Northanger Abbey


Catherine Morland: A 17-year-old girl who lacks in life experience, but always determined to see the best in people.[7] Considered to be somewhat of a tomboy throughout her childhood and having been described by the narrator as "pleasing, and when in good looks, pretty.",[8] Catherine spends most of her life in a fantasy land of her own, devoting her time to reading Gothic novels and to other athletic activities that meet her fancy. She is the devoted sister of James Morland, and maintains her sweet and good-natured personality, never seeing the malicious underlying intentions of others until the end of the novel. Observant in nature, she notices the inconsistencies and insincere qualities of those around her, and never hesitates to make insightful comments about it.[7] This becomes evident with her friendship with Henry Tilney (the man she marries at the end), with whom she shares her love of sarcastic humor - (He is delighted when she says, "I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible.").[7] Never losing her humble and modest character, and always extremely excited when receiving the smallest compliments, Catherine eventually grows and matures into womanhood. After having been exposed to the outside world in Bath, and having learned from her mistakes, that she cannot apply the fairy tales from her Gothic novels to reality (at one point she lets her imagination run wild and suspects that General Tilney played a part in murdering his deceased wife), Catherine learns about the true dimensions of reality and becomes the real heroine of the story.[7]

James Morland: Catherine's older brother who spends his time studying at Oxford University in the beginning of the novel,[9] but makes a surprise visit to the city of Bath to see his sister and parents.[9] He is similar to Catherine in that he is humble, sweet, and fun-loving; however, his downfall is that he is not the best judge of character, and he is both naive and innocent when it comes to matters of the heart.[9] This is evident during his stay in Bath when he meets Isabella Thorpe, the sister to his friend, John Thorpe. Assumed to be a man of moderate wealth, he finds himself falling in love with Isabella, to which he makes a marriage offer.[9] He is granted permission, but his proposal comes with stipulations in that he initially receives a small amount of money and must wait at least two years before marrying to obtain the rest of his inheritance.[9] This news does not sit well with Isabella as she starts looking for love elsewhere, breaking James Morland's heart in the end, so that he warns his sister Catherine to be wary of whom she falls in love with.[9]

Henry Tilney: A 26-year-old well-read parson (clergyman) of the church, brother of Eleanor and Frederick Tilney, and a member of the wealthy Tilney family.[10] From the beginning, he is Catherine's love interest; he comes to return her feelings in the course of the novel and, after a long series of false assumptions, marries her in the end.[10] Like Catherine, he is sarcastic, intuitive, fairly handsome, and clever in nature, but he differs from her in being attuned to the behavior and underlying intentions of others.[10] With his cynical view of humanity, he finds amusement in the folly of those around him and takes pleasure in questioning people, including Catherine, about their actions and lifestyle.[10] He eventually gives in to Catherine's witty and light flirtations, although she is unable to detect his interest or reciprocate in kind, but still maintains his sweet and sympathetic attitude, appreciating Catherine's naive straightforward sincerity.[10]

John Thorpe: Just like his sister, Isabella Thorpe, John is an arrogant and boastful young man.[11] A terrible conversationalist as he talks of nothing but of his horses and carriages; he is loud, dimwitted, overbearing, and rude, even to his own mother.[11] John initially takes interest in Catherine Morland, but when he discovers that it is Henry Tilney that she loves, he finds ways to manipulate the situation to suit his liking. Being a troublemaker, he tells many lies to General Tilney (Henry Tilney's father) about Catherine's family fortune,[11] and these false assumptions make him view Catherine in such a negative way, that he refuses to let his son marry her.[11] When General Tilney realizes that there is no truth behind the rumors, and that Catherine is not as poor as once thought, he finally grants his son permission to marry. After the truth is revealed, all can see John Thorpe for what he really is: an aggressive and manipulative liar.[11]

Isabella Thorpe: As previously noted, Isabella is like her brother John Thorpe, in being both manipulative and conniving, always finding ways to make others do her bidding.[12] She is a beautiful and charming twenty-one-year-old woman, who visits the city of Bath in search of a wealthy husband.[13] Upon first arrival, she is without acquaintance, but makes fast friends with Catherine Morland and uses their friendship to her advantage.[13] Because Isabella does not originate from wealth, and before she is doomed to become a dependent "spinster", she understands that marriage is her only way of becoming an "established", woman upholding to the marriage mentality of the 18th century.[13] As her friendship with Catherine grows stronger, Isabella learns about Catherine's family fortune and takes an interest in Catherine's brother, James Morland, from whom she succeeds in getting a marriage offer.[12] However, when James receives but a small portion of his inheritance and is forced to wait two years before marrying, everyone questions Isabella's true intentions as she does not take well to these stipulations.[12] Just like her brother John Thorpe, Isabella reveals her true colors when she breaks off her engagement to James, to pursue Captain Tilney (Henry Tilney's older brother), a man of larger fortune.[12] After hearing the news from her brother James, Catherine is both devastated and heartbroken for him, and she immediately ends her friendship with Isabella.[13]

