Monday, August 17, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Eighteen

Chapter 18 – the very short version Catherine meets Isabella at the Pump Room; Isabella is on the lookout for Captain Tilney, whereupon "the plot thickens very much upon us indeed."*

*Ay, the plot thickens very much upon us indeed is (surprise!) not Shakespeare, but is from a play published in 1671 by George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham called The Rehearsal.

Chapter 18
There's a telling little detail that flies by right at the start of this chapter if one is not fully attentive. I'm going to repeat it here to give it the weight that it truly deserves: "With a mind thus full of happiness, Catherine was hardly aware that two or three days had passed away, without her seeing Isabella for more than a few minutes together." Yeah . . . remember when Catherine was all about Isabella? Well now, days go by without so much as a thought of her. Um, yeah . . . that's foreshadowing again. Small and subtle, but there.

So we're at the Pump Room, where Isabella seizes upon prime bench real estate, claiming she likes it for its being "out of the way" when it's obvious from the description that it's the place to see and (one presumes) be seen. And Isabella is clearly looking for someone. James Morland, right? No. Isabella goes so far as to scoff at such a suggestion – she doesn't want him always at her elbow. And boy . . . she turns out not to be kidding.

Conversation tips us, the readers (but not quite Catherine) to who Isabella's on the lookout for – as if we ever had any doubt. Not only does she profess some knowledge of Northanger Abbey, but she refers to Captain Tilney by surname only. As I noted back in Chapter Fifteen, referring to a man by surname only is an indicator of familiarity. Isabella didn't call James Morland by his surname until after she'd accepted his proposal. That she feels free to call Captain Tilney by his surname has real meaning, which Catherine – sweet, trusting soul that she is – totally lets go by unremarked.

On John Thorpe's feelings for Catherine
Isabella, having name-dropped Tilney to no avail, thinks to tell Catherine about her brother, John Thorpe, and his love for Catherine. While Isabella Thorpe is usually full of hot air, in this case, part of what she says to Catherine is spot-on:

"His attentions were such as a child must have noticed. And it was but half an hour before he left Bath that you gave him the most positive encouragement. He says so in this letter, says that he as good as made you an offer, and that you received his advances in the kindest way[.]"

Remember how I said back in Chapter Fifteen that Catherine was being inattentive and trouble was probably brewing? Well, consider trouble served. Now, Catherine is correct in saying that she was unaware of John Thorpe's being in love with her and wishing to marry her, but Isabella is also correct in saying that John was open and obvious in his attentions. It's just that Catherine's interest in someone else, combined with her not wishing for John Thorpe's affection, blinded her to what was going on. She asks Isabella to make her apologies to John, and it's pretty obvious from Isabella's silence in response that she's a bit pissed on her brother's behalf. Will she convey the proper message? Will she do it in a kind way, or not? We cannot know.

Meanwhile, Catherine reminds Isabella that they'll still be sisters. And Isabella's answer tells us where her true affection lies at the moment, even though Catherine misses it. (Seriously, Catherine needs to save up a few crowns and buy herself a clue.) Here's what Isabella says: "'Yes, yes' (with a blush), 'there are more ways than one of our being sisters.'" The term sisters-in-law was not then in vogue, you see, so one's sister by marriage was just a sister. Isabella assumes that Catherine intends to marry Henry Tilney, so were she to marry his brother, Captain Tilney, they'd be sisters as well.

Isabella then lets Catherine off the hook with respect to John, saying that their marriage made no financial sense. She adds this tidbit: "I only wonder John could think of it; he could not have received my last." Sounds to me like Isabella thinks that John thinks that Catherine comes with money.

It also sounds to me like Isabella's got something else on her mind. Check out her response to Catherine's question about not meaning to deceive John Thorpe:

"You do acquit me, then, of anything wrong? -- You are convinced that I never meant to deceive your brother, never suspected him of liking me till this moment?"

"Oh! as to that," answered Isabella laughingly, "I do not pretend to determine what your thoughts and designs in time past may have been. All that is best known to yourself. A little harmless flirtation or so will occur, and one is often drawn on to give more encouragement than one wishes to stand by. But you may be assured that I am the last person in the world to judge you severely. All those things should be allowed for in youth and high spirits. What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next. Circumstances change, opinions alter."

"But my opinion of your brother never did alter; it was always the same. You are describing what never happened."

"My dearest Catherine," continued the other without at all listening to her, "I would not for all the world be the means of hurrying you into an engagement before you knew what you were about. I do not think anything would justify me in wishing you to sacrifice all your happiness merely to oblige my brother, because he is my brother, and who perhaps after all, you know, might be just as happy without you, for people seldom know what they would be at, young men especially, they are so amazingly changeable and inconstant. What I say is, why should a brother's happiness be dearer to me than a friend's? You know I carry my notions of friendship pretty high. But, above all things, my dear Catherine, do not be in a hurry. Take my word for it, that if you are in too great a hurry, you will certainly live to repent it. Tilney says there is nothing people are so often deceived in as the state of their own affections, and I believe he is very right. Ah! Here he comes; never mind, he will not see us, I am sure."

Catherine, looking up, perceived Captain Tilney; and Isabella, earnestly fixing her eye on him as she spoke, soon caught his notice.

It seems to me that Isabella got engaged in haste and is now repenting at leisure. It's obvious that Captain Tilney is attracted to her and enjoying her company. And my, my, but the steamy conversation between the two of them.

Here's a dramatisation of it (and more) from the 2007 version of Northanger Abbey. Be forewarned: while it begins with last chapter's introduction to Catherine, it moves to the Pump Room, and then continues on to Catherine's trip to and arrival at the Abbey. Should you wish not to move ahead, by all means stop the movie once Isabella and Catherine part ways!

We are told that Catherine is quite confused and conflicted about Isabella's staying at the Pump Room with Captain Tilney, and again I will say that Catherine really needs to get herself a clue. After all, here's part of what she thinks:

With much uneasiness did she thus leave them. It seemed to her that Captain Tilney was falling in love with Isabella, and Isabella unconsciously encouraging him; unconsciously it must be, for Isabella's attachment to James was as certain and well acknowledged as her engagement. To doubt her truth or good intentions was impossible; and yet, during the whole of their conversation her manner had been odd. She wished Isabella had talked more like her usual self, and not so much about money, and had not looked so well pleased at the sight of Captain Tilney. How strange that she should not perceive his admiration!

Yeah, um, Catherine? Isabella knows exactly what's going on here. No worries on that account.

Tomorrow - Catherine takes her concerns to Henry Tilney. You won't want to miss it!

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