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Northanger Abbey - Chapters 20, 21, 22, and 23 Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 50 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Northanger Abbey.
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Chapters 20, 21, 22, and 23 Summary

Catherine prepares to leave Bath for Northanger Abbey. General Tilney continues to be very solicitous of her and she comes to find his queer behavior somewhat off-putting. They finally leave and Catherine first rides with Eleanor and then rides with Henry, which delights her. Henry discloses that he does not live at Northanger Abbey, but at the nearby town of Woodston, where he is a parson. Catherine effuses over the abbey and Henry, realizing she has serious misconceptions about the nature of the structure, playfully leads her on, spinning an idle fiction about the place. Henry discusses hidden passageways, violent stormy nights, and mysterious chests. When they reach Northanger Abbey Catherine is surprised to find it a modern building in every respect. Although it is richly appointed and impressive, Catherine cannot help but be disappointed. General Tilney shows Catherine about the home and yards with obvious pride, before leaving her to ready for dinner.

Eleanor shows Catherine to the guest chambers. Catherine finds a modern room, richly appointed, and is again disappointed. As she dresses, Catherine spies a large old chest in one corner and decides it must contain some Gothic horror. Fingers trembling, she opens the chest and discovers an old hat inside. Eleanor arrives and escorts Catherine to dinner. General Tilney calls attention to the finery of the house and dinner, obviously proud of his wealth. As usual, his children are submissive and General Tilney does nearly all of the talking. In the evening, severe weather surrounds Northanger Abbey and Catherine becomes slightly frightened by various creaking sounds. She returns to her room and sees an old dark cabinet in another corner of her room. She advances upon it and turns the key, then finds that she is unable to open the cabinet. She fusses about and finally opens the cabinet, realizing that it had originally been unlocked. Within she expects to find some perverse secret and locates a mysterious roll of papers. Before she can read the papers, however, her candle blows out. Frightened, Catherine scatters the papers and leaps into bed, cowering beneath the covers.

In the morning Catherine discovers that the supposedly mysterious papers are simply old laundry bills. Ashamed, she puts the bills back into the cabinet and tells herself not to expect some Gothic plot to develop at Northanger Abbey. She goes down to breakfast and enjoys Henry's company briefly before General Tilney joins them. General Tilney hints broadly that he desires Henry and Catherine to be married—everyone in the room understands his rather obvious hints, except for the typically naïve Catherine. After breakfast Henry departs for Woodston for a few days. General Tilney shows Catherine and Eleanor around the expansive gardens. Eleanor prefers to walk along a particular small pathway through the gardens and General Tilney declines to accompany the girls on that particular pathway. Later, Eleanor explains the pathway had been her late mother's favorite walk—the novel-agitated Catherine concludes that General Tilney's behavior is suspicious and sinister. Later that day, General Tilney leaves on business and requests that Eleanor not show Catherine more of Northanger Abbey until he is able to return—a request that further agitates Catherine.

Catherine's imagination then runs away with her and she comes to believe that General Tilney has either secretly imprisoned his wife or that he had poisoned or otherwise murdered her. Catherine seizes upon various random facts to buttress her thesis; as Northanger Abbey has not proved a Gothic structure, surely its inhabitants must live a Gothic life. Catherine focuses on the late Mrs. Tilney's chambers, which she has not yet toured, as necessarily harboring some deep secret. Catherine plans to stay up late and sneak through the portions of the house she has not yet visited, convinced she must find some dank dungeon wherein Eleanor's mother is either imprisoned or entombed alongside damming evidence of foul murder. Instead, Catherine falls asleep in spite of her plans.

Chapters 20, 21, 22, and 23 Analysis

General Tilney continues to treat Catherine as though she were very wealthy, based on his misinformation provided by the boasting John. On the ride, Catherine leaves Bath in the carriage with Eleanor but at the first carriage stop General Tilney moves her into Henry's carriage. Catherine is delighted and feels that if such a gentleman as Captain Tilney approves of her driving alone in a carriage with a man then it must be socially acceptable. In fact, it is provocative as was determined earlier by the Allens. General Tilney is clearly attempting to interest Henry and Catherine in each other. The dominant feature of the remainder of the ride concerns the witty and enjoyable conversation between Catherine and Henry. Catherine is so addled by her Gothic novel reading that she supposes Northanger Abbey—based solely upon its name—to be a brooding, foreboding Gothic structure lying in ruins and filled with perverse secrets. Henry plays along, gently teasing her, by weaving a tall tale of mystery. The most ironic portion of the narrative lies in the fact that nearly all of Henry's fantastic yarn in fact does come true—though of course not in the Gothic way he presents it.

At Northanger Abbey, General Tilney continues to be very solicitous of Catherine's well-being. He shows her about the house and yards with surprising grace and clear affection. Catherine is disappointed to find the structure modern, well-appointed, and in good repair. Her overwrought imagination thus begins to focus beyond the building itself and on the inhabitants. Deciding that Mrs. Tilney could not have died of natural causes, Catherine begins to imagine a story of perfidy and murder involving none other than General Tilney as the foul perpetrator. Various insignificant details are seized upon to bolster the gradually-developing fantasy. At the highest moment of frenzied imagination Catherine discovers a black cabinet in her room. It is unlocked but she supposes it must be locked and turns the key, locking the cabinet, and then spends considerable time trying to force her way into the locked openings. Finally she unlocks the cabinet and finds a roll of papers in a far recess. Supposing them to be secrets reveling foul crimes she seizes them at the very moment her light flickers out! Catherine has indeed crafted her own Gothic experience—she leaps into bed and cowers under the covers as the remainder of the night passes in blackness. Note that in the surprise ending of the novel, the papers are revealed to be nothing more than the washing bills of Eleanor's secret lover—certainly a delightful twist in the fiction.

This section contains 1,109 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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