General Tilney: A stern and retired general, he is the despotic father of his three children: Captain Tilney (Frederick), Henry, and Eleanor.[14] Rigid, overbearing, tyrannical, and materialistic in nature, General Tilney spends the majority of his time taking care of his estate in Northanger Abbey.[14] Strict on punctuality and determined to "keep a tight ship", within his household, General Tilney is by nature inflexible, and has an absolute distaste for anyone or anything that disrupts his schedule or breaks his sense of order.[14] Some may speculate as to whether or not his difficult personality is due his losing his wife years earlier (the wife died when Eleanor was a child),[14] and being burdened with raising his children alone; however, what is certain, is that he is rude not only towards his children, but also in his poor treatment of Catherine. Throughout the novel, General Tilney keeps his focus on the advancement and social acceptance of his family,[14] making this his top priority, even in terms of marriage. Essentially, General Tilney is so concerned with his family's name and fortune, that he tries to control who his children can and cannot marry, especially with regard to Henry's love for Catherine.[14] Due to the misguided rumors from John Thorpe, General Tilney's perception of Catherine changes in that he once held her in high esteem,[14] thinking that she came from a wealthy family; however, because of the gossip, he denies Henry's marriage proposal to Catherine.[14] Eventually, after his daughter's marriage to a nobleman,[14] General Tilney's anger subsides, and when he discovers the truth in that Catherine does in fact descend from wealth as initially thought, he finally consents to Henry and Catherine's marriage.[14] Upon further analysis, General Tilney's behavior and attitude brings our attention to the social concerns that were common during Jane Austen's time period.[14]

Eleanor Tilney: She is the younger sister of Frederick and Henry Tilney, and the daughter of the tyrannical General Tilney.[15] Making her visit to the city of Bath at a later time, her friendship with Catherine Morland begins midway through the novel;[15] however, despite this delay, she is sweet, kind, and humble like her brother Henry,[15] and proves herself to be a much more loyal friend to Catherine, than Isabella ever was.[15] Unfortunately, her role in Bath is not as significant as she spends the majority of her time acting as a chaperone for Catherine and Henry,[15] but things take a turn for the better when they all make their journey back to Northanger Abbey.[15] Because of Catherine and Eleanor's friendship, and due to Henry's love interest, Catherine is invited to stay with them in Northanger Abbey,[15] to which they use this opportunity to get to know each other better on a personal level.[15] This is the point where Eleanor explains the reason for her mother's absence, to which we discover that Mrs. Tilney had passed away due to a serious illness,[15] leaving Mr. Tilney with three children to raise by himself.[16] Other than her friendship with Catherine and their time spent together in Northanger Abbey, Eleanor plays no other role throughout the novel, except for the fact that she persuades her father to grant Catherine and Henry permission to marry.[15]

Frederick Tilney: He is the older brother of Henry Tilney and Eleanor Tilney, and the presumed heir to the Northanger estate.[17] Frederick is an officer in the army,[17] who takes advantage of women with his handsome and fashionable looks, pursuing flirtations with pretty girls who are willing to offer him some encouragement (though without any serious intent on his part).[17] This is evident throughout his interactions with Isabella Thorpe as mentioned by Henry when describing his brother's personality to Catherine when he states that "Frederick is a lively, and perhaps sometimes a thoughtless young man; he [Frederick] has had about a week's acquaintance with your friend [Isabella], and he has known her engagement almost as long as he has known her," (19.26).[18] However, Frederick takes his interactions with Isabella a step further, and manages to sabotage her engagement with Catherine's brother [James Morland.[18] Known as "The Captain", Frederick represents Society's dual standards for behavior for men and women both.[18] He also adds to the mystique of the Tilney family: Like father, Like son.[18] Frederick's actions make Henry and Eleanor more sympathetic characters and his ruining of Isabella does the same for her character.[18] Essentially, many readers perceive Frederick as nothing but selfish, greedy, and conniving.[18]

Mr. Allen: Although his role is minimal in the story, he is a gruff but kind man, who is tolerant of Mrs. Allen's dim-witted behavior.[19] He allows Catherine and his wife to accompany him in Bath, where he is being treated for gout.[20] He often takes on a paternal role, serving as a guardian figure to Catherine,[19] especially when he takes an interest in her love affair with Henry Tilney, being noted as "taken pains to know who her partner was",[20] after their first meeting. Mr. Allen approves of the pair, as Tilney's reputation impresses him.[20]

Mrs. Allen: A very dim-witted, childless woman, Mrs. Allen is a neighbor of the Morlands[21] who invites Catherine to accompany her and her husband to Bath for a holiday.[21] She thinks about nothing but clothing and how much it costs, and remembers very little from most conversations, merely repeating things that those around her say back to them.[21] Supposed to serve as a guardian to Catherine during the trip to Bath, Mrs. Allen is too incapable of independent thought to properly guide Catherine through social situations.[21] She runs into Mrs. Thorpe, a woman she knew fifteen years before at boarding school,[21] which leads to her and Catherine spending much of their time in Bath with the Thorpes.[21]

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