Chapter XII, Catherine’s perception that Henry looked angry with her at the theater leads us to believe that he has feelings for her (which explains why he was upset that she had apparently snubbed him while riding in John’s carriage). This is an insight that Catherine does not yet share. Her tone of searching wonder is “thoroughly artless:” unlike Isabella, Catherine does not know how to construct phrases with a double meaning. Her innocence and lack of guile contrasts sharply with Isabella’s coy behavior.