Northanger Abbey Characters

This Study Guide consists of approximately 47 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Northanger Abbey.
This section contains 2,556 words
(approx. 7 pages at 400 words per page)

Catherine Morland

Catherine Morland is the protagonist of the novel and by any standard the dominant character. At the opening of the novel, she is a seventeen-year-old girl belonging to a family with modest income. The Morlands are in nearly all respects a typical family of the era. They live in the rural town of Fullerton, in Hampshire, England. As a youth, Catherine pursued varied interests including piano-playing, cricket, and basic art. Typical of most children, she lacked the persistence necessary to develop advanced skills in any one area. Something of a hoyden, she was cheerful, loved, and even-tempered. As Catherine entered her teenage years her image developed into the gracious good looks of a young woman; simultaneously, she was forced to give up her tomboyish pursuits in preference for reading and other more-proper pursuits. As a young woman, Catherine is cheerful, affectionate, and devoid of deceit—however, she is quite uninformed and generally ignorant about societal mores and usage.

At the opening of the novel, Catherine is a good-looking and vivacious teenager, eager for new experiences and without any prior love interest. As she journeys to Bath she meets other characters and develops relationships with them. Her first friend is Isabella Thorpe, and Catherine lacks the experience to determine that Isabella is a false friend of little worth. Catherine is early pursued by the odious John Thorpe, though she manages finally to deflect his attentions. Later, Catherine meets Eleanor Tilney, and though her makes the acquaintance of Henry Tilney, who becomes her love interest as the novel progresses. By the conclusion of the novel Catherine has demonstrated her worth and ability and happily marries her love, Henry.

The novel can be easily interpreted as the coming-of-age story of Catherine. She moves from the burgeoning young woman to the accomplished wife as the novel progresses, and nearly every scene focuses on her development as an adult. She is confident without being overbearing, aware of her weaknesses and deficiencies without being overly self-conscious, and is willing to listen to her elders and take their good advice. Although a remarkably poor judge of character, this fault arises rather from her generous attitude toward others than from deficient powers of observation. Catherine is one of the more memorable characters in the modern literary canon and is, as the narrator states in the introductory paragraph of the novel, "an heroine" (p. 21).

Henry Tilney

Henry Tilney is the second of the three children of General Tilney and is twenty-six years old during the period of time considered by the novel. His mother died when he was seventeen and he was since raised by his father. Several years older than Catherine Morland, Henry nevertheless develops a true friendship with the younger woman and subsequently falls in love with her. Henry is everything that the obnoxious John Thorpe is not—wealthy, of true character, and worthwhile as a friend and partner. Henry has a jovially cynical view of human nature and takes pleasure in gently teasing others when they use a word incorrectly or speak out of place. He finds Catherine's naivety on virtually all subjects endearing and quickly moves beyond friendship and admiration to love for her.

Henry is well- and widely-read and enjoys novels as much as Catherine, though he also enjoys reading history while she does not. Henry's defense of historians is an often-quoted passage of the novel and demonstrates that his education is balanced and complete. Henry is the parson of Woodston, a town for which his house is named. His home and lands were bequeathed by General Tilney, and Henry allows himself to be ruled in nearly all things by his father. Henry's retiring personality is not as passive as is that of Eleanor, however, and Henry will contradict General Tilney when he deems it necessary. Catherine and others describe Henry as very attractive, tall, handsomely dressed, and an excellent dancer. Additionally, he is a capable driver and brilliant conversationalist—both qualities in marked contrast to John, his typical foil. Within the novel, Henry succeeds completely at everything he attempts and is a memorable protagonist and hero even though he naturally plays second fiddle to the brilliant and memorable Catherine Morland.

