Friday, August 28, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Nine



Chapter 29 - the very short version Catherine gets home and her family thinks the General was a jerk.

Chapter 29

In what ought to be the most frightening episode in the book, Catherine is sent on a solitary journey of 11 hours of relatively steady travel by post chaise without any sort of companion. However, our heroine has matured so very much that even this holds no real fear for her - instead, she passes it in grief and concern: what will Henry say when he arrives at Northanger Abbey on Monday and finds her gone? and how will her family react when she arrives unlooked-for and unannounced? Will they be so affronted by the General's rudeness that they extend their dislike for Henry and Eleanor as well?

I love how Austen inserts her narrator into this scene to remind us how very average Catherine is, and how far from a novel this novel is. It also serves to describe the scene whilst claiming that the scene is not worth describing. Brilliant irony, Miss Austen.

A heroine returning, at the close of her career, to her native village, in all the triumph of recovered reputation, and all the dignity of a countess, with a long train of noble relations in their several phaetons, and three waiting-maids in a travelling chaise-and-four, behind her, is an event on which the pen of the contriver may well delight to dwell; it gives credit to every conclusion, and the author must share in the glory she so liberally bestows. -- But my affair is widely different; I bring back my heroine to her home in solitude and disgrace; and no sweet elation of spirits can lead me into minuteness. A heroine in a hack post-chaise, is such a blow upon sentiment, as no attempt at grandeur or pathos can withstand. Swiftly therefore shall her post-boy drive through the village, amid the gaze of Sunday groups, and speedy shall be her descent from it.

Home again, home again, jiggety-jigOn reaching home, Catherine is happy to see her family, and they are happy to see her. On hearing how her sudden trip home came about, they all agree that the General was impolite, to say the least. In a line given to one of Catherine's sisters, we read the precise reaction that so many readers have upon finishing the last chapter: "'I can allow for his wishing Catherine away, when he recollected this engagement,' said Sarah, 'but why not do it civilly?'"

The next morning, Catherine immediately sits down to write to Eleanor, wishing to reassure Eleanor that she reached home and that she still thinks well of Eleanor. I love how we get to listen in on Catherine as she agonizes over how to say what she wants without sounding, well, wrong somehow, and in a way that wouldn't embarrass her if Henry were to read the letter. I'm sure we've all been there, whether in personal or business correspondence. It's one of those real-life details that Austen draws in so well, allowing the reader to fully engage with her main character as a result.

Mrs. Morland attempts to cheer Catherine up

Mrs. Morland can't help but notice that Catherine is not quite herself. So she first goes for the "they weren't good enough for you" sort of message. However, when Mrs. Morland opines that perhaps Catherine is well-shot of the Tilneys (lumping them in with Isabella Thorpe, no less), Catherine springs to Eleanor's defense (you'll note that she hasn't spilled her affection for Henry). Although her words are about Eleanor, her emotional reaction is based on Henry - what will happen if she doesn't see him for years? Will he move on? Seeing Catherine upset, her mother switches to distraction: Let's go see Mrs. Allen!

Oh, Mrs. Allen!
Mr. Allen expresses unhappiness at hearing how Catherine was treated, which Mrs. Allen echoes, settling on a mantra of "I really have not patience with the General", followed by a discussion of various clothing items. She does, however, say kind things about Henry Tilney, which Mrs. Morland manages not to seize upon.

Mutual inattention
Mrs. Allen usually pays little attention to other people, preferring her own certainty in her own perspective, and so it is in this scene. But she's not the only one: as the scene closes, Mrs. Morland prattles to Catherine about how recent acquaintances are unimportant and keeping long-term friends is the source of true happiness, all while Catherine is busy thinking that Henry must have gotten to Northanger by now and must be on his way to Herefordshire with Eleanor and General Tilney to visit the General's friend.

I am already jumping up and down, for tomorrow brings HENRY with it!

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