At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to Catherine Morland, the daughter of a clergyman and his wife. Catherine has three older brothers and six younger siblings; her family lives comfortably without being well-off. At ten years old, Catherine is described as a “thin awkward figure” with a “sallow skin,” but we learn that once she reaches the age of fifteen she is viewed as “almost pretty,” a (questionable) compliment that she yet delights.
Austen gives us a brief account of Catherine’s education: her mother gives her lessons at home, but despite all parental efforts, Catherine’s accomplishments remain undeniably limited. She shows no talent for piano-playing or any of the other refinements young girls are supposed to perfect in order to attract an eligible suitor. As she gets older, however, Catherine begins to read classic literature, and Austen cites this habit as a measure of Catherine’s “improvement.” At the age of seventeen, Catherine is invited by her neighbors the Allens to go on a trip to Bath, thus setting the scene for the rest of the novel.
Chapter II opens as Catherine is preparing to depart to for Bath with the Allens. Although Catherine is young and inexperienced, her mother Mrs. Morland exhibits little anxiety about the trip, and her only admonition to her daughter is to stay warm. The journey to Bath is uneventful, but Catherine is full of “eager delight” at the prospects of spending six weeks in the “fine and striking environs” of the resort town.
Catherine’s host Mrs. Allen is described by Austen as an unremarkable and trifling woman whose sole passion consists of dressing up for formal balls. A few nights after arriving in Bath, Catherine and the Allens attend one of the public balls in the Upper Rooms, a popular social venue. Catherine and Mrs. Allen squeeze through the crowd and finally find themselves looking down at the dancers. Catherine wishes she could dance, but she doesn’t know any of the gentlemen present at the ball, and Mrs. Allen’s sympathetic recognition of her desire for a partner begin to annoy her. The rest of the night is similarly disappointing until Catherine leaves the ball and hears two young men remarking that she is a “pretty girl.” After overhearing the comment, Catherine thinks that she is “perfectly satisfied with her share of public attention.”
As Chapter III opens, Catherine and Mrs. Allen are settling into Bath and exploring its well-established social life. Catherine attends a second ball, this time in a venue known as the Lower Rooms, and she is introduced to Henry Tilney, a young man of “four or five and twenty” years and a clergyman’s son. Catherine is immediately struck by Henry’s pleasant and lively demeanor. They sit down to tea after dancing and strike up a conversation. Henry jokes with Catherine about the social code that governs the interactions between male and female dancing partners; his tone is one of mock-regret as he expresses the realization that he has yet to make any of the usual polite inquiries regarding her stay in Bath. In turn, Catherine playfully recites the weekly routine that she has just performed as a visitor: she has been to a ball on Monday, the theater on Tuesday, and to a concert on Wednesday. Henry wonders if he will figure in Catherine’s journal entry for the night after they part ways, and they banter over the debates of journal writing and letter writing.
Henry and Catherine’s conversation is interrupted by Mrs. Allen, who asks Catherine to take a pin out of her muslin gown. Henry reveals that he is skilled at gauging the price and quality of muslin, and Mrs. Allen is delighted at his attention to detail. When the dance closes, Henry takes his leave, and Austen leaves us to wonder if Catherine dreams about him that night.
The day after they meet at the ball, Catherine seeks out Henry in the Pump Room, the gathering place for Bath’s socialites during the day. At first, she is crestfallen when she realizes that he is not there, but soon she is distracted by a new introduction. Mrs. Allen, who is sitting next to Catherine, is greeted by an old school friend named Mrs. Thorpe. The two older women have not seen each other for the past fifteen years, and they are both overeager to share details of their own lives (rather than listen to the other’s account). Mrs. Thorpe has three sons and three daughters, and Catherine is delighted to meet the eldest of the Thorpe girls, a dashing young woman named Isabella. Isabella reveals that her brother John has already Catherine’s brother James, and she uses this connection to establish a quick intimacy with Catherine. Catherine admires Isabella for her sophisticated knowledge of the rules of fashion and flirtation. The two young ladies walk back to the Allens and promise to see each other again the next day.
“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland from her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine.” The opening line of Northanger Abbey establishes the novel’s self-conscious nature.
In Chapter II, Austen’s tone remains light and ironic, and we may read her descriptions of Catherine’s departure for Bath as a series of parodic jests designed to undermine her readers’ expectations of the ways in which characters are supposed to behave in stock situations.
In Chapter III, Austen introduces us to the glittering social fabric of Bath, through the dialogue between Henry and Catherine at the ball. Chapter III also contains an ironic allusion to a “celebrated writer” who maintains that “no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman’s love is declared.”
