Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Eleven

Chapter 11 – the very short version: Catherine finds herself carried away on a carriage ride with John Thorpe instead of on a country walk with the Tilneys.

Chapter 11
You will recall that Catherine was engaged to walk out with the Tilneys, who were to call on her at noon. It is understandable, then, that Catherine was concerned about the weather, which began cloudy and turned to a bit of rain just after 11, and then to slightly more rain still later in the hour. At twelve, she held out hope that it might just clear. By 12:20, she's given up hope entirely, but by 12:30, it had begun to clear. What Catherine does not – and cannot – know is if the Tilneys will still come for her, or if her walk is postponed until another day. She has no telephone, you see, nor does she yet know Eleanor Tilney well enough to say whether she's the sort of miss who is too fastidious to go out walking when damp grass, puddles and mud might be about.

There's Catherine at the window, wondering if the Tilneys are going to show, when what to her wondering eyes should appear but John Thorpe, along with her brother and Isabella. In open coaches. Whence they all descend to engage in today's favorite sport – bullying Catherine into an outing. Served up with a large helping of "hey, don't you want to see Blaize Castle?" (Quite the enticing dish for our heroine, what with her Gothic fetish.) Oh, and with a side dish of "lying about seeing the Tilneys out in a carriage" served up by John Thorpe.

In light of that, what could Catherine say? The Tilneys have gone out, it's too dirty to go walking, there's the promise of a Gothic edifice at the end of the trip, and everyone's leaning on her to go – even (momentarily) Mrs. Allen. Off she goes, feeling conflicted – on the one hand, she's disappointed to miss her time with the Tilneys, and on the other – well, CASTLE! All things considered, therefore, she's feeling pretty good until the proof of Thorpe's lie turns up on the sidewalk in the form of Henry and Eleanor Tilney, on their way to pick Catherine up.

At which point, Catherine flips the shit on John Thorpe:

"Stop, stop, Mr. Thorpe," she impatiently cried; "it is Miss Tilney; it is indeed. -- How could you tell me they were gone? -- Stop, stop, I will get out this moment and go to them." But to what purpose did she speak? -- Thorpe only lashed his horse into a brisker trot; the Tilneys, who had soon ceased to look after her, were in a moment out of sight round the corner of Laura-place, and in another moment she was herself whisked into the Market-place. Still, however, and during the length of another street, she entreated him to stop. "Pray, pray stop, Mr. Thorpe. -- I cannot go on. -- I will not go on. -- I must go back to Miss Tilney." But Mr. Thorpe only laughed, smacked his whip, encouraged his horse, made odd noises, and drove on; and Catherine, angry and vexed as she was, having no power of getting away, was obliged to give up the point and submit. Her reproaches, however, were not spared. "How could you deceive me so, Mr. Thorpe? -- How could you say that you saw them driving up the Lansdown-road? -- I would not have had it happen so for the world. -- They must think it so strange, so rude of me! to go by them, too, without saying a word! You do not know how vexed I am. -- I shall have no pleasure at Clifton, nor in any thing else. I had rather, ten thousand times rather, get out now, and walk back to them. How could you say you saw them driving out in a phaeton?" Thorpe defended himself very stoutly, declared he had never seen two men so much alike in his life, and would hardly give up the point of its having been Tilney himself.

What Austen's just done here Multi-point, as per usual:

1. She's brought the situation between Thorpe and Catherine to a head (not that Thorpe's actually aware of this, as we shall see later in the book). Catherine has had it with him by now, and the breach of trust is unfixable.

2. She's echoed an actual Gothic novel's abduction scene. In many of them, the heroine finds herself chucked into a carriage (or other mode of transport, including into a wagon, across a horse, or into a boat of some sort). In this particular instance, Catherine willingly gets into the carriage, but once she tells Thorpe to stop and he refuses (Dear John: No means NO!), she is, for all intents and purposes, a prisoner. Not quite like the Gothic heroines, who are taken God knows where by who knows whom, since she ends up on a pointless drive (yeah – the castle's too far for a day trip) with a guy she knows who she can't even order to unhand her, since he doesn't ever take her in hand in the first place. Still, in her send-up of a Gothic novel, this is the abduction scene that one might expect to find right about the same place in quite a number of actual Gothic novels. Brilliant, no?

3. In the fallout afterward, during which our Catherine is exceedingly mopey (and truly, who can blame her), Austen sets the groundwork for a falling-out with Isabella. Nevermind that it won't happen tomorrow – Isabella's lack of sympathy for Catherine is what Catherine notices. Finally. Still, Austen is clever, since what Isabella points out about the Tilneys' lack of punctuality is true, even though it can be easily explained away. Her follow-up about how strong her feelings – and those of her brother John – are reminds us, however, that we ought not completely trust what either of the Thorpes have to say. Well played, Miss Austen.

And how much do I love the saucy bit of narration she sends us off with? Oh so much!
And now I may dismiss my heroine to the sleepless couch, which is the true heroine's portion; to a pillow strewed with thorns and wet with tears. And lucky may she think herself, if she get another good night's rest in the course of the next three months.

Tomorrow – Catherine sets off to apologize to Miss Tilney, but is turned away. She has far greater luck in tackling (almost literally) Henry at the theatre.

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