Jane Austen pokes fun of the Gothic tropes common for her day in Northanger Abbey. Storms rage and mysterious chests might contain secrets. The abbey might have hidden passageways. General Tilney is a domineering father who oppresses his children. However, Catherine is the heroine, not Elinor Tilney. Catherine has no such terrifying background to overcome. Indeed, the narrator acknowledges there’s very little that’s heroine-like about her.
However, she has also known great distress. I mean, of course, when she was hiding from Mr. Thorpe and not wishing to dance with him.
As soon as they were joined by the Thorpes, Catherine’s agony began; she fidgeted about if John Thorpe came towards her, hid herself as much as possible from his view, and when he spoke to her pretended not to hear him.
In this instance, the narrator goes on to explain that every female has been in this position. (Side Note: I first considered my husband as a potential love interest when he saved me from a boy who would not take a hint that I wasn’t interested. See, the narrator was correct.) All the while, Catherine is despairing of seeing Mr. Tilney again.
Then, what should happen but he appears!
Did the crowd part? Did she feel her heart skip a beat or the hair on her arm stand up as she sensed his presence signaling their souls were entwined? No.
a self-condemnation for her folly, in supposing that among such a crowd they should even meet with the Tilneys in any reasonable time, had just passed through her mind, when she suddenly found herself addressed and again solicited to dance, by Mr. Tilney himself.
The 2007 film makes an interesting observation at this encounter. Mr. Tilney teases that Thorpe is his rival and Catherine says he isn’t before realizing it was all a joke.
This would suggest that Mr. Tilney is far more aware of Thorpe’s intentions than even Catherine is. Honestly, that sounds pretty reasonable since she was surprised by Thorpe’s proposal and also clueless enough to believe the General murdered his wife and got away with it.
This might even shed more light on the troublesome quote at the end of the book about how Henry came to love Catherine.
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.
Did Henry see that she was bothered by Thorpe? That she needed rescuing from his attentions at this particular dance? He surely noticed that she preferred him. That he did not feel the same attachment to Catherine, actually makes him all the more noble. Each time he talks to her, it’s to ease her distress over something. Again and again he approaches her at a moment of annoyance. We know from Emma how easily such actions can be seen as heroic.
This is all the more interesting as Henry is a clergyman. In many Gothic stories, the clergymen harbor dark desires. One, The Monk, is even listed in NA as a story read by Thorpe. I am sure he planted that name to make her reconsider her interest in Tilney–who he would have already heard about from Isabella.
Henry Tilney appears the sarcastic, even irreverent, jokester who doesn’t think very deeply or sensitively about things, and yet, he’s really Catherine’s knight in shining armor whether it’s safety from John Thorpe on the dance floor or from her own perilous imagination and subsequent self-hatred.
Have you had a Mr. Tilney in your life?