Catherine’s infatuation with Henry, a symptom of her active imagination, manifests itself in Chapter IV when she notices his absence. Immediately after she registers her disappointment, the perspective shifts to Mrs. Allen as she encounters her old friend Mrs. Thorpe
Catherine and Isabella see each other at the theater the next day, but Catherine’s attention is preoccupied by her search to spot Henry. Unfortunately, he is nowhere to be found, although Catherine searches for him in all of Bath’s most frequented gathering places. Catherine shares her anxiety to see Henry again with Isabella, and Isabella speculates that he must be a “charming young man.”
Meanwhile, Mrs. Allen is settling into Bath and expresses her joy at knowing the Thorpe family. She promotes the friendship between Catherine and Isabella at every opportunity. When the two girls are not rambling around town, they enjoy reading novels together. At this point, Austen steps back from her narrative to justify the practice of reading and writing novels at large. She refuses to condemn novels as “trash” and instead praises their merits. She tells us that she is not ashamed to portray her heroine as an avid reader. Indeed, Catherine’s involvement in the world of books will have increasing implications for her relationship with Henry as Austen’s novel progresses.
Isabella and Catherine meet in the Pump Room and discuss the Mysteries of Udolpho, a popular Gothic novel by Anne Radcliffe that Catherine is reading and that Isabella has already read. Isabella gives Catherine a list of book recommendations before their conversation turns to the topic of one of Isabella’s friends, Miss Andrews. Isabella insists that Miss Andrews is as “beautiful as an angel” but notes in the same breath that the men do not generally admire her. Catherine and Isabella go on to discuss the mysteries of love. Isabella judges men to be the “most conceited creatures in the world” yet hints that she is fond of a man with a fair complexion who Catherine already knows.
Isabella expresses annoyance when she sees two young men staring at her from across the room, and the two girls move away to the other side of the room. However, when Isabella notices that the two young men have left the Pump Room altogether, she turns around “hastily” and notes that “one was a very good-looking young man.” Following Isabella’s lead, Catherine goes in pursuit of the two young men.
As Isabella and Catherine attempt to find the two young men who just left the Pump Room, they run into their brothers, who have just arrived in Bath. John, Isabella’s brother, is friends with James Morland from Oxford, and we learn that James is attracted to Isabella (though he takes care not to betray his attraction). John praises the merits of his horse and engages Catherine to take a carriage ride with him tomorrow. Catherine asks John if he has ever read the Mysteries of Udolpho, but he embarrasses himself by misidentifying its author as Frances Burney, another popular female novelist. The four of them walk to the Thorpe house, and John asks Catherine to be his partner for the dance that night. Catherine is pleased, though Austen notes that she would not have liked him at all if her judgment had been influenced by his enthusiasm to be near her.
After leaving the Thorpe house, James reveals to Catherine that he finds Isabella to be a “most amiable girl.” While Catherine thinks that her brother came to Bath to visit her, Austen leads us to believe that his purpose was two-fold (i.e., he was more motivated by the prospects of seeing Isabella). Once they return to the Allens, Catherine picks up her novel and begins to read where she left off, while James hurries off to reconvene with his friends.
That night, Catherine, James, the Thorpes, and the Allens attend yet another ball in the Upper Rooms. James implores Isabella to dance with him. Though at first she protests that she does not want to leave Catherine alone, she relents very quickly, and Catherine, left alone to stand between Mrs. Thorpe and Mrs. Allen, is “vexed at the non-appearance of Mr. Thorpe.” But all thoughts of her dancing partner disappear when she suddenly sees Henry with his sister approaching. Henry greets Mrs. Allen first, who tells him that she was afraid he had left Bath. He tells her that he left for a week before turning to Catherine and asking her to dance with him. Despite her pressing desire to dance, Catherine must refuse Henry because she is already engaged for the night.
When John Thorpe returns, Catherine dances with him for two songs, but she is relieved when they are stopped in order to be introduced to Henry’s sister Miss Tilney. Isabella finds Catherine while she is still dancing with James, and the two girls admire Miss Tilney’s graceful attire. Isabella voices the desire to see Henry in person but seems to forget about it just as quickly, and Catherine cannot “avoid a little suspicion at the total suspension of all Isabella’s impatient desire to see Mr. Tilney.” Rather than switching partners, James and Isabella proceed to dance past the customary limit. Catherine tries to catch a glimpse of Henry only to discover that he is already dancing with another girl. She is “disappointed and vexed” and finds the rest of the evening to be very dull in the absence of Henry’s company.
