I often say Mr. Tilney is my book boyfriend but Mr. Darcy is my book husband. Henry just seems like so much fun! However, maybe I should amend that statement. For, Mr. Tilney has some definite opinions about marriage and we do not know anything about what Darcy expects.
Henry and Catherine first meet in the Lower Rooms and danced twice. Then, he leaves Bath for about ten days. They meet again at the Octagon Room but cannot dance as Catherine is already promised to Mr. Thorpe. It takes a few more days before they meet again and are able to converse. During this dance, Thorpe interrupts them before they take to the floor. Thorpe tries to pressure Catherine into dancing with him although he had never asked.
This is what Mr. Tilney says:
“That gentleman would have put me out of patience, had he stayed with you half a minute longer. He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me. We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. Nobody can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage. Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of both; and those men who do not choose to dance or marry themselves, have no business with the partners or wives of their neighbours.”
Catherine, of course, can’t believe that Mr. Tilney would compare a simple dance to a marriage. He offers a sound rebuttal.
“…I think I could place them in such a view. You will allow, that in both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with anyone else. You will allow all this?”
Catherine continues to say that dancing is not like marriage and Henry cannot resist teasing that she is not agreeing with her partner enough to make him assured she not allow anyone else to cut in. It’s fun to read as we can see Henry is taking enough concern in Catherine that he wants to have her attention. Thorpe talks about wanting to be her partner but is then distracted by trying to sell Tilney a horse and then a gaggle of ladies walking by.
Despite Catherine disagreeing with Henry, she does try to offer him security.
“Mr. Thorpe is such a very particular friend of my brother’s, that if he talks to me, I must talk to him again; but there are hardly three young men in the room besides him that I have any acquaintance with.”
This is insufficient for Henry but Catherine soon adds:
if I do not know anybody, it is impossible for me to talk to them;
For Henry, what consolation could this give? Should a husband lock his wife up? She should never be trusted with knowing another man? Consider that in light of his father and you can guess it may not have been far from what he grew up knowing. Knowing and, hopefully, hating.
Fortunately, that’s not the end of Catherine’s statement.
“…and, besides, I do not want to talk to anybody.”
I can just imagine Henry’s teasing smirk as he replies,
“Now you have given me a security worth having; and I shall proceed with courage.”
I wonder if it’s this moment that shifts Henry’s feelings from general amusement with Catherine to the gratitude of her attachment which is the foundation of his eventual love.
though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.
One must remember that Catherine’s frankness and openness would have been unusual for the Society ladies Henry often met with. He would have been more accustomed to the sort of sly trickery Isabella Thorpe employs. While Catherine often thinks of her country naivete as a liability, it’s exactly what Henry needs in life. Catherine offers the honesty that he’s looking for in a partner for life. Mr. Tilney may just be the best Austen husband material after all.