Monday, August 10, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Ten

Chapter 10 - the very short version Catherine improves her acquaintance with Eleanor Tilney at the Pump Room and dances with Henry Tilney (who stakes a bit of a claim) at the Upper Rooms

Chapter 10

The chapter starts out with an evening at the theatre, at which Isabella makes great noise about devoting her attention to Catherine, but little actual effort at doing so. Isabella's ramblings serve (sing it with me) a multiple purpose: 1) They show her to be a bit feckless and trivial (yet again - and perhaps a bit duplicitous as well); 2) they clue us in about the developing affection between Isabella and James, even though Catherine manages not to pick up on it; 3) they heighten the disconnect that exists between Isabella and Catherine - Isabella assumes that Catherine understands what's going on between Isabella and James and doesn't believe Catherine's protestations; Catherine assumes that Isabella's merely playing around; and 4) they show up the disconnect in manners and propriety between the two young ladies - Isabella is far more casual and prone to teasing, whereas Catherine is not.

"Isabella smiled incredulously and talked the rest of the evening to James." That pretty much says it all.

At the Pump Room It would be very easy to skip ahead to the discussion of Eleanor Tilney's arrival, but it would be a mistake, I think, not to first note the way in which Isabella and James essentially ignore Catherine, who is now decidedly a third wheel and appears to be resenting it a wee bit, I might add. She's just so grateful for the opportunity to get away when Miss Tilney arrives.

Between wanting to get away from Isabella and James and wishing to better her acquaintance with Eleanor Tilney, Catherine practically bounds across the room and jumps Miss Tilney upon her arrival. Most of their conversation is unremarkable, but Catherine manages to clue Miss Tilney in on her preference for Henry Tilney in a most effusive manner without realizing that she's done any such thing:

"How well your brother dances!" was an artless exclamation of Catherine's towards the close of their conversation, which at once surprized and amused her companion.

"Henry!" she replied with a smile. "Yes, he does dance very well."

"He must have thought it very odd to hear me say I was engaged the other evening, when he saw me sitting down. But I really had been engaged the whole day to Mr. Thorpe." Miss Tilney could only bow. "You cannot think," added Catherine after a moment's silence, "how surprized I was to see him again. I felt so sure of his being quite gone away."

"When Henry had the pleasure of seeing you before, he was in Bath but for a couple of days. He came only to engage lodgings for us."

"That never occurred to me; and of course, not seeing him any where, I thought he must be gone. Was not the young lady he danced with on Monday a Miss Smith?"

"Yes, an acquaintance of Mrs. Hughes."

"I dare say she was very glad to dance. Do you think her pretty?"

"Not very."

"He never comes to the Pump-room, I suppose?"

"Yes, sometimes; but he has rid out this morning with my father."

Mrs. Hughes now joined them, and asked Miss Tilney if she was ready to go. "I hope I shall have the pleasure of seeing you again soon," said Catherine. "Shall you be at the cotillion ball tomorrow?"

"Perhaps we -- yes, I think we certainly shall."

"I am glad of it, for we shall all be there." -- This civility was duly returned; and they parted -- on Miss Tilney's side with some knowledge of her new acquaintance's feelings, and on Catherine's, without the smallest consciousness of having explained them.

Oh, Catherine!

What follows is a transitional bit where Catherine (and her readers) look forward to the dance the next night. In the time-honored way of teens (and women, let's face it), Catherine is worried about what to wear. In fact, if she'd had time, she'd have bought a new gown, a matter on which the narrator offers up a wry opinion with which we can all - in our sensible moments - agree: "This would have been an error in judgment, great though not uncommon, from which one of the other sex rather than her own, a brother rather than a great aunt, might have warned her, for man only can be aware of the insensibility of man towards a new gown."

What a difference 10 days can make The last time Catherine was excited about going to the Assembly Rooms, it was because she'd been engaged to dance with John Thorpe - and we all remember how that turned out, right? On this particular Thursday, however, Catherine does all she can to avoid and ignore John Thorpe because she so doesn't want to dance with him. And just when it's looking inevitable that she's going to be stuck with John Thorpe, she's rescued by our hero, Henry Tilney.

What happens next is hilarious, in my opinion. Imagine one of the typical English country dance scenes from the movies, with the women lined up on one side of the floor and the men on the other. Got that image? Now, imagine John Thorpe coming up behind Catherine to pester her as she's trying to pay attention to Henry Tilney before the dance starts. Not only is he showing bad form by distracting her, but he's reproaching her for standing him up - very much a "WTF?" sort of commentary on Thorpe's part. Here's some of my favorite Thorpe dialogue from this bit: "'What chap have you there?' Catherine satisfied his curiosity. 'Tilney,' he repeated. 'Hum -- I do not know him. A good figure of a man; well put together. -- Does he want a horse?'" Thankfully, Thorpe gets swept away in a sea of ladies on the move.

As if that's not funny enough, Henry Tilney manages to get his knickers in a twist over it. Let's hear your hissy fit, Henry:

"That gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he stayed with you half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not chuse to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours."

Rant on with your bad self, Henry. And yet he manages to be rather charming and flirtatious here as well, talking Catherine around so she can at least understand his point. From dance as a metaphor for marriage, Henry moves on to the topic of Bath. It's similar to his earlier conversation, but somewhat less facetious as he makes a genuine effort to learn more about Catherine, who - being artless - manages to divulge quite a bit about not only how she spends her time, but also how she feels about her home and family. (His dig at Mrs. Allen cracks me up - "What a picture of intellectual poverty" indeed!)

We are introduced also to General Tilney, Henry and Eleanor's father, who expresses an interest in finding out who Catherine is when he spies Henry dancing with her. I rather expect that Henry's interest in Catherine was showing, or else the General likely wouldn't have bothered to make inquiries. I'm just saying.

The chapter closes with plans being made for Catherine to go on a country walk with Henry and Eleanor Tilney the next day - at noon, as long as it doesn't rain. Catherine danced with joy all the way home.

I enjoy this chapter quite a bit. For a brief moment, everything is going swimmingly well for our heroine, although the groundwork has been laid for upcoming issues. Folks like to say Austen isn't big on foreshadowing, but I think it's there - subtle, but there.

1. Clearly, John Thorpe has a bit of a tendre for Catherine, as we can tell from his comments when he pesters her while she's waiting to dance with Henry. He pays her genuine compliments and threatens to thrash anyone who disagrees with him.

2. Something's up with James Morland and Isabella Thorpe, right?

3. General Tilney's taken notice of Catherine. Is that good? bad? indifferent?

Forecast for tomorrow: Mizzling rain, with a likelihood of confusion

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