Thursday, August 27, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Eight


Chapter 28 - the very short version The General takes a short trip to London, and on his return directs Eleanor to tell Catherine to leave. Tomorrow. Unescorted.

Chapter 28
The General takes a short trip to London, during which Eleanor and Catherine agree that she's to stay with them for weeks and weeks more, making Eleanor, Catherine and Henry terribly happy. On Saturday, Henry heads to Woodston so he can perform his ministerial duties. That night, the General returns, and directs Eleanor to tell Catherine to leave. Tomorrow. Unescorted. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

How rude is General Tilney? Let me count the ways:

1. For a host to tell an invited guest to leave was pretty rude.

2. To tell them to leave on extremely short notice was really rude.

3. To arrange travel arrangements for the guest's departure before the guest is even aware that they're going is pretty . . . inconsiderate. (I am reminded of the mover in the "Don't F*ck With Mr. Zero" T-shirt knowing about Harry's separation before he did.)

4. To send a young lady off unescorted was exceedingly rude. Slap-in-the-face rude. Inviting trouble rude.

5. Travelling on Sunday was considered poor manners unless there was some particularly exacerbating circumstance.

6. Forcing someone else to travel on Sunday is that much worse - you are forcing someone who might never violate the "no travel on Sunday" injunction to do just that.

To sum up, our host, General Tilney, told an invited guest to get the hell out, on very short notice, with arrangements for her departure already made before she knows a thing about it. She is being sent post-chaise* without a servant or other escort, and she's being forced to leave at a beastly early hour on Sunday morning - not only will she be travelling on Sunday, but he's preventing her from attending church as well. Oh - and he's forcing her to arrive at her family's home unexpectedly and unannounced. It's all highly irregular and extraordinarily unmannerly, when taken as a whole.

*post-chaise: The General is sending Catherine in a closed carriage. It's a private vehicle (sometimes owned, sometimes hired), and not a form of public transportation like a stage coach. That said, when travelling a distance, stops would be made and horses would be changed. The driver would likely have ridden postilion (astride the left-hand horse of the pair closest to the carriage - there would have been either two or four horses pulling the carriage; if there were two pair, he'd have held the reins to the front pair while riding the back pair). Catherine is being sent without an escort to keep her company at any rest stops, so she has to manage whatever needs to be done on her own - an unusual circumstance for a young, unmarried lady.

Catherine's thoughts on the matter show remarkable discernment, and display character growth:

It was as incomprehensible as it was mortifying and grievous. From what it could arise, and where it would end, were considerations of equal perplexity and alarm. The manner in which it was done so grossly uncivil, hurrying her away without any reference to her own convenience, or allowing her even the appearance of choice as to the time or mode of her travelling; of two days, the earliest fixed on, and of that almost the earliest hour, as if resolved to have her gone before he was stirring in the morning, that he might not be obliged even to see her. What could all this mean but an intentional affront? By some means or other she must have had the misfortune to offend him.

Brava, Catherine! You've finally gotten something right. Too bad there's no way you can correctly sort out what it is that has the General's knickers in a twist. In this scene in which Catherine has to react/respond to something truly horrible, she manages to react and respond rationally. Does she cry? Yes, but only when alone. She wonders about the possible reasons and sorts out that the General is (to borrow from Lady Catherine De Bourgh in the 1995 BBC Production) "quite put out". Catherine's exit from Northanger Abbey is another "civilized" twist on a Gothic theme, in which the heroine is sent on a midnight carriage ride alone under horrifying conditions. Now, Catherine's not leaving at midnight, but she is leaving terribly early in the morning and under all of the rude circumstances already discussed. Dear Jane Austen: I c what u did thar.

Before moving on, let's take a second to recall how Catherine spent her first night at the Abbey - wigged out about the storm and wondering about the documents she found in that cabinet right before her candle went out. Now, let's look at how our little girl has grown through the course of the novel:

Heavily passed the night. Sleep, or repose that deserved the name of sleep, was out of the question. That room, in which her disturbed imagination had tormented her on her first arrival, was again the scene of agitated spirits and unquiet slumbers. Yet how different now the source of her inquietude from what it had been then -- how mournfully superior in reality and substance! Her anxiety had foundation in fact, her fears in probability; and with a mind so occupied in the contemplation of actual and natural evil, the solitude of her situation, the darkness of her chamber, the antiquity of the building, were felt and considered without the smallest emotion; and though the wind was high, and often produced strange and sudden noises throughout the house, she heard it all as she lay awake, hour after hour, without curiosity or terror.

Catherine isn't kept awake by fantasies and fictions, but by actual concern over a very real situation. It is natural for one to be distressed under such circumstances, and what keeps her awake is not the noises she hears, but her curiosity and distress over what has occurred.

Poor Eleanor. Eleanor is in a horrible situation here as well. She is expected to be obedient to her father, and also expected not to violate any confidence he may have imparted as to the reason for his incivility. But she is genuinely fond of Catherine and seriously unhappy with the way her father is behaving. Nevertheless, she is constrained to act in accordance with his wishes. Under the circumstances, she does the best she can. She offers to help Catherine pack, requests that she write*, and ensures that Catherine has sufficient funds to pay her way home, all the while revealing herself to be upset and acting under severe strain.

*requests to correspond: Despite the fact that pretty much every member of the 19th-century gentry generated a large amount of personal correspondence, one did not simply send letters to people willy-nilly. One waited to be invited to correspond (you may recall that immediately prior to being invited to visit the Abbey back in Chapter 17, Catherine was hopeful that Eleanor was going to ask her to correspond). Eleanor has specifically asked Catherine to open a correspondence with her; however, given her father's fit of pique, Eleanor has asked Catherine to enter into a surreptitious correspondence by directing the letter to Eleanor's friend Alice (whom she will be visiting, presumably) as a means of getting the letter through undetected.

Eleanor's and Catherine's leave-taking concludes with Catherine making reference to Henry before bursting into tears and racing into the carriage. What will her family say when she gets home tomorrow?

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