Sunday, August 16, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Seventeen

Chapter 17 - the very short version Catherine gets invited to go home to Northanger Abbey with the Tilneys.

Chapter 17
No sooner does Catherine discover that the Allens have opted to stay in Bath a while longer than she learns that the Tilneys are headed home. Her disappointment at the loss of further time with Henry Tilney was severe, but short-lived, for the Tilneys extended an invitation to her to come with them to their home at Northanger Abbey.

Now, Catherine was excited by the prospect of being invited to correspond with Eleanor Tilney, which is what she expects Eleanor is about to say when the General comes crashing in and rolls over top of his daughter. Now, whether you believe Jane Austen to be a protofeminist or not (and I rather think she was, but you are free to disagree), the way that General Tilney ploughs right over Eleanor and extends the invitation to Catherine is mildly offensive. Also, he's a bit . . . what's the word I want here? - obsequious? Maybe. Oily, anyhow.

Catherine is a very fortunate girl indeed - it seems that her fantasies involving Henry Tilney and/or Gothic edifices are about to be fulfilled. The already perfect Henry comes, it turns out, from a family home inside an abbey that predates the Reformation, making him that much more perfect. Because in Catherine's world, more perfect than perfect is actually possible.

The narrator runs us through her effusive rejoicing in the realities of her situation - which are entirely rosy - as well as starting to lose herself a bit in her imaginings of what an old abbey must be like:

By the kindness of her first friends, the Allens, she had been introduced into scenes where pleasures of every kind had met her. Her feelings, her preferences, had each known the happiness of a return. Wherever she felt attachment, she had been able to create it. The affection of Isabella was to be secured to her in a sister. The Tilneys, they, by whom, above all, she desired to be favourably thought of, outstripped even her wishes in the flattering measures by which their intimacy was to be continued. She was to be their chosen visitor, she was to be for weeks under the same roof with the person whose society she mostly prized -- and, in addition to all the rest, this roof was to be the roof of an abbey! -- Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney -- and castles and abbeys made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill. To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour had seemed too nearly impossible for desire. And yet, this was to happen. With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant. Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach, and she could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun.

With things going so perfectly for Catherine, a wrench must be thrown, yes?

Stay tuned for tomorrow's chapter, in which Captain Tilney's entrance at the Pump Room might as well be accompanied by the theme from Jaws.

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