Austen’s defense of the novel as a genre forms the backbone of Chapter V. Paradoxically, Austen says, novelists are often those who are most “ungenerous” towards others’ fictional creations: they “degrade” the “very performances to the number of which they are the adding. Catherine’s enjoyment of Gothic novels, notably the sensational romance-tinged mysteries of authors like Radcliffe, symbolizes her involvement in the popular fiction trade that was made possible by the proliferation of local bookshops, many of which catered to customers’ appetites for the latest fare.
In many ways, the complexities of Isabella’s character are only beginning to emerge in Chapter VI. Duplicity is Isabella’s forte, and she shows her dual nature when she moves across the room to evade the young men who are staring at her, only to follow them outside when they leave.
The machinations of Austen’s plot are set in motion in Chapter VII with the arrival of James and John in Bath. Yet the return of Henry in Chapter VIII may serve as an occasion to foil Isabella’s plans. Austen constructs another opportunity to skewer female literary stereotypes when Catherine sees Henry across the room. While heroines of other novels might be alarmed to see another woman on Henry’s arm, Catherine uses the process of deduction to ascertain that the woman is Henry’s sister.
After the ball, Catherine recoils from her disappointment at not being able to dance with Henry. She recovers her spirits in time to make preparations to go to the Pump Room the next morning, where she hopes to run into Henry’s sister Miss Tilney. But just as she is about to set off, John Thorpe arrives at the Allens’ house and reminds Catherine that she promised to go on a carriage ride with him to Claverton Down. Catherine reluctantly goes with John, and Isabella and James follow them in another carriage. John brags about his skill handling horses, and Catherine begins to doubt that he is as agreeable as Isabella made him out to seem. John asks if Mr. Allen is rich. Catherine says that he is, and John insinuates that Catherine might inherit his fortune since the Allens are childless.
John and Catherine go on to banter about college life in Oxford before John reverts to bragging about his skill as a horseman. Catherine begins to find his company extremely tiresome. When they return to the Allens, Isabella expresses her surprise that it is already past three o’clock, which means that she has to return directly home. Catherine is left alone with Mrs. Allen, who reveals that she took a walk with Henry and Miss Tilney that day. Mrs. Allen reveals that Mrs. Tilney, their mother, was a rich woman who died some years ago, leaving her daughter a pearl necklace. Catherine feels “most particularly unfortunate” at missing a meeting with Henry and his sister.
Chapter X opens at the theater, where Catherine and Isabella have reconvened only hours after they returned from the carriage ride to Claverton Down. Isabella compliments Catherine profusely on her hairstyle and assures her that John is “quite in love” with her. Isabella then recounts her carriage trip with James and how their “opinions were so exactly the same, it was quite ridiculous.” Isabella spends the rest of the evening talking with James. Miss Tilney appears and begins exchanging pleasantries with Catherine. Catherine remarks that Henry dances very well, thus betraying her feelings for him unintentionally.
At the ball, Isabella dances with James, and Catherine does her best to avoid John. She is pleased when Henry finds her and asks her to dance again. John Thorpe interrupts them briefly and complains that Catherine already pledged to be his partner. When he realizes that Henry is Catherine’s partner, he acknowledges that Henry is a “good figure of a man” Henry turns the conversation to a metaphorical discussion comparing the relationship between dancing partners to a marriage contract. They go on to discuss Bath. Catherine sees Henry’s father General Tilney, a handsome and imposing man across the room, and she is impressed by his appearance. The evening concludes with Miss Tilney inviting Catherine to go on a walk with her and Henry tomorrow morning. Catherine is full of anticipation as the ball concludes.
On the morning that she is scheduled to go for a walk in the countryside with the Tilney, Catherine is dismayed to wake up to a cloudy day. It begins to rain as Catherine watches through the window. The walk is scheduled for twelve o’clock, and Catherine waits for the Tilneys until half past twelve. She is summoned to go for a carriage ride with John, Isabella, and James. At first she refuses to go, but John tells her that he just saw Henry and Miss Tilney driving away from Bath in a carriage. Catherine agrees to go with John.
As soon as they head out, Catherine sees Henry and Miss Tilney walking down the street. Catherine implores John to stop the carriage, but he only goes faster. Catherine consoles herself with the prospects of seeing Blaize Castle, a country house, and she imagines that it will meet her expectations of encountering a Gothic castle with “winding vaults” and a “low, grating door.” However, the traveling party have set out too late to reach their destination, and Catherine feels let down for a second time that day. The rest of the ride is spoiled for Catherine. When she comes home to the Allens, the footman reveals that the Tilneys called for her just minutes after she departed. Isabella makes light of Catherine’s distress that night when they gather at the Thorpes to play cards.
