Saturday, August 29, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Thirty

Chapter 30 - the very short version Henry comes to Fullerton and proposes.

Chapter 30
Catherine got home on Sunday night. It's now Wednesday, and Catherine's spirits are still suffering, and Mrs. Morland has had enough. She tries to get Catherine to do her work - here, a reference to needlework. Evidently, Catherine's supposed to be making shirts for one of her brothers, but she's been remiss. She's so disheartened that she can't really concentrate on anything.

I find what happens next to be very interesting, because Austen and her narrator do something a bit unusual - they follow Mrs. Morland out of the sitting room and upstairs to rummage about and look for a treatise that Mrs. Morland intends to use to beat some sense into get Catherine to stop moping. And so it is that we, the readers, as well as Mrs. Morland are entirely surprised to find Henry Tilney sitting in the parlor with a very happy Catherine. An excellent use of surprise, and well set-up, too. Writers wishing to pull of such a coup on their own may want to take at look at the opening seven paragraphs of this chapter to see the master at work.

After a few minutes of awkward conversation, Henry seizes upon the Allens as a topic of conversation, asking Catherine to take him over to pay his respects. Now, as modern readers, this strikes us pretty much solely as a fabricated pretext for a private conversation - and, indeed, it is a pretext for a private conversation, but there was nothing fabricated about it at all. Having made the acquaintance of the Allens in Bath, it would have been considered extremely rude of Henry to be in the neighborhood and not drop in, although the timing of his particular visit is an excuse to get Catherine alone, as he, Catherine and Mrs. Morland are all aware. Mrs. Morland thinks he just wants to tell Catherine what was up with his father, because she hasn't the slightest clue of his relationship with Catherine at this point. In the movie clip below, however, you will see that Mrs. Moreland is far savvier than her counterpart within the book. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The conversation between Henry and Catherine

I love how the narrator conveys the conversation here. It's worth pointing out that Henry doesn't lead with what was up with his dad, but goes straight for a declaration of love, which is, of course, reciprocated. The narrator's glee in pointing out that Catherine's feelings are not a secret to anyone, including Henry, makes me very happy. Also funny? Her assertion that the reason he ever gave Catherine a serious look in the first place was her attraction to Henry. But where it becomes positively hilarious is where the narrator acknowledges that such motivation may be a first within the pages of a novel, but is a commonplace in the real world:

Some explanation on his father's account he had to give; but his first purpose was to explain himself, and before they reached Mr. Allen's grounds he had done it so well, that Catherine did not think it could ever be repeated too often. She was assured of his affection; and that heart in return was solicited, which, perhaps, they pretty equally knew was already entirely his own; for, though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own. (Emphasis added.)

The happy couple visits Mrs. Allen only briefly, during which both of them are pretty much incoherent - again, a fact in keeping with real life, I think. Besides, do you suppose that Mrs. Allen noticed they were incoherent? I rather suspect not.

Clever use of "telling"
Austen's narrator cleverly tells us the entire story behind General Tilney's actions in taking a liking to Catherine and later chucking her out, filling us in on John Thorpe's role in the matter. Only after she's filled us in on the whole General Tilney line (which makes perfect sense as backstory to his actions and motivations throughout, by the by) does she mention that Henry didn't tell Catherine all of that, but that it was patched together from a variety of sources. Genius, I tell you.

Henry proves his mettle by standing up to his father on multiple counts: he expresses disapproval of how the General treated Catherine, refuses to go with him to Herefordshire, and tells his father that he intends to propose to Catherine. He left his furious father at Northanger, returned to Woodston, then set off for Fullerton the following day.

It is worth noting that Henry's disagreement with his father is justified to the reader, as a means of showing that Henry is morally in the right here in bucking parental authority. Otherwise, you see, his lack of respect for his father would be shocking indeed.

But, in such a cause, [the General's] anger, though it must shock, could not intimidate Henry, who was sustained in his purpose by a conviction of its justice. He felt himself bound as much in honour as in affection to Miss Morland, and believing that heart to be his own which he had been directed to gain, no unworthy retraction of a tacit consent, no reversing decree of unjustifiable anger, could shake his fidelity, or influence the resolutions it prompted.

And now, for a bit of the final scene (with a squee-inducing kiss, I might add):

Tomorrow: Do we get our happily ever after?

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