Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapters V-IX

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter V

Catherine leaves Bath at the beginning of Chapter V. She is excited to go see the Tilney family home, but the trip there is not altogether pleasant. First, General Tilney yells at his son Captain Tilney for being late to breakfast. Once they are underway, the General is angry with the waiters at an inn where they stop for lunch. The highlight of the trip comes when Catherine switches carriages and gets to ride with Henry.

Henry tells Catherine that he normally splits his time between Northanger Abbey and Woodston, where he maintains a parsonage house. Catherine, however, is more interested to hear about Northanger Abbey. Henry invents a scary story for Catherine about the Abbey, borrowing details from the Gothic novels he has read. Catherine is completely engrossed in the story about a haunted chamber and a secret passageway, but Henry cuts the story short because he is “too much amused by the interest he had raised.” When they reach the Abbey, Catherine discovers that it is a modernized house. The General announces that it is dinnertime, and Miss Tilney urges Catherine to hurry in her preparations for dinner.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter VI

As soon as Catherine finds herself alone in the bedroom she has been assigned to at Northanger Abbey, she finds a very old chest. She is excited and tries to open the lock before she is interrupted by a maid. Catherine dismisses the maid and finally lifts back the lid of the chest, only to reveal a white cotton quilt. Miss Tilney enters the room, and Catherine is embarrassed to be caught in the act of rifling through the chest. Luckily, Miss Tilney only mentions that the chest has been in her family for many generations, and the two young ladies proceed to dinner. The Tilneys and Catherine dine in a large, well-appointed room, and General Tilney is delighted when Catherine tells him that Mr. Allen’s dining room is only half as big.

That night, while a storm rages outside, Catherine tries to comfort herself by going to sleep. However, she sees an “old-fashioned black cabinet, which, though in a situation conspicuous enough, had never caught her notice before.” Catherine takes her candle and opens the cabinet. There is a small door in the back of the cabinet, and she opens it to find a manuscript. It is too dim to read, so Catherine saves the manuscript for the next morning.

Summary of Volume II, Chapter VII

Catherine wakes up the next morning to read the mysterious manuscript. She discovers that it is actually an inventory for linens and other household items. She puts the papers back in the cabinet, “impatient to get rid of those evidences of her folly.” At breakfast that day, Catherine does her best to make pleasant conversation and hide her shame. Henry leaves for Woodston for a few days, and once he is gone Catherine goes for a walk with General Tilney and his daughter to tour the grounds of Northanger Abbey.

The General directs them to his greenhouse, where he grows a variety of exotic fruits and flowers. The General leaves them to attend to a garden task, and Catherine and Miss Tilney proceed to walk down a shady path that was a favorite place of the deceased Mrs. Tilney. Catherine learns that the General refuses to walk down this path and suspects that he did not love his wife. When she also learns that he refuses to hang his dead wife’s portrait in his room, Catherine is convinced that the General was a cruel husband who mistreated Mrs. Tilney.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter VIII

The General reappears from the garden, and he gives Catherine a tour of the house with Miss Tilney by her side. The drawing room, library, and kitchen strike Catherine as well-decorated, but she is dissatisfied because she wants to see the hidden, unused rooms of the house. They walk through the bedrooms and come to a set of folding doors at the end of a long hallway. Miss Tilney is about to open the doors when General Tilney stops her and concludes their tour. As they retrace their steps, Miss Tilney whispers to Catherine that she was about to show her the room where her mother died.

Miss Tilney tells Catherine that her mother died of a sudden illness, and Catherine’s suspicions increase. She imagines that General Tilney locked up his wife, and that she remains alive in a hidden chamber of the house without her children’s knowledge. Catherine resolves to watch for the General’s lamp on the side of the house where his wife died, but she falls asleep before she can keep a midnight vigil.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter IX

Catherine goes to church the next day with the Tilneys and sees a monument in honor of Mrs. Tilney in front of the family pew. She wonders how the General can appear so calm as he is standing so close to it, but she decides that he is a man who can live “without any feeling of humanity or remorse.”

After church, Catherine and Miss Tilney go to Miss Tilney’s bedroom to see the portrait of her mother. Catherine is disappointed that the portrait does not look exactly Miss Tilney, but she tries to detect a resemblance between mother and daughter nonetheless. The two girls proceed to the hallway that leads to Mrs. Tilney’s former bedroom. General Tilney calls Miss Tilney away just as they are about to enter the hallway. Catherine resolves to explore Mrs. Tilney’s former bedroom alone since she doesn’t want Miss Tilney to get in trouble with her father.

Before dinner that night, Catherine ventures to the bedroom by herself. She is astonished to find that it is a sunny room with modern furnishings. She thinks that the General has removed all traces of his wife from the room in order to hide his crimes. Catherine leaves the room since she doesn’t want anyone to find her trespassing, but she runs into Henry in the hallway. Catherine confesses that she has been to see his mother’s bedroom. She tells Henry about her conjecture that his father was not very fond of his mother, who died very suddenly. Henry angrily rebuffs Catherine and tells her that while his mother died from a seizure, she received the best medical attention. Furthermore, his father cared for his mother very much. Catherine is ashamed to realize that her suspicions were unfounded, and she rushes off to her room in tears.


