Northanger Abbey | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Northanger Abbey | Chapter 28 | Summary

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Summary

General Tilney goes to London for a week, entreating Eleanor and Henry Tilney to see to Catherine Morland's comfort and amusement. His absence, and the easing of the household schedule, leaves the three in lighter spirits. Henry departs for Woodston.

However, during this time, Catherine notices how long she has been there (four weeks) as a guest and suggests leaving so as not to take advantage of their hospitality. Eleanor Tilney presses her to stay longer, and they are both relieved by this plan.

They are disturbed late at night by an arrival Catherine expects to be Captain Frederick Tilney. When Eleanor comes to Catherine's room, she discovers it is, instead, General Tilney. Eleanor reveals they have an engagement that the general has just recalled and must depart. Further, Catherine must immediately return to Fullerton.

She asks if she has offended the general, and she is given no information. She rests poorly and the next morning rises to pack and depart. Eleanor comes to help, and she requests to hear from Catherine. In continued haste Catherine is made to exit, and she leaves a goodbye message for Henry with Eleanor.

Analysis

Both Catherine Morland's willingness to leave before she imposes and the Tilney children's desire that she stay are brought into stark contrast with General Tilney's actions. His return from London—and what happened there—prompt a marked change in his attitude toward Catherine. Even without the explanation Henry Tilney provides later, the reader can infer the general has learned something that causes him to change his mind about her suitability for Henry. In the context of the focus on money in marriage, which has been in the background of the recent chapters as well as every discussion of marriage in the novel, it is no great leap to assume the information is financial.

Earlier, Catherine has suspected General Tilney of villainous deeds with no basis in fact. However, his character in relation to his children has shown him as:

  • controlling: with regard to Henry readying his home for them and in ordering his children to entertain Catherine;
  • obsessed with punctuality: meals must be precisely on time, and travel schedules must likewise be observed;
  • insulting: to Captain Frederick Tilney; and
  • cruel: both to Eleanor Tilney (making her lie to Catherine in a very transparent way) and Catherine (removing her from the house hastily and with no concern for her comfort).

There were other hints his character is cold: his children's commentary on financial matters and his remarks comparing the Allens' possessions and his own. However, none of this was as apparent to Catherine because of his kindness to her.

Compared to Isabella, the ongoing character flaws Catherine dismissed were more difficult to acknowledge because Isabella has been—and still continues—to be kind to Catherine. She has lied to her, but she has not been objectively cruel.

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