Northanger Abbey

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No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.
Opening Line
I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.
Closing Line

The definitive Gothic parody, Northanger Abbey was Jane Austen's first completed novel, which she wrote as "Susan". However, circumstances prevented the novel from being published until after her death in 1817.

The fourth of ten children, and eldest daughter, 17-year-old Catherine Morland is a Tomboy grown into a major Gothic Novel fan girl. She's become so involved in reading that she fancies herself as the heroine of such a work as The Mysteries of Udolpho. One day, she is invited to come along with the childless Allens for a trip to the spring resort of Bath. There, she meets two families, the Thorpes and the Tilneys. The Thorpes' eldest son, the egocentric twit John, tries to woo her. However, Catherine fancies the Tilneys' second son, the gentleman Henry. Henry's father, General Tilney, invites Catherine over to the Tilneys' estate, the eponymous Northanger Abbey. There, Catherine's expectations of the world clash with bitter reality.

Countering the Adaptation Overdosed tendency of Austen's other works, this has to be the least adapted of all her works. It was twice adapted into Made for TV Movies, once by The BBC in 1986 and once by ITV in 2007. Marvel Illustrated is releasing a Comic Book Adaptation starting November 2011, script by Nancy Butler, pencils and inks by Janet Lee, and covers by Julian Totino Tedesco.


