Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey Summary and Analysis of Volume II, Chapters X-XVI

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter X

As Chapter X opens, Catherine is openly repenting her misguided suspicions of General Tilney. She resolves to be more rational in her opinion of others in the future. Soon, Catherine forgets about her suspicions and remembers that Isabella has yet to write to her from Bath. Her worries are confirmed when she receives a letter from James stating that his engagement has been broken off and condemning Isabella for making him a miserable man. Most shockingly of all, James asserts that Isabella is now engaged to Captain Tilney. Catherine is naturally appalled by this news. After she starts crying at the breakfast table, she has no choice but to share the contents of her brother’s letter with Henry and Miss Tilney. Henry says that it is not likely for his brother to marry Isabella since she lacks a fortune, but he is temporarily persuaded after readings James’ letter. Both of the Tilney siblings disapprove of Isabella’s behavior. Catherine realizes that Isabella only wants to marry to gain a higher social status. Upon reflection, however, Catherine also realizes that she is not as afflicted by the loss of Isabella’s friendship as she might have been. Isabella, after all, was never really a true friend.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter XI

As the speculations about Isabella and Captain Tilney continue to occupy the household, Catherine waits for Captain Tilney to come home and announce his engagement. She is still waiting when General Tilney announces that they will visit Henry in Woodston for a family dinner. Henry leaves Northanger Abbey in advance to prepare for the dinner (despite his father’s insistence that they dine simply, Henry knows that his father will only enjoy the finest dishes).

When Catherine visits Henry at Woodston with his family, she finds the house and surrounding village very charming. She is particularly impressed with an empty sitting room that is need of furnishing. The windows in this room have a lovely view of green fields, and General Tilney hints that the room “will be very speedily furnished: it waits only for a lady’s taste.” Catherine interprets this message as a sign of the General’s approval of her as a match for Henry. She leaves Woodston wondering if Henry shares his father’s admiration and also wants her to potentially become the mistress of the house.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter XII

Isabella sends Catherine an unexpected letter at the beginning of Chapter XII. In it, Isabella pleads for Catherine to mend her broken engagement and attempt a reconciliation between her and James. Isabella also reveals in the letter that Captain Tilney has left Bath to rejoin his regiment. Before he left, he stopped courting Isabella and spent his last two days accompanying another young woman. Isabella expresses her scorn of Captain Tilney and tells Catherine that she fears James “took something in my conduct amiss.”

Catherine sees through Isabella’s letter as an empty, hypocritical appeal full of contradictions. She does not write back to Isabella and lets the Tilney siblings know that their brother is safe from Isabella’s designs. She asks Henry why his brother paid so much attention to Isabella, and Henry acknowledges that his brother was only doing so “for mischief’s sake.” Henry commends Catherine for standing by her brother James, and Catherine feels “complimented out of further bitterness.”

Summary of Vol. II, Chapters XIII

The General leaves Northanger Abbey to visit London, and in his absence Catherine has a wonderful time with Henry and Miss Tilney. Catherine agrees to stay at Northanger Abbey for another month, and she is beginning to think that Henry returns her affection. Henry is unable to stay at Northanger Abbey, however, since he has to attend to his duties at Woodston. In his absence, General Tilney returns from London and tells his daughter that they are leaving on a sudden trip to visit family friends in Hereford. To make matters worse, General Tilney is turning Catherine out of the house before the family leaves. In fact, Catherine finds out that he has already arranged for a carriage to pick her up at seven the next morning. Catherine is mystified at the General’s rude and abrupt behavior, and Miss Tilney is equally distraught. The two girls pack Catherine’s trunk silently the next morning, and Catherine borrows money for the journey home. They promise to write each other, but this does not diminish the pain of parting on such short notice.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter XIV

Catherine continues to puzzle over the General’s decision to force her out of Northanger Abbey in Vol. II, Chapter XIV. She wonders if he discovered her mistaken suspicions about him but decides that this is highly unlikely. Nonetheless, Catherine returns to her family home in “solitude and disgrace.” Her family comforts her, although they are also puzzled by the General’s breach of social etiquette. Catherine has difficulty adjusting to life back at home since she misses Northanger Abbey and particularly Henry. Her parents do not suspect that Catherine still has feelings for Henry. In order to distract herself, Catherine visits the Allens, who have returned from their vacation to Bath. Mrs. Allen repeatedly asserts that she “really has no patience with the General,” but her sympathies do not make Catherine feel any better.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter XV

At home in Fullerton, Catherine tries to apply herself to her daily household tasks, but she finds that she is unable to concentrate. Her mother advises her to be content at home, but it isn’t easy for Catherine to heed this advice. Fortunately, Henry arrives at Fullerton for a surprise visit. He asks Catherine to go for a walk to the Allens. Along the way, he confesses his feelings for Catherine. He obtains a promise of her affection in return, but once this is accomplished Henry reveals that his father does not approve of their match. In fact, General Tilney turned Catherine out of the house because she was not as rich as he had originally thought (and thus not a good prospect for Henry). General Tilney received a false impression of Catherine’s wealth from John Thorpe. John was also the one who later retracted this false portrait of Catherine after she snubbed him. Indignant at his father’s crass behavior, Henry rushed over to Fullerton to make amends with Catherine.

