Northanger Abbey: Volume II, Chapters 15 - 16 (30 - 31)

To Austen-l January 8, 1998

RE: NA, Chs 3 & 30: The Same Henry Tilney

While I can't quite agree that we watch any gradual change in Henry Tilney, and believe that the young man of real integrity who is seriously in love that we see in Chapter 30 was implicit in the witty and incisive young man we met in Chapter 3, it's true that the General's behavior over the course of the novel by first "luring" Catherine to the Abbey and more or less commanding Henry to make her love him because he, the General, thinks her very rich, and then egregiously throwing her out so swiftly that no time is given even for her to make sure she has the money for the trip brings out capacities in Henry which were not there in the opening of the book.

As the narrator tells us in her ironic last sentence, it was the General's interference which led to Henry falling in love. At the opening of the novel, he is attracted to a girl who is attracted to him. His father enables this love to grow, to be fostered and strengthened, and become rooted in Henry by inviting Catherine to the Abbey. So Henry is led to feel what he hadn't actually felt at the opening of the book. It is then the General who outrages Henry by his cruel indifference to Catherine as a human being.

Still the capacity for the love and outrage and fine behavior as a result were in Henry from the opening of the book. Henry does not think or feel about his values any differently than he did at the opening of the novel. If he is more serious with Catherine, it's because they are no longer new acquaintances, but lovers. (I agree we can see his "antifeminist" remarks as a kind of mask or guard, but again I think these scenes may be read both psychologically and thematically.)

To turn to those two heroes where I think Austen is showing us inward real change: Elizabeth actually brings out new capacities in Darcy. The problem is we don't see the transformation. Then 8 years and a renewed experience of Anne as an older man alters Wentworth's understanding of himself and their past. In this case we do see something of the inward switch. In these latter cases the men really begin to look at themselves and the world somewhat differently, though they don't inwardly cahnge. Henry does not do that, nor does Knightley.

I don't know where the idea has gotten around that great novels show characters inwardly changing utterly or reforming beyond a minimum. Emma does that, just. It's rare in life and it's even rarer in a good realistic novel.

Although Henry does not openly criticize his father, we see in all sorts of ways he is well aware of his father's mercenary values, coldness, hardness; similarly I think if Henry were to come across another Isabella Thorpe and see Captain Tilney again flirt and seduce her and lead her to losing some other "catch" he would not behave any differently than he did in this novel. Darcy behaves differently: at the opening of P&Pit is inconceivable that he would become close to the Gardiners. I agree. But maybe that's a flaw in the book. It's not quite realistic and that Austen pulls it off is as remarkable as the notion that a Henry Crawford would enjoy flirting with a Fanny Price. Wentworth thinks differently: at the opening of Persuasion he sees his years of anguish as basically Anne's fault; by the end he sees how much of this was his own fault in after years when he didn't return. Had he been able to be less proud and written the next year, she would have received him with open arms. Again I'm not sure for real how true this is: Persuasion's is fairy tale.

Ellen Moody

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