This work features examples of:[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Abusive Parents: General Tilney might be seen as emotionally abusive. His behavior to his children goes from overbearing to tyrannising and it's clear that Eleanor fears him. Catherine even wonders why his children are always so sedate when he's present.
  • Adults Are Useless: Mrs. Allen fails to do her job when it comes to advising Catherine on etiquette. Enough so, in fact, that Catherine finally complains that she's being left dangerously to her own devices.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of Gothic Romances.
  • Aluminium Christmas Trees: After the 2007 adaptation was broadcast, a letter to the Radio Times complained that the scriptwriter had added a jarring reference to baseball. That passage came word for word from the book.
  • Ascended Fangirl: Gothic romance novel fangirl Catherine gets to spend some weeks in a Gothic abbey. The trope is ultimately subverted, when Catherine is proven to be Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Black and White Morality: Catherine's firm belief at the opening of the novel.
  • Big Fancy House: The titular abbey.
  • Blue Blood: Eleanor, in the end. (Cue Deus Ex Machina.)
  • Bookworm: Catherine
  • Break the Cutie: Catherine gets this treatment when she is pretty much thrown out of Northanger Abbey.
  • Building of Adventure: Catherine expects the abbey to be this and is rather disappointed when it turns out to be just an elegant building with every modern comfort.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Deliberately invoked by the Narrator to deliberately narrowly avert an Ass Pull!
  • Clock King: General Tilney.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Catherine has a rather...er... 'odd' interpretation of the nuances of society - or rather an incredibly naive and innocent one: she doesn't think that anyone is capable of outright lying and manipulating other people and situations and could never do such a thing herself. To make matters worse, half the time her mind is with her Gothic Novels and a little departed from reality - with an unhealthy slab of Wrong Genre Savvy. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, she comes up with a lot of Armor-Piercing Questions that she'll ask A) without realising that they are in fact armor-piercing, and B) without realising that the questionee is extremely uncomfortable. She ends up feeling very confused when the person she's talking to suddenly changes the subject.
  • Completely Missing the Point: The Paperback Library printing of this book, egregiously so. They mistook it for an actual gothic novel of the sort that it parodies. Hilarity ensued.
  • Conversational Troping: EVERYWHERE!
  • Conspiracy Theorist: Catherine has all these suspicions about the Tilneys and the abbey, all of them based on nothing except conventions of gothic novels, and jumping to wild conclusions based on tiny discrepancies in what she thinks someone's behaviour should be. For this, she earns the title of Idiot Hero, because although she tends to be smart if naive in other matters, here she drops down right into deep stupidity. She gets better, though.
  • Country Mouse: Catherine came from a rural home where everyone was rational and straightfoward. She becomes very confused by the hypocritical and egotistical behaviour she meets with in Bath.
  • Diary: Whether Catherine actually keeps one is never mentioned in the novel, but Henry jokingly assumes that all young women do, and goes on to speculate that that's why they're (supposedly) so good at letter-writing. Played straight in the 2007 movie, in which she is revealed, two seconds after this conversation, to be writing about the events.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The narrator.
  • Death by Childbirth: Since this was a Dead Horse Trope even in Austen's day, she explicitly points out in the first paragraph that this did not happen to Mrs. Morland.
  • Deus Ex Machina: General Tilney refused to let Catherine wed Henry only because he did not want Henry to marry a poor girl. But then, his daughter Eleanor marries a nobleman, making him happy enough to consent to his son's marrying whomever he wants (although it also doesn't hurt when he finds out that Catherine's not as poor as he thought). By the way, remember the laundry list? That was said rich man's.
  • Drives Like Crazy: John Thorpe. The scene where he invites Catherine for a ride in his carriage is actually rather terrifying, especially since he refuses to listen to her insistent pleas to stop and let her get out. It's hard to tell how crazily he's actually driving, since Catherine's sensibilities for such things are probably pretty low, but Henry Tilney is much more sensible.
  • Foregone Conclusion/Medium Awareness/Spoiled by the Format: "The anxiety, which ... must be the portion of Henry and Catherine ... can hardly extend, I fear, to the bosom of my readers, who will see in the tell-tale compression of the pages before them, that we are all hastening together to perfect felicity."
    • Subverted in editions that include Lady Susan and the unfinished novels, the end of Northanger Abbey occurs when only halfway through the book.
  • Generation Xerox : Notably averted and lampshaded as Catherine has to do a lot of effort to see, between a very realistic painting of their mother on the one hand and Henry and Eleanor on the other, any ressemblance. The same, in mind, happens with their father : Henry Tilney is kind, generous, satirical and open, while his father is mean, mercenary, ridiculous for the narrator, and mysterious.
  • Genre Savvy: Catherine knows quite a lot about the world of Gothic literature.
  • Have a Gay Old Time:
    • Catherine "remembered that her eldest brother had lately formed an intimacy with a young man of his own college".
    • Henry Tilney also refers to himself as a "queer man" and Mrs. Allen uses the word "fag" to describe a long, tiring voyage.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Isabella Thorpe is made of this trope.
  • I Do Not Speak Nonverbal: Mrs. Allen explicitly doesn't.
  • I Gave My Word: Spoofed; Henry proposes marriage to Catherine and then tells her his father forbade it. She's glad, saying that if she learned first of the objection, she would have been honor bound to turn Henry down. But now that she accepted him, she's bound to keep her promise. In the 2007 movie version, this is inverted, as Catherine must, to be romantic in current context, accept to marry Henry even if he becomes poor. So, he tells her first that he broke with his father because he opposed the idea of the marriage and that he'll probably be dishinertited (this is total modern romantism taking over the rule of the work's universe and lack of research, as this never happens in the book, wouldn't have been possible as Henry is a second son and wouldn't have inherited, and finally doesn't even happen in the movie either), and then asks her. She ignores his father's opposition and accepts gladly.
  • The Ingenue: Oh, Catherine.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Everywhere.
    • The BBC Radio adaptation adds more; at the beginning of the second episode, Mrs Allen recounts the events of the first to her husband, who replies "Thank you, my dear, for that clear account of Catherine's adventures to date."
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Again, everywhere.
  • Lemony Narrator: Austen's most prominent use of the trope.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Eleanor, who spends a lot of time in the abbey alone or in the pleasant company of the General. Henry even thanks Catherine for coming to stay, considering it a real favor to Eleanor, while Catherine is thrilled with the invitation and thinks she's the one who ought to feel grateful.
  • Love Triangle: Two of them, with each person in one a sibling of someone in the other -- John Thorpe/Catherine Morland/Henry Tilney, and James Morland/Isabella Thorpe/Frederick Tilney. Yes, this makes things awkward.
  • Missing Mom: Mrs. Tilney
  • Mistaken for Murderer: General Tilney.
  • Morality Kitchen Sink: A major part of the Aesop for Catherine.
  • Naive Newcomer: Catherine is completely inexperienced with the world at large and the social life in the cities. This doesn't exactly pan out well for her.
  • Oh Wait, This Is My Grocery List: Catherine finds some old papers, and imagines their terrifying contents just as the lights go out. When she gets some light and reads them, she finds a laundry list. This is a Chekhov's Gun.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Isabella fears this from James's parents, for no good reason. Later, General Tilney does veto Henry's engagement to Catherine.
  • The Place
  • Poor Communication Kills
  • Rear Window Investigation: Catherine snoops around the Abbey when she suspects General Tilney of killing his wife.
  • Relative Error: Averted and lampshaded in the novel. When Catherine sees Henry with an attractive young woman, she immediately (and correctly) assumes it's his sister, because he already mentioned having a sister. The narrator points out that she missed a great opportunity for a dramatic fainting fit there. It is played straight in the 2007 miniseries, in which she mistakes Eleanor for Henry's fiance, which makes their laughing while Henry looks at her while whispering in Eleanor's ear seemingly more cruel.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Played straight by Henry and Eleanor. Brutally subverted by General Tilney.
  • Selective Obliviousness: Catherine: good grief. She's a fangirl of gothic novels and imagines things accordingly. But she misses the fact that her best friend, Eleanor, is the living embodiment of the stereotypical gothic heroine -- estranged lover, dead mother, overbearing father, lives in an abbey with said father and the creatures of the forest, always wears white.
    • Well, she notices but falsely assumes SHE'S the heroine (and is correct, just for the wrong book).
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man - Captain Tilney is a soldier who likes 'sowing his wild oats' whereas his younger brother Henry is a clergyman who likes reading novels.
  • Shoot the Messenger: Inverted. Near the end, Eleanor has to inform Catherine of the General's decision to (more or less) kick her out of the house. Catherine does not shoot the messenger.
  • Shout-Out: To numerous pieces of literature from its day.
  • Snark Knight: Henry Tilney. Especially when it comes to literature.
  • Spoiled by the Format: Lampshaded (see Foregone Conclusion, above).
  • Spoof Aesop: Only by Henry proposing to Catherine against his father's wishes is a happy ending possible. The second page quote discusses the trope.
  • Three Amigos: Catherine and Elinor and Henry Tilney.
  • While You Were in Diapers: Henry teasingly boasts to Catherine that he's surely read a lot more novels than she has:

Henry: I have had years the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your sampler at home![1]

    • Really though, by the end of the book, Henry is 26 and Catherine is 18.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The result of Catherine seeing the world of a Regency Romance through Gothic Literature Eyes.
  1. A sampler is used for needlework that was commonly taught to all girls