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by Jane Austen
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775, the daughter of the rector of Steventon, in Hampshire, England, and received her education from her father, a former Fellow of St. John's College, Oxford. Her life was spent in the country or in country towns, chiefly at the village of Chawton, near Winchester. She died, unmarried, at Winchester on July 18, 1817, and was buried in the cathedral. Her realism, irony and social commentary in tales of the minor gentry has made her one of the most widely read writers in English literature.
"Northanger Abbey" was written in 1798, revised for the press in 1803, and sold in the same year for £10 to a Bath bookseller, who held it in such light esteem that, after allowing it to remain for many years on his shelves, he was content to sell it back to the novelist's brother, Henry Austen, for the exact sum which he had paid for it at the beginning, not knowing that the writer was already the author of four popular novels.
For more works by Jane Austen, see The Index
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy could have supposed her born to be a heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard, and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence, besides two good livings, and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and, instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on - lived to have six children more - to see them growing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. Catherine, for many years of her life, was as plain as any member of her family. She had a thin, awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark, lank hair, and strong features. So much for her person; and not less propitious for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond of all boys' sports, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy - nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rosebush. Indeed, she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief - at least, so it was conjectured from her habit of always preferring those which she was strictly forbidden to take.
Such were her propensities; her abilities were quite as extraordinary. She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught, and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid. Her mother wished her to learn music; and Catherine was sure she should like it, for she was very fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlorn spinet; so at eight years old she began. She learnt a year, and could not bear it; and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on her daughters being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste, allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine's life. Her taste for drawing was not superior; though, whenever she could obtain the outside of a letter from her mother, or seize upon any other odd piece of paper, she did what she could in that way by drawing houses and trees, hens and chickens, all very much like one another. Writing and accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother. Her proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could.
What a strange, unaccountable character! For with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldom stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones, with few interruptions of tyranny. She was noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.
Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were mending: she began to curl her hair and long for balls, her complexion improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery; she grew clean and she grew smart; and she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. From fifteen, indeed, to seventeen, she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.
So far her improvement was sufficient; and in many other points she came on exceedingly well, for though she could not write sonnets, she brought herself to read them; and though there seemed no chance of her throwing a whole party into raptures by a prelude on the pianoforte of her own composition, she could listen to other people's performances with very little fatigue.
Her greatest deficiency was in the pencil. She had no notion of drawing, not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover's profile, that she might be detected in the design. There she fell miserably short of the true heroic height. At present she did not know her own poverty, for she had no lover to portray. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no, not even a baronet! There was not one family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door; no, not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had no ward, and the squire of the parish no children. But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happen to throw a hero in her way.
Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property about Fullerton, the village in Wiltshire where the Morland family lived, was ordered to Bath for the benefit of a gouty constitution; and his lady, a good-humoured woman, fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware that if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village she must seek them abroad, invited her to go with them. Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness.
When the hour for departure drew nigh, the maternal anxiety of Mrs. Morland will be naturally supposed to have been most severe. But she knew so little of lords and baronets that she entertained no notion of their general mischievousness, and was wholly unsuspicious of danger to her daughter from their machinations. Her cautions were confined to advising her to wrap up well when she came from the rooms at night, and to try to keep some account of the money she spent.
Sally, or rather Sarah, must, from situation, be at this time the intimate friend and confidante of her sister. It is remarkable, however, that she neither insisted on Catherine's writing by every post, nor exacted her promise of transmitting the character of every new acquaintance nor a detail of every interesting conversation that Bath might produce. Everything, indeed, relative to this important journey was done on the part of the Morlands with a strange degree of moderation and composure. Catherine's father, instead of giving her an unlimited order on his banker, or even putting a hundred pounds bankbill into her hands, gave her only ten guineas, and promised her more when she wanted it. The journey was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. They arrived at Bath, and were soon settled in comfortable lodgings in Pulteney Street.
Mrs. Allen had not beauty, genius, accomplishment, or manner. The air of a gentlewoman, a great deal of quiet, inactive good temper, and a trifling turn of mind, were all that could account for her being the choice of a sensible, intelligent man like Mr. Allen. In one respect she was admirably fitted to introduce a young lady into public, being as fond of going everywhere and seeing everything herself as any young lady could be. Dress was her passion; and our heroine's entrée into life could not take place till after three or four days had been spent in providing her chaperon with a dress of the newest fashion. Catherine, too, made some purchases herself; and when all those matters were arranged, the important evening came which was to usher her into the upper rooms. But nothing happened that evening. Mrs. Allen knew nobody there, and so Catherine was unable to dance.
A day or two later, when they made their appearance in the lower rooms, fortune was more favourable to our heroine. The master of the ceremonies introduced to her a very gentleman-like young man as a partner. His name was Tilney. He was a clergyman, seemed to be about four or five and twenty, was rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it. His address was good, he talked with fluency and spirit, and there was an archness and pleasantry in his manner which interested, though it was hardly understood by, her. Catherine felt herself in high luck; and they parted, on the lady's side at least, with a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance.