Catherine goes to the Tilneys’ house the next day to seek out Miss Tilney and explain why they saw her on the carriage with John, but their servant tells her that Miss Tilney is not at home. As she starts back to the Allens, Catherine spots Miss Tilney exiting her house with her father. Catherine is “dejected and humbled” but manages to enjoy herself at the theater that night until she sees Henry in the opposite box. Henry bows to her stiffly, and Catherine almost rushes over to make amends with him. After the play, Henry visits Catherine’s box, and Catherine explains she was lead to believe that he and his sister had already gone out. Henry accepts her explanation. Catherine is puzzled to see John talking with General Tilney and looking in her direction. John tells Catherine that he was discussing her with General Tilney, and both of the men agreed that Catherine is the “finest girl in Bath.” Catherine is flattered to be singled out by General Tilney, but she does not enjoy John’s compliment. Nonetheless, she reflects that the evening had done “more, much more, for her than could have been expected.”
Austen establishes two sets of parallel relationships in Chapters IX and X. The flirtation between Isabella and James intensifies, as made apparent by Isabella’s coy comments to Catherine at the theater. In contrast, Catherine comes to find John’s company suffocating.
For now, Catherine’s acquaintance with the Tilney family is still in its first stages. Catherine’s desire to become friends with Miss Tilney mirrors Isabella’s desire to become friends with Catherine, but with a crucial difference. While Isabella wants to use Catherine as a means to reach James, we may infer that Catherine wants to be friends with Miss Tilney for her own sake.
In Chapter 10, Henry’s extended metaphor comparing a dance to a marriage is an example of his verbal wit.
Isabella’s friendship with Catherine has visibly cooled by the closing scene of Chapter XI. Isabella is insensitive to Catherine’s plight about the Tilneys.
In Chapter XII, Catherine’s perception that Henry looked angry with her at the theater leads us to believe that he has feelings for her (which explains why he was upset that she had apparently snubbed him while riding in John’s carriage).
Isabella, James, and John revive their plans to drive down to Clifton on Sunday and try to convince Catherine to come along. Since Catherine already has plans to go on a walk with the Tilneys, she refuses to be persuaded by her friends. Isabella first appeals to Catherine by flattery, then berates her for “having more affection” for Miss Tilney. Catherine thinks that Isabella appears “ungenerous and selfish,” and she stops linking arms with Isabella.
John sees the Tilneys walking on the street. Without asking Catherine for her permission, he stops them and says that Catherine will be unable to join them for a walk until Tuesday. Catherine is angry and distraught when John announces that he has already made excuses for her. Despite everyone’s protests, she rushes over to the Tilneys’ house and explains that she can still go on their scheduled walk. The Tilneys accept her explanation warmly and introduce her to General Tilney. After a pleasant visit, Catherine goes home to the Allens, where she learns that it is generally considered an act of impropriety for a young lady to drive in an open carriage with a gentleman. She is glad that she refused to go to Clifton with John, Isabella, and James: “for what would the Tilneys have thought of her, if she had broken her promise to them in order to do what was wrong in itself?”
The Tilneys call for Catherine the next morning, and they walk over to Beechen Cliff, a hill in the countryside. Catherine asks Henry if he ever reads novels, and he reveals that he is also a fan of Anne Radcliffe. Catherine is surprised to hear this because she thought that young men “despised novels.” Henry asserts that this is not true, and that he has already read “hundreds and hundreds” of novels. Catherine and the Tilneys turn to a discussion of history books. While Catherine finds them dull, Miss Tilney is fond of reading them.
As their walk continues, Henry gives Catherine a short lesson on the principles of landscape painting before their talk turns to politics. Catherine has nothing to say on this matter, so she returns the discussion to literature and announces that “something very shocking”—ie, a new novel—“will soon come out in London.” Miss Tilney misunderstands Catherine’s phrase to mean that a political disturbance will soon occur. Henry jokingly mocks his sister for her poor understanding. Miss Tilney assures that Catherine that her brother has the highest opinion of women, and Catherine is intrigued by the complexities of Henry’s character.
On the way back to the Allens, Catherine runs into one of Isabella’s younger sisters Anne, who reveals that her other siblings drove down to Clifton that morning along with James. Catherine is pleased that the party decided to go on the outing without her.
The day after she drives down to Clifton with James, Isabella sends Catherine a note “speaking peace and tenderness” and asking her to come visit the Thorpe house. As soon as she arrives, Isabella reveals that she has become engaged to James. Catherine is surprised but pretends that she has already guessed the reason she was summoned to Isabella’s side.
The two girls share delightful thoughts of their future as sisters-in-law, and Isabella even says that Catherine will be “infinitely dearer” to her than her own sisters. Isabella recounts the night that she met James: she was wearing a yellow gown and immediately found him to be handsome, but she was worried that he was attracted to another young lady named Miss Andrews. Needless to say, Isabella is overjoyed to discover James’ affection matches her own despite her lack of a substantial fortune. Isabella tells Catherine that she would be content to live off a small income.
