Sunday, August 30, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Thirty-One



My, but that month/book went by rather . . . slowly, if I'm being honest. I'm not used to reading a book at this pace, and even though I read the book all the way through (for something like the fifth time) before I got started this month , I ended up reading a chapter a day as I went in order to prepare the posts. It's kind of interesting, slowing something down like that. I know I learned a lot about what Austen did (and, in some cases, how she did it) this way, so I have to declare the month a success. I hope those of you who've been reading along (or who eventually manage to do so) agree.

Moving on.

Chapter 31 - the very short version "And they all lived happily ever after. The End."

Chapter 31

The Morlands are surprised when Henry asks to marry Catherine, but quickly recover. Even without any inheritance from his father, he's already a much better match for Catherine than they'd ever expected her to be able to make, and they don't doubt his love and affection for Catherine. Henry's independently wealthy (or at least well-off enough to support a wife), so unlike the case of James Morland when he wished to wed Isabella, there's no financial impediment to an immediate marriage.

Permission requested
That said, the Morlands are traditional enough to require that General Tilney consent to the marriage (even though Henry is beyond the age of consent) before they will allow the engagement to become official. They're not looking for actual approbation; simple parental permission will do. As a result of this, Henry and Catherine are not technically engaged at this point, although their intention is, of course, to become so.

Henry and Catherine are not surprised by it - unhappy about it, sure, but they go along with it. Henry returns to Woodston while "Catherine remained at Fullerton to cry." Gotta love Austen's narrator here, and how concisely she conveys Catherine's sentiments and actions.

Secret correspondence
Whether the torments of absence were softened by a clandestine correspondence, let us not inquire. Mr. and Mrs. Morland never did -- they had been too kind to exact any promise; and whenever Catherine received a letter, as, at that time, happened pretty often, they always looked another way.

Any correspondence between Henry and Catherine would be "clandestine" because they are a) unrelated and b) not engaged. I like what Austen accomplishes with this bit of narration. She first asserts that she won't inquire as to whether there was correspondence, then pretty much assures us that there was, all quite indirectly. The willingness of the Morlands to look the other way shows them to be sympathetic to the young couple and their plight. They never asked Catherine or Henry not to correspond, nor do they ask Catherine the identity of her correspondents, thereby giving tacit permission for her to correspond with her beau.

Permission granted
I'd like to point out that as miserable as we believe Catherine and Henry to be, it doesn't last all that long. Catherine got to Northanger Abbey in March (that little tidbit comes at the start of Chapter 22) and stayed there for five weeks, making it at least April when she left for Fullerton. We are told that the General gave his permission for the match in the summer, thanks to Eleanor's having made an advantageous match of her own. This means a delay of only a few months, at most.

Now, before you say "that was short work, Eleanor", I'll remind you what the narrator has to say about it. It's worth noting how the narrator doesn't just narrate here, but opines heavily as well:

The marriage of Eleanor Tilney, her removal from all the evils of such a home as Northanger had been made by Henry's banishment, to the home of her choice and the man of her choice, is an event which I expect to give general satisfaction among all her acquaintance. My own joy on the occasion is very sincere. I know no one more entitled, by unpretending merit, or better prepared by habitual suffering, to receive and enjoy felicity. Her partiality for this gentleman was not of recent origin; and he had been long withheld only by inferiority of situation from addressing her. His unexpected accession to title and fortune had removed all his difficulties; and never had the General loved his daughter so well in all her hours of companionship, utility, and patient endurance as when he first hailed her "Your Ladyship!" Her husband was really deserving of her; independent of his peerage, his wealth, and his attachment, being to a precision the most charming young man in the world. Any further definition of his merits must be unnecessary; the most charming young man in the world is instantly before the imagination of us all. Concerning the one in question, therefore, I have only to add -- (aware that the rules of composition forbid the introduction of a character not connected with my fable) -- that this was the very gentleman whose negligent servant left behind him that collection of washing-bills, resulting from a long visit at Northanger, by which my heroine was involved in one of her most alarming adventures.

Dear Jane, your deus ex machina is showing again. But it's so charming that I'm willing to overlook it. Plus, I love Eleanor and agree that she deserves happiness. I'm glad you didn't leave her stranded at Northanger Abbey with General Crankypants.

Henry and Catherine were married, the bells rang, and every body smiled; and, as this took place within a twelvemonth from the first day of their meeting, it will not appear, after all the dreadful delays occasioned by the General's cruelty, that they were essentially hurt by it.

"And they all lived happily ever after. The End."

Okay, so that's not quite how she ends it. She leaves us, instead, with a point to ponder: The General's interference, rather than separating them, appears to have strengthened their relationship. The parting sentence asks a book club sort of question: whether the story actually speaks in support of parental tyranny (like the General's), or in favor of filial disobedience (like Henry's).

To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced, that the General's unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.

I hope you've enjoyed August at the Abbey. I know I have. I'm also looking forward to School in September. (No, it's not a series of posts - it's a reality for my kids, but it won't begin until after Labor Day. Alas.)

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2 comments:

pocket_owl said...

I have just today come across this wonderful series about my favourite Austen novel and have already finished reading it. Thank you so much for making it.

Although the information was not new to me, it was nice to see so many of my own opinions on the matter shared.

You must have put a lot of effort into this. I hope you enjoyed doing it as much as I enjoyed reading it.

Oui Oui said...

Such a charming series! Henry Tilney is my favorite Austen leading man.