Northanger Abbey

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Catherine Morland, the protagonist, is an enthusiastic reader of Gothic novels. She expects her life to be like those she reads about, despite the fact that she is no storybook creature--neither beautiful nor clever nor rich, just a country parson’s daughter in a large, happy family.

Like the maidens in romances, though, Catherine ventures away from home. Instead of some exotic locale, she visits Bath, where she enjoys ordinary resort pleasures with amiably normal English folk. Of her new acquaintances, the most agreeable are a witty young clergyman, Henry Tilney, and his sister. Catherine is delighted when their proud father, General Tilney, invites her to stay at their country house, which is, she is thrilled to learn, an abbey.

In spite of its antiquity and monastic origins, Northanger Abbey turns out to be both comfortable and convenient. Catherine’s education in the difference between life and literature continues when she discovers a mysterious document in an old chest, broods all night over what dire tale it may relate, and at daybreak finds that she has lost sleep over a laundry list.

Catherine’s new experiences may not be what the Gothic novelists describe, but they are not simple, direct, or dull either. General Tilney, though not the wife-slayer Catherine had idly fancied him, is a brutal and calculating man. On learning that she is not the heiress he had supposed, he packs her off to her parents. But Catherine does not have long to mull over the harsh lessons of real life. Henry Tilney, outraged by his father’s behavior, rushes to her and proposes. The Morlands approve, and the general comes to decide that his clerical son could do worse than marry a clergyman’s daughter.


Butler, Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975. The first part of this two-part study describes the political and feminist controversies of the period. The second part examines Austen’s novels within this historical context and demonstrates her conservative politics. Includes an...

(The entire section is 860 words.)