Meanwhile, James rushes home to the Morelands’ house in Wiltshire to ask for his parents’ approval regarding his marriage. On their end, the Thorpes are excited that their daughter has made a seemingly advantageous match. John approaches Catherine in the drawing room and suggests he would like to court her. Catherine rebuffs him, but he does not get the hint. Instead, he takes her distant behavior as a form of encouragement.
The contrast between Catherine and Isabella’s characters sharpens in Chapter XIII.
Catherine’s disillusionment with Isabella takes the form of an unspoken realization that Isabella disregards “everything but her own gratification,” though the reader has already gleaned this trait of her from her previous speech patterns. Isabella’s diction is prone to hyperbole.
Catherine’s noble determination to remain a loyal friend to the Tilneys pays off in Chapter XIV when she finally gets to go on their long-awaited walk.
Isabella’s engagement to James forms the pivotal event of Chapter XV. Austen has been leading us to expect this event since James and Isabella first danced at the ball, so we do not share Catherine’s surprise at the news that her brother and friend are now engaged.
In this light, Mrs. Thorpe’s happiness for her favorite daughter is dependent upon the assumption that James is much wealthier than Isabella and will provide her with a handsome income. Similarly, Isabella’s fantasies of married life center around the economic security her fiancée will provide her once they are married.
Catherine calls on the Tilneys at home, but her “expectations of pleasure” are not met by the rather disappointing visit. Henry and Miss Tilney are not in good spirits, though they are unfailingly polite. Catherine does not attribute this to General Tilney’s presence since he is so warm and welcoming to her, but Austen leads us to believe that his children feel suffocated in his company.
Upon hearing about the visit, Isabella speculates that Henry “never thinks” of Catherine and says that he is very fickle, but Catherine is not in agreement. That evening, Henry asks Catherine to dance at yet another ball. His older brother, Captain Tilney, arrives at the ball and steps away with Henry at the end of the first dance. Catherine is full of suspense until they return and ask Catherine whether Isabella will consent to dance with Captain Tilney. Catherine says that her friend is not dancing that night, and Captain Tilney walks away. Soon, however, Catherine sees Isabella dancing with Captain Tilney. After the dancing is over, Catherine asks Isabella why she changed her mind. Always quick to defend herself, Isabella replies that Captain Tilney would not leave her alone until she agreed to dance with him, yet she also inadvertently reveals that she took pleasure in being his partner.
The two girls are distracted when Isabella receives a letter from James stating that his father has settled on giving the couple a yearly income of 400 pounds. However, they must wait to get married. Isabella has a “grave face” as soon as she reads this news. She thinks that the income will not be enough. Isabella insinuates that Mr. Moreland is being stingy. Catherine is offended at this thrust against her father. Isabella recovers her wits in time to say that she is only upset at the prospects of the long engagement ahead of them because she is so eager to get married to James. Catherine tries to believe Isabella’s assertion and make amends with her future sister-in-law.
The Allens decide to extend their visit to Bath by three weeks, and Catherine is delighted because she does not want to part with the Tilneys. When Catherine goes over to the Tilneys’ house to share the happy news, Miss Tilney tells her that her father has decided to move the entire household back home at the end of the week. Catherine is crestfallen until General Tilney invites her to their house in the country, Northanger Abbey. Catherine is ecstatic and accepts the invitation. Both the Allens and her parents approve of the visit. Not only will Catherine be near Henry, she will also be able to explore the ancient house, which was originally an abbey where nuns lived. Catherine looks forward to exploring the historical building and wonders that the Tilneys should take no apparent pride in owning such an estate.
Catherine and Isabella reunite at the Pump Room one morning. They sit down on a bench near the entrance, in view of everyone who is arriving. Isabella keeps looking at the door, and Catherine thinks that she is looking for James. She assures her that James will be here soon, but Isabella says that she doesn’t always have to be near her fiancée’s side. Isabella tells Catherine that John is in love with her and wishes to “urge his suit” of marriage. John has told Isabella that Catherine encouraged his attentions before he left Bath. Catherine is shocked. She doesn’t have the slightest affection for John, and she tells Isabella to pass along the message.
Isabella returns the conversation to money matters and continues to fret over the small income James will receive. In the form of seemingly altruistic advice to Catherine, Isabella drops several hints that she regrets accepting James’ proposal. She tells Catherine that “if you are in too great a hurry, you will certainly live to regret it.” Captain Tilney appears and sits down on the bench. Catherine is shocked to hear him flirting with Isabella, and Isabella returning his flirtatious comments. As she listens to their whispered exchange, Catherine feels jealous and betrayed for her brother’s sake, but she wants to believe that Isabella is only “unconsciously” encouraging Captain Tilney’s attentions. As their session in the Pump Room concludes, Catherine dismisses John’s affectionate message, but she cannot forget Isabella’s puzzling behavior.