But when Catherine hastened to the pump-room the next day, there was no Mr. Tilney to be seen. Instead, Mrs. Allen had the good fortune to meet an acquaintance at last in the person of a Mrs. Thorpe, a former schoolfellow whom she had seen only once since their respective marriages. Their joy on this meeting was very great, as well it might be, since they had been contented to know nothing of each other for the last fifteen years. Mrs. Thorpe had one great advantage as a talker over Mrs. Allen, in a family of children; and when she had expatiated on the talents of her sons and the beauty of her daughters, Mrs. Allen had no similar information to give, no similar triumphs to press on the unwilling and unbelieving ear of her friend. She was forced to sit and to appear to listen to all these maternal effusions, and to be introduced, along with Catherine, to the three Miss Thorpes, who proved to be sisters of a young man who was at the same college as Catherine's brother James. James, indeed, had actually spent the last week of the Christmas vacation with the family near London.
The progress of the friendship thus entered into by Catherine and Isabella, the eldest of the Miss Thorpes, was quick as its beginning was warm; and they passed so rapidly through every gradation of increasing tenderness that there was shortly no fresh proof of it to be given to their friends and themselves. They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other's train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up to read novels together. One day, after they had been talking of "Udolpho," of other "horrid" books and of their favourite complexion in a man, they met Catherine's brother James and Isabella's brother John in a gig. On introduction, the latter proved to be a smart young man of middle height, who, with a plain face and ungraceful form, seemed fearful of being too handsome unless he wore the dress of a groom, and too much like a gentleman unless he were easy where he ought to be civil, and impudent where he might be allowed to be easy. James, of course, was attached to Isabella. "She has so much good sense," he said, "and is so thoroughly unaffected and amiable."
At the dance at the upper rooms which took place on the evening of the same day, Mr. Tilney made his reappearance, and introduced his sister to Catherine. Miss Tilney had a good figure, a pretty face, and a very agreeable countenance. Her air, though it had not all the decided pretension, the resolute stylishness, of Miss Thorpe's, had more real elegance; and her manners showed better sense and better breeding. She seemed capable of being young and attractive at a ball, without wanting to fix the attention of every man near her.
Unfixed as Catherine's general notions were of a what a man ought to be, she could not entirely repress a doubt of Mr. John Thorpe's being altogether completely agreeable. A tattler and a swaggerer, having elicited, as he thought, from Catherine that she was the destined heiress of Mr. Allen, he twice endeavoured to detach her, by a glaring lie, from keeping engagements with the Tilneys; and when he did succeed in persuading her to go with him in his gig, she found that the whole of his talk ended with himself and his own concerns. He told her of horses which he had bought for a trifle and sold for incredible sums; of racing matches in which his judgment had infallibly foretold the winner; of shooting-parties in which he had killed more birds (though without having one good shot) than all his companions together; and described to her some famous days spent with the foxhounds, in which his foresight and skill in directing the dogs had repaired the mistakes of the most experienced huntsman, and in which the boldness of his riding, though it had never endangered his own life for a single moment, had been constantly leading others into difficulties which, he calmly concluded, had broken the necks of more than one person.
All this rather wearied Catherine; and not even his relating to her that Mr. Tilney's father, General Tilney - whom he was talking to one night at the theatre - had declared her the finest girl in Bath could reconcile her to the idea that Mr. John Thorpe had the faculty of giving universal pleasure. It was a visit which she paid to Miss Tilney to apologise for not keeping an engagement which Mr. John had caused her to break that first introduced her to the general. A handsome, stately, well-bred man, with a temper that made him a martinet to his own children, he received her with a politeness, and even a deference, that delighted and surprised her. But whereas Catherine's simplicity of character made her growing attachment to Mr. Tilney obvious to that gentleman and to his sister, it was not so clear that he reciprocated her feelings. Generally he amused himself by talking down to her or making fun of her in a good-natured way. One day they were speaking of Mrs. Radcliffe's works, and more particularly of the "Mysteries of Udolpho."
"I have read all of Mrs. Radcliffe's works," said he, "and most of them with great pleasure."
"I am very glad to hear it, indeed," replied Catherine, "and now I shall never be ashamed of liking 'Udolpho' myself. But I really thought that young men despised novels amazingly."
"It is amazingly; it may well suggest amazement if they do, for they read nearly as many as women," was Mr. Tilney's answer. "I myself have read hundreds and hundreds. Do not imagine that you can cope with me in a knowledge of Julias and Louisas. Consider how many years I have had the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford while you were probably a good little girl working your sampler at home!"
"Not very good, I am afraid. But now, really, do you not think 'Udolpho' the nicest book in the world?"
"The nicest; by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend on the binding," said he.
"I am sure," cried Catherine hastily, "I did not mean to say anything wrong; but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?"
"Very true," said Henry, "and this is a very nice day; and we are taking a very nice walk; and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh, it is a very nice word indeed - it does for everything! Originally perhaps, it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement; people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or in their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word."
