Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Nineteen

Chapter 19 - the very short version Catherine and Henry discuss the love triangle among Isabella Thorpe, James Morland and Captain Tilney.

Chapter 19
For me, this chapter is full of reasons to love Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland, and for rather different reasons. Catherine's part of the conversation further develops her as a kind-hearted, well-intentioned, empathic soul. She worries that Captain Tilney does not know of Isabella's engagement to James, believing that a man who knew of it would not pursue Isabella. She worries that Isabella is not aware of her conduct, believing that her friend would not purposefully lead Captain Tilney on or act in any way that might hurt Catherine's brother. She worries that James either does not see what is happening, or will be hurt by it.

I will remind you of something that Henry Tilney said back in Chapter 16 as a means of looking at Catherine's worries:
Henry smiled, and said, "How very little trouble it can give you to understand the motive of other people's actions."

"Why? -- What do you mean?"

"With you, it is not, How is such a one likely to be influenced, What is the inducement most likely to act upon such a person's feelings, age, situation, and probable habits of life considered? -- but, How should I be influenced, what would be my inducement in acting so and so?"

Henry was correct, you see. Catherine would never flirt with another man when already in love; as we've already seen, once Henry Tilney truly entered the scene, it was all she could do to actually pay attention to John Thorpe (who is so delusional that he probably mistook that for the utmost expression of affection - it is, after all, always opposites day in Thorpeland).

In the present scene, I find these additional reasons to love Henry Tilney:

1. He neither dismisses her fears nor refuses to discuss them, even though it led him to an intimate discussion of the love lives of others.
Dear Miss Austen - I see what you did there. Our main characters having a discussion about a love affair that appears to be on the rocks is indicative of the main characters drawing exceedingly close together. I applaud you, madam.

2. He hears her out. Even though one might expect him not to, under the circumstances. And he doesn't take offense even when some of her questions amount to "what sort of man is your brother?", which is, after all, rather impertinent.

3. He tries to help Catherine see things from a different perspective, although Catherine is only able to go so far. It begins at the point in the conversation where he draws a distinction between Frederick's attentions to Isabella and her receiving of it.
"And are you sure it is my brother's doing?"

"Yes, very sure."

"Is it my brother's attentions to Miss Thorpe, or Miss Thorpe's admission of them, that gives the pain?"

"Is not it the same thing?"

"I think Mr. Morland would acknowledge a difference. No man is offended by another man's admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment."

Catherine blushed for her friend, and said, "Isabella is wrong. But I am sure she cannot mean to torment, for she is very much attached to my brother. She has been in love with him ever since they first met, and while my father's consent was uncertain, she fretted herself almost into a fever. You know she must be attached to him."

"I understand: she is in love with James, and flirts with Frederick."

"Oh! no, not flirts. A woman in love with one man cannot flirt with another."

"It is probable that she will neither love so well, nor flirt so well, as she might do either singly. The gentlemen must each give up a little."

After a short pause, Catherine resumed with, "Then you do not believe Isabella so very much attached to my brother?"

"I can have no opinion on that subject."

Henry reveals that he understands exactly what the situation is, as do we, the readers. His parting remark, "I can have no opinion on that subject", is very precisely (or, as Henry himself might say, "nicely") stated. Henry is not saying that he does not hold an opinion on the subject; he is saying that under the rules of society, he is not supposed to express his opinion on the subject.

Catherine continues to worry about leaving Captain Tilney behind in Bath with Isabella and James once she and the rest of the Tilneys leave for Northanger Abbey. Henry's response to her is honest, even if Catherine takes it to mean more than what Henry actually says. After all, she believes Isabella still to be kind-hearted and in love with James, as opposed to manipulative and in love with the idea of marrying a large fortune. Still, what he says makes sense no matter how you understand Isabella, and shows Henry to be a man of good sense, as well as a man doing his best to put Catherine at ease even though he understands, as she cannot, what the precise situation is.

He believes what he says in closing to be true: "Though Frederick does not leave Bath with us, he will probably remain but a very short time, perhaps only a few days behind us. His leave of absence will soon expire, and he must return to his regiment. -- And what will then be their acquaintance? -- The mess-room will drink Isabella Thorpe for a fortnight, and she will laugh with your brother over poor Tilney's passion for a month." I should note that in this, Henry is mistaken because he has credited Isabella with being a woman who is intelligent enough to realize that Captain Tilney would only ever marry a woman with a large dowry. Isabella, while not unintelligent, is banking on beauty and flirtation to be enough to land herself an heir, and she's hoping to string James along in case she can't boat this particular whale.

Today's picture, by the by, is by Hugh Thomson, an illustrator from Victorian England who did illustrated versions of Austen's novel. This one is entitled "The Mess Room Will Drink Isabella Thorpe for a Fortnight".

En la mañana: Northanger Abbey or bust! Now, with Gothic tales from Henry!

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