Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Northanger Abbey - Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter 26 - the very short version General Tilney takes Eleanor and Catherine to visit Henry at his home at Woodston

Chapter 26
Some brief summary is in order. No mail from Frederick Tilney, so who knows what's up there. And the General tells Henry they will surprise him one day when he's at Woodston. On Wednesday. At precisely 12:45 p.m. Have a little something - anything - ready. As long as it is precisely what the General likes precisely how he likes it. "[W]hy he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood?"

Also, how can one not fall in love with Henry Tilney in this scene?

A ball itself could not have been more welcome to Catherine than this little excursion, so strong was her desire to be acquainted with Woodston; and her heart was still bounding with joy when Henry, about an hour afterwards, came booted and great coated into the room where she and Eleanor were sitting, and said, "I am come, young ladies, in a very moralizing strain, to observe that our pleasures in this world are always to be paid for, and that we often purchase them at a great disadvantage, giving ready-monied actual happiness for a draft on the future, that may not be honoured. Witness myself, at this present hour. Because I am to hope for the satisfaction of seeing you at Woodston on Wednesday, which bad weather, or twenty other causes, may prevent, I must go away directly, two days before I intended it."

"Go away!" said Catherine, with a very long face. "And why?"

"Why! -- How can you ask the question? Because no time is to be lost in frightening my old housekeeper out of her wits, -- because I must go and prepare a dinner for you, to be sure."

"Oh! not seriously!"

"Aye, and sadly too -- for I had much rather stay."


I love Austen's use of indirect discourse here, and how she shifts from Catherine's frustrated internal narration about the passage of time to the narrator's smartass comment on how time passes just as it should:

Now, there was nothing so charming to her imagination as the unpretending comfort of a well-connected Parsonage, something like Fullerton, but better: Fullerton had its faults, but Woodston probably had none. -- If Wednesday should ever come!

It did come, and exactly when it might be reasonably looked for.


Catherine loves everything about Woodston - its setting, the village, and, of course, its owner (not that that part is exactly spelled out). She still hasn't quite realized what a yenta General Tilney is being here, nor does she understand him well enough to know what it is that he'd most like to hear, so rather than gushing about the house in accordance with her thoughts, she speaks with a bit more reserve, until she gets to the unfinished drawing room, which she immediately adores. Her effusive response about the room is exceedingly gratifying to the General. It also probably saves the home of a tenant, since part of what she loves is the view of a little cottage across the way, which results in this remark from the General: "'You like it -- you approve it as an object; -- it is enough. Henry, remember that Robinson is spoken to about it. The cottage remains.'" (Robinson is probably the estate manager for Henry.)

"[S]o gratifying had been the tenor of his conduct throughout the whole visit, so well assured was her mind on the subject of his expectations, that, could she have felt equally confident of the wishes of his son, Catherine would have quitted Woodston with little anxiety as to the How or the When she might return to it." Awww . . . poor insecure girl. Still, Austen completely nails this scene, I think. We learn more about how well-suited Catherine is to Henry - she likes his house and gardens and what he's done with it, and she finds it exceedingly comfortable. She's finally crystal-clear as to what the General's up to as a matchmaker, but uncertain about the depth of Henry's affections. Well-played, all 'round.

Tomorrow: A letter from Isabella - I guarantee it will be fun!

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