Meanwhile, Catherine was required to interest herself in her friend's love affairs. Isabella surprised her one day with the news that she was engaged to her brother James; and, obviously under the impression that her lover was the heir of a wealthy man, seemed to wonder whether his parents would acquiesce in the engagement. But despite her affection for James, she danced with Mr. Tilney's elder brother, Captain Tilney, at a ball which was given while her betrothed was absent on the necessary visit to his parents; and when letters were received from him, announcing their consent to the match and the agreement of Mr. Morland to resign a living of four hundred pounds to his son and to bequeath to him by will an estate of the same value, Isabella looked grave first at the smallness of the income, and then at the fact that it would be nearly three years before James would be old enough to take it.
Meantime, she continued to flirt rather openly with Captain Tilney, much to James' uneasiness and to his sister's distress. But Catherine was to some extent reassured as to the captain's conduct by his brother Henry, and she was so overjoyed by receiving an invitation from General Tilney to pay a visit to Northanger Abbey, his beautiful country seat, that a parting interview with Isabella and James, at which he was in excellent spirits and she most engagingly placid, left her blissfully convinced that the behaviour of the lovers was a model of judicious affection.
The Tilney party set out for the Abbey in great state, the ladies in the general's chaise and four, with postilions and numerous outriders, and the general and Henry in the latter's curricle. But at the first stage the general proposed that Catherine should take his place in the curricle that she might "see as much of the country as possible;" and, for the rest of the journey she was tête-à-tête with Henry, who amused himself by rallying her upon the sliding panels, ghastly tapestry, funereal beds, vaulted chambers, and kindred uncanny apparatus which, judging from her favourite kind of fiction, she must be expecting to find at the Abbey.
As a matter of fact, Northanger, though it comprised some parts of the old Abbey, turned out to be a building thoroughly modernized and improved. Notwithstanding, Catherine could not restrain her imagination from running riot just a little. A large cedar chest, curiously inlaid and provided with silver handles, first attracted her attention. But this was soon found to contain merely a white cotton counterpane. A high old-fashioned ebony cabinet, which she noticed in her bedroom just before stepping into bed, struck her as offering more promise of romantic interest. Even this, after a most thrilling search, in the midst of which her candle went out, yielded nothing better than an inventory of linen.
Still, Catherine's passion for romance was not easily to be disappointed. Hearing from Eleanor Tilney that her mother's fatal illness had been sudden and short, and had taken place in her absence from home, Catherine's blood ran cold with the horrid suggestions that naturally sprang from these words. Could it be possible? Could Henry's father - - ? And yet how many were the examples to justify even the blackest suspicions? And when she saw him in the evening, while she worked with her friend, slowly pacing the drawing-room for an hour together in silent thoughtfulness, with downcast eye and contracted brow, she felt secure from all possibility of wronging him. It was indeed the air and attitude of a Montoni! What could more plainly speak the gloomy workings of a mind not wholly dead to every sense of humanity, in its fearful review of past scenes of guilt?
Full, then, of the idea that the general had ill-treated his wife, ready even to believe that she might still be living and a prisoner, our heroine set out one day to explore a certain set of rooms into which the general, in showing her over the house, had not taken her. But she was caught in the act by Henry Tilney, who revealed, with customary openness, what had been in her mind, and received only a very gentle rebuke.
Most grievously was she humbled. Her folly, which now seemed even criminal, was all exposed to him; and he must surely despise her for ever. But he did nothing of the kind. His astonishing generosity and nobleness of conduct were such that the only difference he made in his behaviour to her was to pay her somewhat more attention than usual.
But the anxieties of common life began soon to succeed to the alarms of romance. Catherine's desire of hearing from Isabella grew every day greater. For nine successive mornings she wondered over the repetition of disappointment; and then, on the tenth, she got a letter - not from Isabella, but from James, announcing the breaking off of the engagement by mutual consent. At first she was much upset by the news, and burst into tears. But in the end she saw it in a more philosophic light, so that before long Henry was able to rally her on her former bosom friendship with Miss Thorpe without offending her. And when a day or two later a letter arrived from Isabella containing the amazing sentences, "I am quite uneasy about your dear brother, not having heard from him since he went to Oxford, and am fearful of some misunderstanding. Your kind offices will set all right: he is the only man I ever did or could love, and I trust you will convince him of it - - " Catherine resolved: "No; whatever would happen, James should never hear Isabella's name mentioned by her again."
Soon afterwards, a bolt fell from the blue. General Tilney, who had paid Catherine the most embarrassing attentions, suddenly and unexpectedly returned from town, where he had gone for a day or two on business, and packed Catherine off home immediately, with hardly an apology, and at scarcely a moment's notice. He had met young Thorpe in town, it seemed; and John had this time under-estimated the wealth and consequence of the Morlands as much as he had over-stated them before when he talked to the general in the theatre at Bath.
The rudeness of the general, however, proved not so very great a disaster to Catherine. The interest and liking which Henry had first felt for her had gradually grown into a warmer feeling, and, roused to a sense of this by his father's tyrannical behaviour, he presented himself to Catherine at Fullerton, proposed to her, and was accepted. It was not long before the general gave his consent. Getting at last to a right understanding of Mr. Morland's circumstances - which, he found, would allow Catherine to have three thousand pounds - and delighted by the recent marriage of his daughter Eleanor to a viscount, he agreed to the union; and so Henry and Catherine were married within a twelvemonth from the first day of their meeting.
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