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Northanger Abbey | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Brief Plot Summary

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the plot summary of Jane Austen's novel Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbey | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Gathering in Bath

Catherine Morland, the heroine of the novel, is introduced by the narrator. She is clearly outlined as being ordinary, neither exceptional in beauty nor intellect. Her family is further ordinary, and there are no great difficulties placed upon her. The expected traits of a heroine are brought forth and dismissed, other than the need for a hero. Nonetheless, Catherine is invited by the neighbors—a childless, wealthy couple—to join them in Bath.

Once they are suitably outfitted, the three set off for Bath, where they will remain for six weeks. When they arrive in Bath, Mrs. Allen laments their lack of a great acquaintance. The initial social outings are not terribly exciting. The one exception is the brief arrival of Henry Tilney, a clergyman whom Catherine meets and instantly finds fascinating. Here is the hero. His appearance is brief, and the time at Bath resumes its pace.

However, this soon changes: Isabella Thorpe, her mother, and her sisters have newly arrived. Isabella and her mother become fast friends with both Catherine and Mrs. Allen, who now have companions for their social outings. As Catherine and Isabella become closer, they discuss Catherine's fondness for Gothic novels and Henry Tilney.

Shortly thereafter, Catherine's brother, James Morland, and Isabella's bother, John Thorpe, arrive in Bath. James is instantly interested in Isabella, who encourages his affection. John, likewise, is interested in Catherine, who appears unaware of his interest.

Henry Tilney returns to Bath, along with his sister, Eleanor, and his father, General Tilney. Despite Catherine's interest, her ability to respond to his dance invitation is thwarted by having previously promised the dance to John Thorpe. Several events continue in this way. Catherine attempts to navigate John's demands on her time and her interest in getting to know Henry and Eleanor. John's demands are carried out by a combination of deceits, outright lies, and manipulation. At no point is Catherine interested in his company. In fact, she finds him disagreeable.

Prospects of Marriage

At this time, John expresses to General Tilney that Catherine is quite a catch, intimating she is the Allens' goddaughter as well as having other wealth that will be settled on her. The general encourages Henry to pursue his already present interest in Catherine. Unfortunately, there are several miscommunications, brought about by the limits of social etiquette and by John's manipulations.

Meanwhile, Isabella and James grow closer, and he proposes. Isabella's excitement over this engagement fades quickly when she discovers James is not as well-off as she had believed. She begins to encourage the attentions of the recently arrived Captain Frederick Tilney, Henry's older brother.

Relocating to Northanger Abbey

General Tilney invites Catherine to return to the family home, Northanger Abbey, as a companion for his daughter. He, at this point, is extremely solicitous of her. Catherine receives permission to do so, and she departs Bath with Henry, Eleanor, and General Tilney. Along the trip Catherine is charmed by a Gothic tale told to her by Henry, but when she arrives at Northanger Abbey, this tale, her own reading, and the setting cause her to first imagine a hidden secrets in her room and then conclude—with no substantial evidence—that General Tilney murdered his wife. The general does not learn this, but Henry does and gently chastises her.

Catherine visits and is charmed by Henry's home, although she is surprised the general seems to be encouraging her as a potential wife for Henry.

Back at Northanger Abbey, she discovers from both her brother and Isabella that their engagement has ended, and Catherine realizes Isabella is prone to deceit (a thing evidenced all along but that Catherine refused to see until now).

Back in Fullerton

Suddenly, after the general takes a brief trip, Catherine is sent home with no explanation or warning. The general simply has her sent away in a hired carriage. She is disconsolate, in part because Henry is away at his home when she leaves.

Back in Fullerton, Catherine is having trouble adjusting to the life she knew before her 12 weeks away in Bath and then at Northanger Abbey. Then Henry appears, carrying an explanation that his father had thought her to be a wealthy woman and then thought her to be a poor social climber. Both theories were provided to him by the boastful and dishonest John Thorpe. Henry, who has wealth enough to be able to choose his own wife, asks for her hand. Catherine's parents, however, insist the general must approve.

The novel closes with a summary in which all threads are tidily tied off, such that Eleanor weds successfully and entreats her father to agree to Henry and Catherine's wedding, which he does.

Northanger Abbey Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Catherine arrives in Bath.

Rising Action

2 Henry arrives in Bath.

3 John Thorpe and James Morland arrive in Bath.

4 John tells General Thorpe Catherine is well-off.

5 John attempts to thwart Catherine's plans with the Tilneys.

6 Catherine goes to Northanger Abbey with the Tilneys.


7 General Tilney sends Catherine away.

Falling Action

8 Henry arrives and proposes to Catherine.


9 Henry and Catherine are married.

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