In Vol. II, Chapter V, Catherine is inducted into the hospitality of the Tilney family. Yet despite her infatuation with Henry and friendship with his sister, Catherine is not altogether comfortable with the family. This is the result of General Tilney’s despotic character. Before this chapter, Austen has only hinted at the tension between the father and his children, but in Chapter V we see the General’s impatient and demanding side in its full light.

Chapter V is also significant because it features Henry’s Gothic horror tale, an amalgam of the various clichés found in popular novels of the time. Henry’s story to Catherine is a parody of three Anne Radcliffe novels, two of which Catherine has not yet read: besides the Mysteries of Udolpho, Henry cites plot details from the Sicilian Romance and the Romance of the Forest. Henry’s allusions to Radcliffe’s novels are satirical in nature, although Catherine does not register this dimension of his story. By featuring Catherine as the protagonist of his invented story, Henry inspires Catherine to think of herself as the heroine of a Gothic adventure, an idea that will have repercussions later on when Catherine attempts to find out the cause of Mrs. Tilney’s death in Chapter VIII and IX.

Austen’s style changes dramatically in Vol. II, Chapter VII. Whereas in Vol. I the prose centers around witty exchanges of dialogue, in Vol. II, Chapter VI these exchanges give way to lengthy descriptions of Northanger Abbey’s rooms and environs. In Chapter VI, Austen mocks the melodramatic plots of Gothic novels by undermining Catherine’s expectations of finding important Tilney family documents. Rather than revealing family secrets, the antique cedar chest that Catherine finds in her bedroom turns out to contain nothing more than a folded bedsheet. Through this humorous detail, Austen insists on the ordinary nature of the Tilney family estate even as Catherine indulges her fantastical desire to uncover a supernatural—or at least a previously undisclosed—history in the furnishings.

Austen’s technique of skewering Gothic conventions continues in Vol. II Chapter VII. Catherine’s false hope of discovering a Tilney family secret is exposed once again when she believes she has found a hidden document in her bedroom cabinet.

When Catherine wakes up to find that she was mistaken about the document, her hopes are deflated, and Austen returns to the realistic mode of depiction that characterized Volume I. This mode is characterized by an intense concern with the material details of everyday life, a concern that is shared by Captain Tilney. For the wealthy landowner, Catherine’s visit provides the occasion to display the accumulated status symbols of a lifetime. Captain Tilney’s attachment to his possessions is epitomized when he shows Catherine the greenhouses, where he has hired a “whole parish” of people to cultivate his favorite exotic fruits. Catherine notes that there seem to be a “village of hot-houses” in the garden. Austen’s language here tells us that Captain Tilney’s garden replicates the structure of feudal society, in which impoverished peasants toiled for the landed gentry. At the same time, his greenhouses are enabled by the latest modern innovations of the day, ones that he can afford to install on the basis of his wealth. In 18th century England, only the most privileged subset of society could enjoy such fruits as fresh pineapples. Captain Tilney scathingly notes that his staff could only grow “one hundred in the last year,” but Austen lets us know how rare a feat this is through Catherine’s admission that she has never seen a greenhouse of this size. However, Catherine’s favorable impressions of Captain Tilney’s wealth is eclipsed by her surmise that he may have caused the death of his wife.

Catherine’s suspicions of Captain Tilney come to a head in Chapter VIII and IX. Impressionable and naïve, Catherine imagines that Captain Tilney has the gloomy “air and attitude of a Montoni,” the villain of The Mysteries of Udolpho. Although Catherine has no proof for her conviction that Captain Tilney was cruel and murderous towards his wife, she convinces herself that he conforms to the character traits of the evil men she has read about in books. Catherine revises her assessment of Captain Tilney at the end of Chapter VIII when she hypothesizes that Captain Tilney only locked up his wife in a secret chamber instead of killing her outright. This belief, however, only makes her more determined to examine Mrs. Tilney’s former bedroom in hopes of finding a clue.

Once Catherine runs into Henry after exiting the bedroom in Chapter IX, she realizes that her suspicions were unfounded. Henry’s speech to Catherine in Chapter IX is one of the most famous parts of Austen’s novel. Under the light of rational scrutiny, Catherine’s claims about the family’s alleged secret unravel. Henry asks Catherine a series of rhetorical questions designed to test her unfounded convictions about his mother’s death. He asks her if it is likely for a murder to go by undetected in a country where “every man is surrounded by a neighborhood of voluntary spies” and where “roads and newspaper lay every thing open,” reminding her of the advanced communications—and local gossip—that characterize their modern age. When Catherine realizes how foolish she has been, her literary fantasy comes to an end.