Northanger Abbey | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Northanger Abbey | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

Catherine Morland sees Isabella Thorpe at the pump-room. Much to her surprise, Catherine learns from Isabella that John Thorpe has written and talked to his sister of his intentions and affection toward Catherine. Isabella accuses of her of pretending surprise. She reveals that her brother's letter speaks of her responding well to his suit on the day he left.

Catherine asks that Isabella clear things up and expresses that if she had feelings such as those it would not be toward John. Isabella again remarks on money, noting neither Catherine nor John has much. She adds her brother must not have received her letter before he sent his. When Catherine asks that she be acquitted of wrongdoing, stressing she had not meant him to ever think she held interest, Isabella laughs it off and notes that feelings change and flirtations happen. Catherine again stresses her feeling have never changed: "You are describing what never happened."

Captain Frederick Tilney arrives and joins them. He and Isabella flirt so blatantly that Catherine is offended and jealous on her brother's behalf. She excuses herself and joins Mrs. Allen.

Analysis

As Catherine Morland prepares to leave, she is confronted with continued evidence of Isabella Thorpe's flawed character. Isabella points out Catherine surely must have known John Thorpe's intentions, but her dismissal of John's possible hurt feelings is that feelings change. This, paired with her reference that John must not have received Isabella's letter, is significant: Isabella's feelings themselves are about to change. Her attachment to James Morland was based, as this conversation and earlier ones indicate, entirely on financial matters.

John's pursuit of Catherine does not continue after this chapter. In fact, the reader can conclude that it ends when the letter Isabella sends arrives in his possession.

To highlight this, the conversation with Isabella and Catherine is followed by Isabella's nonverbal invitation to Captain Frederick Tilney. Frederick, the Tilney heir, is wealthy, and he is paying attention to Isabella. She has not yet rejected James Morland, and she denies the visible evidence that she is inviting another man's attention. However, that Isabella denies her action at this juncture is not surprising. What is new is that Catherine sees this and excuses herself from the situation. Her own journey to thinking critically rather than dismissing the evidence before her eyes is continuing.

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