Northanger Abbey - Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 Summary & Analysis

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Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 Summary

Catherine and Mrs. Allen again attend the nearly-nightly ball in the lower rooms of the Pump House. Catherine is introduced to Henry Tilney, a good-looking and intelligent young man who entertains her with his unusual humor. Henry gently pokes fun at the Bath social milieu and Catherine finds him very attractive. At the end of the evening Catherine returns to the Allens' apartment feeling as though she has fallen in love with Henry. That evening, Mr. Allen discreetly inquires about Henry and learns that he is a clergyman with a solid financial situation and from a reputable family in Gloucestershire.

The next day, Catherine tours the various social gathering places for Henry but does not find him. Instead, she spends time with Mrs. Allen. Catherine and Mrs. Allen are generally bored and spend their time talking about banal subjects such as the durability of various types of materials. Then, Mrs. Allen meets Mrs. Thorpe, a passing acquaintance. This new society expands their circle of friends and makes their time more enjoyable. Mrs. Thorpe introduces her daughter, Isabella, to Catherine. Isabella is talkative, attractive, and friendly, and within a few hours Catherine has decided that Isabella is her best friend. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion of Mrs. Thorpe's financial situation—a widow, she pursues a tenuous financial existence, though she and her children present their circumstances as extravagantly secured.

Over the next few days Catherine and Isabella meet and develop their friendship. Catherine confides her feelings for Henry and Isabella encourages her friend's feelings; however, Henry cannot be located. The two young women pass much of their time reading romantic novels and discussing their various sensationalist plots. A lengthy narrative intrusion occurs wherein novels, novel-reading, and novel-writing are strongly defended. Meanwhile, Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe develop their relationship. Mrs. Thorpe finds Mrs. Allen's banal conversation somewhat boring; Mrs. Allen finds Mrs. Thorpe's constant bragging somewhat irritating.

One day Catherine meets Isabella after spending nearly all the night reading the Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho. They discuss the plot in ephemeral detail—Catherine is agitated about a black veil which conceals some secret (she is certain it must be a skeleton). Catherine's focus on Gothic elements and mysterious plots will continue until late in the novel. In the afternoon Catherine and Isabella discuss another girl. Isabella's vacant over-praising of the girl should allow Catherine to determine a strong strain of falsity in Isabella's personality—but it does not. Their talk then turns to men and suddenly Isabella determines that two men are watching them. Pretending to be outraged at their insolence, Isabella instead pursues them out of the building and onto the street, Catherine at her elbow.

Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 Analysis

These few chapters introduce nearly all of the remaining significant characters in the novel as well as establishes the central plot and dramatic tension of the narrative. Catherine's introduction to Henry Tilney is presented as happenstance, but Henry becomes a protagonist and likable character second only to Catherine. Their relationship gets off to a bumpy start but will dominant the plot development throughout the remainder of the novel. Catherine's initial attraction to the older Henry heavily foreshadows her future. Henry is portrayed as a highly educated, well-read, and witty man with a rather cynical but friendly attitude. He enjoys poking mild fun at others' mistakes of grammar and attitude, but never goes so far as to offend. The naïve Catherine misses nearly all of Henry's allusions and comments but finds him attractive anyway. Mr. Allen's inquiry about Henry divulges further good news; in any event, Mr. Allen's behavior indicates him to be a conscientious ward.

The next major development is the chance meeting of Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe, old-time school mates. The relationship is carefully crafted as very tenuous and distant, such that Mrs. Allen's introduction of Catherine to the Thorpe's does not carry narrative problems—that is, Mrs. Allen's behavior is entirely correct. The fact that the Thorpes turn out to be a disagreeable lot does not reflect poorly on the Allens. Isabella Thorpe is introduced and she and Catherine become fast friends—though Isabella proves to be a false friend. Isabella is presented as scatter-brained and self-centered from the very first few scenes, which stands in contrast to Catherine's inexperienced appraisal of her. Perhaps the strongest early indication of Isabella's self-serving character is presented when she announces two men are watching them. Pretending to be outraged and suggesting they must avoid contacting such rude swains, in fact Isabella pursues them onto the street in flagrant disregard of propriety. Catherine, always believing the best of everyone, finds Isabella's actions hard to square with her stated intentions.

Catherine and Isabella begin reading period Gothic novels, including The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Catherine discusses a few other novels with Isabella throughout the narrative, and then discusses some other novels with Henry and Eleanor Tilney. The Gothic novel creates a dominant theme in the narrative. Catherine's enthusiastic and constant reading leads her to mistakenly believe that real-life must mimic the novel, and when she ultimately goes to Northanger Abbey her experiences are far from her expectations. It is interesting that all of the novels mentioned are actually published titles from the period.

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