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Northanger Abbey | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapter 21

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 21 from Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey | Chapter 21 | Summary



Catherine Morland is relieved her room is nothing like the story Henry Tilney told her. Only a "large high chest" draws her attention as being unusual. She is still studying it when Eleanor Tilney shows up to fetch her to dinner, and Catherine is embarrassed to be caught getting into the chest. They speak about it being in the house for ages, and then Eleanor points out the time. General Tilney is downstairs, and he is very concerned with punctuality. Dinner passes with small interest, and then Catherine takes note of the storm. This is the first time she feels as if she is in an abbey, and the weather is unsettling. She's happy not to be in the sort of building she'd imagined, and she notes Eleanor's room is only two doors away.

As Catherine readies herself for bed, she notices a black cabinet reminiscent of the one Henry spoke of to her. She is so curious she cannot sleep until she examines it. She's excited, and the wind and storm beat against the windows. She opens the drawers, finding them empty, but she finds—in the middle of the cabinet—a manuscript. It was as "Henry foretold."

She snuffs her candle, and then a gust of wind "added fresh horror to the moment." She hears footsteps and the closing of a door, and in fright finds her way to the bed. Catherine is restless and afraid but eventually sleeps.


Here again, the Gothic novel elements are heightened. Catherine Morland, the innocent heroine, is in an abbey. A storm rages outside, battering the windows. A locked cabinet draws her attention. Within it, the heroine finds an unreadable manuscript. She hears footsteps in the night. The wind gusts. It is, in the tropes of Gothic novels, precisely adhering to the traits of the genre.

Of course, the reader realizes Catherine is safe within the house of General Tilney. Catherine herself realizes Eleanor Tilney is but two doors away, and there are not any genuine threats. The combination of her reading and Henry Tilney's storytelling on the trip the Northanger Abbey combine to have Catherine engaging in flights of fancy.

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