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Northanger Abbey’s Characters

Victoria Elliott | Wednesday May 16, 2012


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Catherine Morland

Catherine is not a typical Gothic heroine – as Austen makes clear from the start. ‘No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.’ She isn’t an orphan, she’s plain rather than pretty, she’s a tomboy, she isn’t clever, she isn’t musical and she isn’t artistic.  The first three make her an untypical Gothic heroine, and the last three make her an untypical romantic heroine of the 18th century. She seems almost entirely unqualified to be a central character in a novel, as Austen would have it!

She is somewhat mended by age 17, when the novel begins, having become ‘almost pretty’ and having spent the preceding two years reading everything that she could get her hands on. Austen continues to use Catherine as a way to upend 18th century expectations of romantic fiction, in making her fall in love first, which breaks with the patterns of expected behaviour, a fact which Austen acknowledges. (In doing so she mocks the expectations of fiction and the gap between that and reality.)

Through the novel Catherine continues to develop in maturity, both in her understanding of herself and of others, substantially benefitting from the friendship of the Tilneys in this respect. She is frequently naïve in her initial analysis of other characters, and the gap between her assessment and our own is the source of much humour through the dramatic irony which Austen creates. The gaps in her ‘education’ of reading are highlighted through this naivety, and supplemented by her experiences in Bath. She is however, clearly a good person at heart – she is horrified when she discovers that the Allens do not think that she should have been out riding with John Thorpe in his carriage, and terribly distressed when she loses the good opinion of others (both of Henry, whom she cares...

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