Northanger Abbey | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Northanger Abbey | Chapter 20 | Summary

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Summary

Mr. Allen escorts Catherine Morland to the Tilneys' lodging the next day. Both Eleanor and Henry Tilney are warm and friendly, but Catherine is worried she'll make a mistake. This is aggravated because General Tilney is displeased with Captain Frederick Tilney, chastising him for laziness and for being disrespectful to her by being tardy. Catherine is uncomfortable with his degree of sternness toward his son, despite her opinion of Frederick to date.

The departure from the house is stressful and harried, but Catherine is in a carriage with Eleanor Tilney, with whom she can relax. They stop at an inn briefly, and when it is time to depart again, the general suggests that Catherine ride with Henry in his curricle. She is inclined to refuse, thinking of the Allens' remarks on propriety, but decides the general would not suggest it if it were improper.

Catherine and Henry speak as they travel, and she discovers he has a home of his own some 20 miles away from Northanger Abbey. She is sad for him that he must by away from it. He remarks he does miss his sister, but Catherine goes on about the abbey itself, imagining it to be a fine place after reading about such buildings in her novels. He teases her a bit, asking if she's prepared for "sliding panels and tapestry" and warning her that a young lady guest such as Catherine would be "formally conducted by Dorothy, the ancient housekeeper, up a different staircase, and along many gloomy passages, into an apartment never used since some cousin or kin died in it." They continue on in this vein for some time, with Henry creating a story like the novels she reads—and he has admitted previously to reading and enjoying them.

They arrive at Northanger Abbey, only to be greeted by sudden rain. Catherine looks around, hoping to find evidence of the Gothic elements. The general begins talking of the furnishings and the value, until he realizes the time, and they all separate in order to prepare for dinner.

Analysis

The chapter heralds the more obvious satire of the Gothic novel traditions often ascribed to Northanger Abbey. Whereas in the first half of the novel this was set up by references to Catherine's love of them and the fact that they were considered women's fiction by and large, now Henry Tilney starts telling a story as if Catherine were a Gothic heroine—much as the narrator did at the onset of the novel. Then—during the events at Bath—it was as though Catherine were the heroine in a novel of manners; the remainder of the novel is told as a Gothic novel.

Also of note in this chapter is the character of General Tilney. He is very particular about schedule. Lateness is not tolerable, and his good mood in Catherine's previous encounters is not present overall. The one noteworthy exception is in his suggestion she travel with Henry.

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