Catherine continues to observe Isabella over the course of the next few days. Isabella appears less warm to James than before, and to make matters worse she continues to flirt with Captain Tilney. Catherine appeals to Henry to convince his brother to leave Bath, but Henry says that persuasion is not in his power. He reasons that James should feel secure enough in Isabella’s affection not to be threatened by the presence of Captain Tilney. Catherine is comforted by Henry’s logic. Furthermore, Isabella behaves well during Catherine’s last night in Bath, and she is cautiously optimistic about her brother’s engagement as she leaves for Northanger Abbey.
Austen highlights Isabella’s questionable loyalty to her fiancée in Vol. II, Chapter I. Not only does Isabella agree to dance with Captain Tilney after telling Catherine she won’t dance that night, but her greed is made apparent when she receives the news that she and James will only be provided with a modest income.
Vol. II, Chapters I and II are also important because through them we get a fuller portrait of the Tilneys. For the first time, Austen lets us know that the Tilneys are a less-than-ideal family. Catherine’s invitation to visit the Tilneys at Northanger Abbey assures us that she will get a deeper glimpse into the inner workings of their fraught family life.
The friendship between Isabella and Catherine is compromised by the former’s growing flirtation with Captain Tilney in Vol. II, Chapter III. Austen characterizes Isabella’s insincerity through her revealing turns of phrase. Isabella slyly accuses Catherine of leading John on.
Catherine leaves Bath at the beginning of Chapter V. She is excited to go see the Tilney family home, but the trip there is not altogether pleasant. First, General Tilney yells at his son Captain Tilney for being late to breakfast. Once they are underway, the General is angry with the waiters at an inn where they stop for lunch. The highlight of the trip comes when Catherine switches carriages and gets to ride with Henry.
Henry tells Catherine that he normally splits his time between Northanger Abbey and Woodston, where he maintains a parsonage house. Catherine, however, is more interested to hear about Northanger Abbey. Henry invents a scary story for Catherine about the Abbey, borrowing details from the Gothic novels he has read. Catherine is completely engrossed in the story about a haunted chamber and a secret passageway, but Henry cuts the story short because he is “too much amused by the interest he had raised.” When they reach the Abbey, Catherine discovers that it is a modernized house. The General announces that it is dinnertime, and Miss Tilney urges Catherine to hurry in her preparations for dinner.
As soon as Catherine finds herself alone in the bedroom she has been assigned to at Northanger Abbey, she finds a very old chest. She is excited and tries to open the lock before she is interrupted by a maid. Catherine dismisses the maid and finally lifts back the lid of the chest, only to reveal a white cotton quilt. Miss Tilney enters the room, and Catherine is embarrassed to be caught in the act of rifling through the chest. Luckily, Miss Tilney only mentions that the chest has been in her family for many generations, and the two young ladies proceed to dinner. The Tilneys and Catherine dine in a large, well-appointed room, and General Tilney is delighted when Catherine tells him that Mr. Allen’s dining room is only half as big.
That night, while a storm rages outside, Catherine tries to comfort herself by going to sleep. However, she sees an “old-fashioned black cabinet, which, though in a situation conspicuous enough, had never caught her notice before.” Catherine takes her candle and opens the cabinet. There is a small door in the back of the cabinet, and she opens it to find a manuscript. It is too dim to read, so Catherine saves the manuscript for the next morning.
Catherine wakes up the next morning to read the mysterious manuscript. She discovers that it is actually an inventory for linens and other household items. She puts the papers back in the cabinet, “impatient to get rid of those evidences of her folly.” At breakfast that day, Catherine does her best to make pleasant conversation and hide her shame. Henry leaves for Woodston for a few days, and once he is gone Catherine goes for a walk with General Tilney and his daughter to tour the grounds of Northanger Abbey.
The General directs them to his greenhouse, where he grows a variety of exotic fruits and flowers. The General leaves them to attend to a garden task, and Catherine and Miss Tilney proceed to walk down a shady path that was a favorite place of the deceased Mrs. Tilney. Catherine learns that the General refuses to walk down this path and suspects that he did not love his wife. When she also learns that he refuses to hang his dead wife’s portrait in his room, Catherine is convinced that the General was a cruel husband who mistreated Mrs. Tilney.