Summary of Vol. II, Chapter XVI

Mr. and Mrs. Moreland are very surprised to hear about Catherine’s engagement to Henry. They are pleased that he is an honorable young man and consent to the marriage. General Tilney changes his mind and gives his consent after Miss Tilney makes an advantageous match with a nobleman. The General’s temper is further soothed when he finds out that Catherine stands to inherit three thousand pounds. Henry and Catherine embark on a lifetime of happiness, though Austen notes ironically that the General’s interference may have actually helped their courtship by giving them more time to get to know each other.


In Vol. II Chapter X Austen reverts to a more realistic style, documenting how Catherine’s social relations have changed in the aftermath of her Gothic fantasy. Catherine realizes that her reading influenced her to invest in a “voluntary, self-created delusion:” aided by her knowledge of Radcliffe’s novel, Catherine had cast herself as the heroine of a dubious murder plot without considering the facts of her situation. General Tilney’s imperfections are not of the murderous kind, and Catherine comes to be aware of the danger of fictionalizing reality when others’ reputations are at stake. Although Henry’s admonishment marks the end of her Gothic-tinged reverie, Catherine does not fully return to the “anxieties of common life” until she receives James’ letter in the mail. Austen reminds us of the plot sequence she first developed in Volume I by inserting James’ letter as evidence of Isabella’s consummate disloyalty. James’ letter to Catherine exposes Isabella’s false duplicity in a stark manner, but we are not surprised to find out that Isabella has broken her engagement: Austen has made her fickle nature clear well before now.

In Chapter XI, Catherine’s feelings of anger against Isabella are mended when she visits Henry at Woodston. Woodston’s tasteful simplicity stands in sharp contrast to the ostentatious luxury of Northanger Abbey. The possibility of Catherine’s marital happiness with Henry in the future is foreshadowed through her appreciative wonder upon viewing his empty sitting room, which is waiting to be furnished. Woodston reflects Henry’s character of modest good taste, just as Northanger Abbey reflects the General’s constant desire to install the latest improvements in order to display his wealth. Much like Isabella, the General is invested in external appearances over internal merit.

Isabella’s letter forms the core of Vol.II, Chapter XII. Her letter may be interpreted as the insincere counterpart to James’ earlier letter. In contrast to James’ genuinely anguished tone in his communication to Catherine, Isabella attempts to hide behind a mask of ignorance. She professes not to know why James appeared “uncomfortable” when he left town: Isabella consistently resorts to understatements and rhetorical evasions in her letter. Luckily, Catherine is acute enough to see through her former friend’s technique. Catherine interprets Isabella’s letter as a tasteless and desperate attempt to redeem what little chance she has of reuniting with James. She finally detects Isabella’s “shallow artifice” and all of its shameful implications, but Catherine would rather not address the false concerns raised in the letter: this is why she chooses not to reply.

Although the dissolution of Catherine’s Gothic fantasy seems to mark the approaching resolution of Vol. II’s central plot, Austen reopens the grounds for conflict when General Tilney casts Catherine out of his house in Chapter XIII. General Tilney’s behavior is both mysterious and infuriating to his daughter. Likewise, Catherine cannot discern any obvious cause for her sudden demotion in status. Overnight, Catherine has transformed from a favored guest to a detestable intruder in General Tilney’s eyes. Catherine is as eager to find out the reasons for her abrupt dismissal as she was to detect the underlying circumstances surrounding Mrs. Tilney’s death. However, she is frustrated by the General’s refusal to see her and Miss Tilney’s lack of information. Eager to restore a semblance of propriety to her family’s treatment of Catherine, Miss Tilney does everything in her power to make her guest comfortable, but their silence on the morning of Catherine’s departure marks the insufficiency of all last-minute niceties. Some critics assert that General Tilney’s dismissal of Catherine marks the climactic moment of the novel.

Vol. II, Chapter XIV-XI mark the novel’s quick resolution. Back at Fullertone, Catherine’s pining for Henry is fulfilled when he makes a sudden appearance and proposes marriage. After General Tilney’s rude behavior is explained to Catherine as the product of misguided greed, she does not have any more cause to wonder about her involuntary leave-taking. Henry’s steadfast devotion is assured, as is Catherine’s joy at entering the Tilney family. Austen’s depiction of Catherine and Henry’s engagement and subsequent marriage is condensed into a brief overview of the events. We do not hear the details of their wedding. Instead, Austen tells us that “in the tell-tale compression of the pages…we are all hastening together to perfect felicity.” The conventions of the marriage plot dictate the happy conclusion of the novel—Austen remains aware of the limitations of her chosen form even as she subscribes to its rules.