Northanger Abbey: Volume II, Chapters 5 - 6 (20 - 21)

To Austen-L

December 1, 1997

Re: NA, Ch 20 (II:5): "I am always sorry to leave Elinor"

This is the chapter in which the mood of NA seems to shift from a satire of manners to a deep-musing imitation of Gothic romance. Insofar as Henry is serious in his ride with Catherine to the Abbey, he is serious about Eleanor, and although the naive Catherine passes over the comment, we are not supposed to. Catherine's heart leaps at being set down by his side, but his is more sombre:

"And then his hat sat so well, and the innumerable capes of his greatcoat looked so becomingly important! To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world. In addition to every other delight, she had now that of listening to her own praise; of being thanked at least, on his sister's account, for her kindness in thus becoming her visitor; of hearing it ranked as real friendship, and described as creating real gratitude. His sister, he said, was uncomfortably circumstanced--she had no female companion--and, in the frequent absence of her father, was sometimes without any companion at all.

'But how can that be?" said Catherine. "Are not you with her?'

'Northanger is not more than half my home; I have an establishment at my own house in Woodston, which is nearly twenty miles from my father's, and some of my time is necessarily spent there.'

'How sorry you must be for that!'

'I am always sorry to leave Eleanor'" (1995 Penguin Butler ed, Ch 20, pp 137-8)

A vein of quiet sombre is interlaced through the coming chapters, making the gothic deeper, for as we have all said, it is in the vein or prosaic realism that Austen would have us understand that life's real obstacles and terrors reside.

The chapter opens up with the General's bullying of his eldest son. We do not yet know for sure why the General pretends to such concern for Catherine, though we are given enough to see that he thinks her and the Allens enormously rich. That Catherine's interpretation of Captain Tilney's oversleeping is absurd does not detract us from recognizing the real emotions subtended by his surreptitious remark to his sister.

"He listened to his father in silence, and attempted not any defence, which confirmed her in fearing that the inquietude of his mind, on Isabella's account, might, by keeping him long sleepless, have been the real cause of his rising late. It was the first time of her being decidedly in his company, and she had hoped to be now able to form her opinion of him; but she scarcely heard his voice while his father remained in the room; and even afterwards, so much were his spirits affected, she could distinguish nothing but these words, in a whisper to Eleanor, 'How glad I shall be when you are all off'" (Penguin p 136)

We might infer that the innocent young girl who can attribute good motives to everyone while she is surrounded by cool hypocrites has had an easier life than Eleanor who has been made to see beneath the hypocrisy. In this Eleanor Tilney resembles Fanny Price much more than Catherine Morland does. Eleanor understands what a woman may be asked to endure in order to have what passes for safety in her society. According to Eva Figes and others, this reality is what the Gothic romance presents a disguised metaphor for--or "encodes."

Ellen Moody

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