Chapter 1 Summary
Northanger Abbey was the first novel Jane Austen wrote (around 1798), but it was not published until after her death in 1818. The story follows teenager Catherine Morland as she makes her way through the British society of her time. In this story, Catherine loves Gothic novels. Some critics have suggested that Northanger Abbey may have been written as a parody of that genre.
Catherine Morland is the daughter of a clergyman. Richard Morland and his wife have ten children; Catherine is the fourth oldest. At the age of ten, Catherine is described as a skinny girl with dark, lank hair and colorless skin. She is plain looking and does not care about her appearance. Cleanliness and education are of little interest to her. She would rather be playing cricket with the boys or rolling down a grassy field than practicing music, drawing, or learning French, the entertainments of most girls her age.
Catherine is very attentive and patient with her siblings and gently cares for the six sisters and brothers born after her. She loves small animals like mice and birds, is not quarrelsome with her parents or older brothers, and abhors being confined indoors.
As Catherine matures from ten to fifteen, her parents notice physical changes in their daughter. Her features are softened by the extra weight she puts on, and her attention is diverted from dirt to the refinement of nice clothes. Her parents are often overheard saying that Catherine has become “almost pretty.”
Although Catherine prefers riding horses to reading books, she does enjoy novels. It is through books of fiction that Catherine forms her opinions of who might be considered a hero and what that entails. Her definitions of heroism have nothing to do with the life around her, though. There are no young men upon whom she can invest the information she has gleaned from the fictional tales in which she indulges. None of her family’s friends have sons her age. There are no young men in her town or in neighboring villages. There are no young lords to stir her passions.
When she turns seventeen, a friend of her father’s, Mr. Allen, who is described as a warm-hearted man, must travel to Bath to treat an ailment. Mrs. Allen surmises that if a young girl cannot find adventures at home she must go elsewhere to find them, so she Allen asks the Morlands if Catherine might travel with them. When the Morlands consent, Catherine is extremely thankful.