Northanger Abbey: Volume I, Chapters 10 - 11

To Austen-L

October 28, 1997

Re: NA: At long last, Tilney

Chapter Ten is delightful. At long last, Tilney. He dances divinely, and is witty and gay--and yes, I agree, refreshed from within by Catherine's fresh and unspoiled enjoyment of the sparkling surface of life in Bath. But at long last too a real friend for Catherine, Eleanor Tilney. The scene between these two is quiet but appealing, and was put here to begin a theme of real versus false friendship between women.

This leads me to describe another "problem" in the novel. Austen wants us to see a real friendship beginning between Catherine and Eleanor as the book moves on, a friendship Eleanor needs very badly. We are supposed to realize how alone she is, how tyrannized over. This is strengthened by what we learn and the few words she offers at the Abbey. She misses her mother badly. She needs a female friend. Henry thanks Catherine for coming. Eleanor is hurt when Catherine mentions aloud her fear she is perhaps overstaying her welcome. The few words she is given make her sound real enough; we hear a voice. But it is not sufficiently individuated.

Maybe it's that the scenes Eleanor is in are short or generalized in some ways, and Austen often chooses to develop the topic of conversation (books, the gothic, taste) rather than concentrating on the girls' relationshop. But I think it's rather that Eleanor Tilney does not appear often, and when she does she is often overshadowed by her brother, or worse, silenced by her father. I don't know how many people on this list have read a book by Tillie Olssen which made quite a stir more than 10 years back. It was called Silences. She talked of what has and still lies beneath women's silences, how and why they have been and continue to be silenced. Elinor Dashwood is often silent or we are told she "could only smile" (while her insides are twisting and turning). I always think of Eleanor Tilney when I think of this book.

Eleanor is a gothic heroine, and there is a kind of parallel between her and Radcliffe's Emily and her father and Montoni and Henry and Valancourt. So she will appear as a stereotype. But in the more realistic parts of the book and in scenes like that before us and later we are given a sense of a cordial presence, a generous intelligent spirit who is well-adjusted (considering her life), a mature woman who can live within herself but also recognizes Isabella for the thing she is, and Catherine for the good companion she could be to her.

But it's not enough. She is not allowed to exist vis-a-vis Catherine, just the two, for sufficient length. She drops out of sight for too many chapters at a time.

Still it's not as if Austen says there cannot be real friendship between women in the world, or that it's not important. The book ends with Catherine and Eleanor becoming close sisters, and the most moving scene in the book occurs between them when Eleanor is forced to usher Catherine out of the house before 7 in the morning, and having remembered how low Catherine's cash must have become, presses on her 15l, which 15l Catherine gratefully takes, and without which 15l Catherine could have ended up at least for a few days like some Jane Eyre wandering the fields, trading gloves for bread. But of course she doesn't because in the real world most of the time people can scrape together tiny bits of money.

Ellen Moody

To Austen-l

October 29, 1997

Re: NA Ch 10: John Thorpe's Body

Aysin asked about John Thorpe's abrupt accusation of Catherine, did we think he "really asked Catherin to dance that evening when she is ignoring him" (Chapter 10). My interpretation of this is that it is yet another of his outright lies. He is without conscience and says whatever comes to his mind at the moment. I agree Catherine was ignoring him, and I take her behavior to have been sufficiently effective that he was not able to get at her until she got into a set. Thorpe has learned that it is not acceptable to call someone a liar, so that when he lies for the moment or until he is found out of if he has managed to make the person he lies to act upon his lie in such a way as to make the situation irretrievable (at least for a time) he will have the upper hand.

We've already discussed John Thorpe as a boor; he is one of the most grating presences in all Austen! It's curious that NA is a such a cheerful book yet it has this horror of a boor, the tyrant General, the dead mother, and a lonely suffering gothic heroine who is really loveable.

Ellen Moody

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