Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In the tradition of the late eighteenth century sentimental and gothic novels which it parodies, Northanger Abbey presents its heroine with a series of increasingly difficult trials that she must overcome in order to achieve self-knowledge, knowledge about the world, and the hand of her true love. Yet Catherine Morland is an atypical heroine, and her adventures are less than heroic.

The novel covers a period of approximately two months, six weeks of which are spent in the resort town of Bath, where the seventeen-year-old Catherine goes with Mr. and Mrs. Allen, her well-meaning but ineffectual chaperones. After an initial period of discomfort and loneliness, Catherine meets Henry Tilney, who immediately charms her with a parody of the affectations of Bath society. Catherine’s happiness is increased by meeting Isabella Thorpe, who quickly becomes her intimate friend. The girls passionately share opinions on novels, thoughts on fashion, and gossip. Then Catherine’s brother, James, and Isabella’s brother, John, arrive in Bath. Even though Catherine discovers that John is not entirely pleasant, she becomes part of a foursome established by Isabella and James. To complicate matters further for Catherine, Henry Tilney introduces her to his sister, Eleanor, with whom Catherine also desires friendship.

Catherine is pulled between these two quite different sets of friends. Henry and Eleanor offer Catherine intelligent and reasonable companionship, guiding her mind and her social...

(The entire section is 620 words.)