The General reappears from the garden, and he gives Catherine a tour of the house with Miss Tilney by her side. The drawing room, library, and kitchen strike Catherine as well-decorated, but she is dissatisfied because she wants to see the hidden, unused rooms of the house. They walk through the bedrooms and come to a set of folding doors at the end of a long hallway. Miss Tilney is about to open the doors when General Tilney stops her and concludes their tour. As they retrace their steps, Miss Tilney whispers to Catherine that she was about to show her the room where her mother died.
Miss Tilney tells Catherine that her mother died of a sudden illness, and Catherine’s suspicions increase. She imagines that General Tilney locked up his wife, and that she remains alive in a hidden chamber of the house without her children’s knowledge. Catherine resolves to watch for the General’s lamp on the side of the house where his wife died, but she falls asleep before she can keep a midnight vigil.
Catherine goes to church the next day with the Tilneys and sees a monument in honor of Mrs. Tilney in front of the family pew. She wonders how the General can appear so calm as he is standing so close to it, but she decides that he is a man who can live “without any feeling of humanity or remorse.”
After church, Catherine and Miss Tilney go to Miss Tilney’s bedroom to see the portrait of her mother. Catherine is disappointed that the portrait does not look exactly Miss Tilney, but she tries to detect a resemblance between mother and daughter nonetheless. The two girls proceed to the hallway that leads to Mrs. Tilney’s former bedroom. Catherine resolves to explore Mrs. Tilney’s former bedroom alone since she doesn’t want Miss Tilney to get in trouble with her father.
Before dinner that night, Catherine ventures to the bedroom by herself. She is astonished to find that it is a sunny room with modern furnishings. She tells Henry about her conjecture that his father was not very fond of his mother, who died very suddenly. Henry angrily rebuffs Catherine and tells her that while his mother died from a seizure, she received the best medical attention. Furthermore, his father cared for his mother very much. Catherine is ashamed to realize that her suspicions were unfounded, and she rushes off to her room in tears.
In Vol. II, Chapter V, Catherine is inducted into the hospitality of the Tilney family. Yet despite her infatuation with Henry and friendship with his sister, Catherine is not altogether comfortable with the family.
Chapter V is also significant because it features Henry’s Gothic horror tale, an amalgam of the various clichés found in popular novels of the time.
Austen’s style changes dramatically in Vol. II, Chapter VII. Whereas in Vol. I the prose centers around witty exchanges of dialogue, in Vol. II, Chapter VI these exchanges give way to lengthy descriptions of Northanger Abbey’s rooms and environs.
When Catherine wakes up to find that she was mistaken about the document, her hopes are deflated, and Austen returns to the realistic mode of depiction that characterized Volume I.
Catherine’s suspicions of Captain Tilney come to a head in Chapter VIII and IX. Impressionable and naïve, Catherine imagines that Captain Tilney has the gloomy “air and attitude of a Montoni,” the villain of The Mysteries of Udolpho.
As Chapter X opens, Catherine is openly repenting her misguided suspicions of General Tilney. She resolves to be more rational in her opinion of others in the future. Soon, Catherine forgets about her suspicions and remembers that Isabella has yet to write to her from Bath. Her worries are confirmed when she receives a letter from James stating that his engagement has been broken off and condemning Isabella for making him a miserable man. Most shockingly of all, James asserts that Isabella is now engaged to Captain Tilney. Catherine is naturally appalled by this news. After she starts crying at the breakfast table, she has no choice but to share the contents of her brother’s letter with Henry and Miss Tilney. Henry says that it is not likely for his brother to marry Isabella since she lacks a fortune, but he is temporarily persuaded after readings James’ letter. Both of the Tilney siblings disapprove of Isabella’s behavior. Catherine realizes that Isabella only wants to marry to gain a higher social status. Upon reflection, however, Catherine also realizes that she is not as afflicted by the loss of Isabella’s friendship as she might have been. Isabella, after all, was never really a true friend.
As the speculations about Isabella and Captain Tilney continue to occupy the household, Catherine waits for Captain Tilney to come home and announce his engagement. She is still waiting when General Tilney announces that they will visit Henry in Woodston for a family dinner. Henry leaves Northanger Abbey in advance to prepare for the dinner (despite his father’s insistence that they dine simply, Henry knows that his father will only enjoy the finest dishes).
When Catherine visits Henry at Woodston with his family, she finds the house and surrounding village very charming. She is particularly impressed with an empty sitting room that is need of furnishing. The windows in this room have a lovely view of green fields, and General Tilney hints that the room “will be very speedily furnished: it waits only for a lady’s taste.” Catherine interprets this message as a sign of the General’s approval of her as a match for Henry. She leaves Woodston wondering if Henry shares his father’s admiration and also wants her to potentially become the mistress of the house.
