Northanger Abbey - Chapters 16, 17, 18, and 19 Summary & Analysis

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Chapters 16, 17, 18, and 19 Summary

Catherine has dinner with the Tilney family. She finds the assembled family dynamic to be very restrained. In particular, Eleanor and especially Henry are quite reserved and deferential to General Tilney. The father dominates the conversation and the atmosphere but General Tilney is so solicitous toward Catherine that she finds Henry's acquiescent attitude acceptable, if puzzling. The next day Catherine relates the experience to Isabella, who remarks that the Tilneys are excessively proud. That same day Henry's older brother, Captain Frederick Tilney, arrives in Bath and, making Isabella's acquaintance, flirts with her. Isabella protests that she is engaged but dances with Captain Tilney nonetheless. Later in the evening, Isabella and Catherine hold an intimate conversation at the Thorpe's apartment wherein Isabella confides her disappointment in a recent letter from James—he has informed her that he will be financially unable to marry for a period of about three years. Mrs. Thorpe discusses the situation with Isabella who broadly hints that Mr. Moreland must be very stingy with his money.

Over the next few days Catherine becomes fully smitten with Henry and she fantasizes occasionally that they become engaged. Eleanor tells Catherine that the Tilneys will shortly leave Bath, and Catherine is greatly disappointed. She is overjoyed shortly, however, when General Tilney invites her to accompany the family to Northanger Abbey, their considerable estate. The Allens endorse the invitation and Catherine writes home; her parents, relying upon the Allens' judgment, respond and approve of the visit. An expectant Catherine dreams that Northanger Abbey must be much like a Gothic castle, full of secret passageways, perverse secrets, and dark conspiring.

A few days later Catherine and Isabella again meet at the Pump House. Isabella informs Catherine that she has recently received a letter from John, wherein he states his intention of asking for Catherine's hand in marriage. Catherine is stunned and bluntly informs Isabella that any such offer must be refused. Isabella is only somewhat distraught and remarks strangely "there are more ways than one of our being sisters" (p. 139), which Catherine mistakenly understands to be a reference to Isabella's engagement to James. The discussion is slightly acrimonious but Isabella quickly loses interest when Captain Tilney appears. He openly flirts with Isabella and Catherine is taken aback when Isabella openly flirts with Captain Tilney. Catherine naïvely assumes her friend must be unaware of her untoward behavior and, uneasy, leaves the building. Over the next few days Isabella continues to openly flirt with Captain Tilney and James is very distraught and hurt over her behavior. Catherine fears for Isabella's reputation and asks Henry to intervene in what she rightly perceives to be a scandalous situation. Henry refuses, noting that Captain Tilney must keep his own counsel and informing Catherine that Isabella is not ignorant of her own behavior. Henry does reassure Catherine that, at least, Captain Tilney must shortly leave Bath.

Chapters 16, 17, 18, and 19 Analysis

The narrative undergoes a major turning point in these chapters—Catherine develops an intimate and enjoyable relationship with the Tilney family. Remarkably, she is entirely acceptable to General Tilney, who rules his children with an iron hand and who is also very aware of social and financial standing. Unbeknown to the reader, his favorable opinion of Catherine is founded upon misinformation provided by John. John has characterized Catherine as extremely wealthy and politically significant in an attempt to win favor with General Tilney as, at least so John suspects, Catherine will shortly accept his proposal. This misunderstanding will cause difficulty for Catherine later in the narrative, but when viewed retrospectively actually is invaluable to her in allowing her to enter the Tilney family.

John, as ignorant of the truth as always, then announces his intention of proposing to Catherine—never doubting she will accept. Catherine begs Isabella to intervene to prevent the embarrassing situation, and Isabella proves as self-centered as always. John is disabused of his erroneous ideas and Catherine pursues her friendship with the Tilneys. Meanwhile, Henry's older brother, Captain Frederick Tilney, is introduced in Bath. He immediately focuses on the beautiful, if vain, Isabella as the most attractive woman in the vicinity. Though engaged, she fawns over Captain Tilney and soon determines he is much richer than James. Catherine is typically confused about Isabella's apparent contradictory statements and actions. Henry, a wise student of human behavior, has quickly determined Isabella's faithlessness. Thus, all of the novel's initial relationships are gradually skewed into a more realistic situation given the characters involved. Catherine has cast off nearly all of her false friends and James shortly will be freed of the faithless Isabella. From this point forward, nearly all of Catherine's interaction with other characters will be confined to the Tilney family.

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