Isabella sends Catherine an unexpected letter at the beginning of Chapter XII. In it, Isabella pleads for Catherine to mend her broken engagement and attempt a reconciliation between her and James. Isabella also reveals in the letter that Captain Tilney has left Bath to rejoin his regiment. Before he left, he stopped courting Isabella and spent his last two days accompanying another young woman. Isabella expresses her scorn of Captain Tilney and tells Catherine that she fears James “took something in my conduct amiss.”
Catherine sees through Isabella’s letter as an empty, hypocritical appeal full of contradictions. She does not write back to Isabella and lets the Tilney siblings know that their brother is safe from Isabella’s designs. She asks Henry why his brother paid so much attention to Isabella, and Henry acknowledges that his brother was only doing so “for mischief’s sake.” Henry commends Catherine for standing by her brother James, and Catherine feels “complimented out of further bitterness.”
The General leaves Northanger Abbey to visit London, and in his absence Catherine has a wonderful time with Henry and Miss Tilney. Catherine agrees to stay at Northanger Abbey for another month, and she is beginning to think that Henry returns her affection. Henry is unable to stay at Northanger Abbey, however, since he has to attend to his duties at Woodston. In his absence, General Tilney returns from London and tells his daughter that they are leaving on a sudden trip to visit family friends in Hereford. To make matters worse, General Tilney is turning Catherine out of the house before the family leaves. In fact, Catherine finds out that he has already arranged for a carriage to pick her up at seven the next morning. Catherine is mystified at the General’s rude and abrupt behavior, and Miss Tilney is equally distraught. The two girls pack Catherine’s trunk silently the next morning, and Catherine borrows money for the journey home. They promise to write each other, but this does not diminish the pain of parting on such short notice.
Catherine continues to puzzle over the General’s decision to force her out of Northanger Abbey in Vol. II, Chapter XIV. She wonders if he discovered her mistaken suspicions about him but decides that this is highly unlikely. Nonetheless, Catherine returns to her family home in “solitude and disgrace.” Her family comforts her, although they are also puzzled by the General’s breach of social etiquette. Catherine has difficulty adjusting to life back at home since she misses Northanger Abbey and particularly Henry. Her parents do not suspect that Catherine still has feelings for Henry. In order to distract herself, Catherine visits the Allens, who have returned from their vacation to Bath. Mrs. Allen repeatedly asserts that she “really has no patience with the General,” but her sympathies do not make Catherine feel any better.
At home in Fullerton, Catherine tries to apply herself to her daily household tasks, but she finds that she is unable to concentrate. Her mother advises her to be content at home, but it isn’t easy for Catherine to heed this advice. Fortunately, Henry arrives at Fullerton for a surprise visit. He asks Catherine to go for a walk to the Allens. Along the way, he confesses his feelings for Catherine. He obtains a promise of her affection in return, but once this is accomplished Henry reveals that his father does not approve of their match. In fact, General Tilney turned Catherine out of the house because she was not as rich as he had originally thought (and thus not a good prospect for Henry). General Tilney received a false impression of Catherine’s wealth from John Thorpe. John was also the one who later retracted this false portrait of Catherine after she snubbed him. Indignant at his father’s crass behavior, Henry rushed over to Fullerton to make amends with Catherine.
Mr. and Mrs. Moreland are very surprised to hear about Catherine’s engagement to Henry. They are pleased that he is an honorable young man and consent to the marriage. General Tilney changes his mind and gives his consent after Miss Tilney makes an advantageous match with a nobleman. The General’s temper is further soothed when he finds out that Catherine stands to inherit three thousand pounds. Henry and Catherine embark on a lifetime of happiness, though Austen notes ironically that the General’s interference may have actually helped their courtship by giving them more time to get to know each other.
In Vol. II Chapter X Austen reverts to a more realistic style, documenting how Catherine’s social relations have changed in the aftermath of her Gothic fantasy.
In Chapter XI, Catherine’s feelings of anger against Isabella are mended when she visits Henry at Woodston.
Isabella’s letter forms the core of Vol.II, Chapter XII. Her letter may be interpreted as the insincere counterpart to James’ earlier letter.
Although the dissolution of Catherine’s Gothic fantasy seems to mark the approaching resolution of Vol. II’s central plot, Austen reopens the grounds for conflict when General Tilney casts Catherine out of his house in Chapter XIII. General Tilney’s behavior is both mysterious and infuriating to his daughter.
Vol. II, Chapter XIV-XI mark the novel’s quick resolution. Back at Fullertone, Catherine’s pining for Henry is fulfilled when he makes a sudden appearance and proposes marriage. After General Tilney’s rude behavior is explained to Catherine as the product of misguided greed, she does not have any more cause to wonder about her involuntary leave-taking.