General Tilney

General Tilney is a wealthy widower and father of three children: Captain Frederick Tilney, Henry Tilney, and Eleanor Tilney. General Tilney rules his family with strict discipline and makes most of his children's decisions, including forming their public opinions about various events. In this controlling and overbearing regard he is generally unlikable, though he does have some endearing qualities. He is vainly proud about his vast wealth and endeavors to showcase it in a favorable light. He has modernized and repaired Northanger Abbey, for example, and the refurbished structure sports all of the most modern conveniences. General Tilney can exhibit quirky behavior from time to time. For example, he forbids Eleanor to show Catherine Northanger Abbey in his absence. Catherine seizes upon General Tilney's idiosyncrasies and formulates a delusional theory that he murdered his wife. In fact, she had died of a sudden illness. General Tilney can also behave in an impetuous and improper manner as, for example, when he ejected Catherine from his home without a proper escort. Though present in many scenes in the latter portion of the novel, General Tilney is a fairly minor character and serves more as a plot device than a character. His domineering relationship with his two younger children is an unusually harsh element and is somewhat akin to the relationships of Gothic novels parodied in the opening chapter of the novel.

Eleanor Tilney

Eleanor Tilney is the youngest of the three children of General Tilney and is twenty-two years old during the period of time considered by the novel. Her mother died when she was only thirteen and she has since been raised by her father. Several years older than Catherine Morland, Eleanor nevertheless develops a true friendship with the younger woman and treats her with respect and kindness. Eleanor is everything that Isabella Thorpe is not—wealthy, of true character, and worthwhile as a friend. Within the narrative Eleanor functions usually as a passive character. She is approached by Catherine and befriended through the younger woman's efforts. Eleanor later receives Catherine with grace but restraint and, even when offended, usually takes pains to be restrained and passive. This is in keeping with her upbringing under the dominating hand of General Tilney. Eleanor is very insightful and quickly discovers that Catherine is enchanted by Henry, and likewise believes Isabella to be flighty and dishonest. Henceforth, Eleanor endeavors to assist Henry and Catherine develop a relationship.

Prior to the novel's dominant timeline, Eleanor had developed a secret love with an unnamed gentleman whose means were apparently complicated. After the novel's dominant timeline the gentleman's means were secured and his position advanced, whereupon General Tilney allowed the man to marry Eleanor. This surprise ending allows Eleanor, now a wealthy lady in her own right, to intervene on behalf of her brother and her friend to secure General Tilney's permission to for the two to marry. Though somewhat a minor character, Eleanor appears with frequency in the latter half of the novel and always acts the part of a gracious hostess and true friend. She is one of the most positive characters in the novel.

Isabella Thorpe

Isabella Thorpe is John's brother and the girlfriend—then fianc√©—of James Morland. As a casual friend, Isabella is perhaps an agreeable sort. She is beautiful and wily, draws the attention of young men, and knows a great deal about dress, fashion, and popular culture—though her knowledge is not deep. Upon first meeting, Catherine and Isabella enjoy each other's company at the social dances and other functions. But even from the first days it is evident that Isabella is more style than substance and cares far more for herself than for anyone else. She and Catherine discuss Gothic novels, watch young men, and talk of fashion. Catherine finds her company enjoyable. Isabella's relationship with James continues to develop through the early chapters of the novel until they reach a sort of understanding that they will get married. James goes home and secures his parents' consent as well as a pledge of upkeep from Mr. Morland. Though the pledged sum is adequate—even appreciable given the circumstances—Isabella is disappointed in the amount and does not bother to hide the fact from Catherine, instead suggesting that Mr. Morland is stingy. As the weeks in Bath progress, Catherine very slowly comes to realize that Isabella is something of a false friend. As Catherine befriends Eleanor Tilney, Isabella fades into the background.

When Isabella meets Captain Frederick Tilney she begins to flirt with him gradually, and then openly, even going so far as publicly to ignore James in preference for Captain Tilney. Catherine is angered and hurt—as is James—but generously allows that Isabella is possibly ignorant of her behavior. Later, however, Isabella rejects James for Captain Tilney and is in turn rejected by Captain Tilney. Isabella then writes a bizarre letter to Catherine, claiming that James is a victim of misunderstanding. Isabella suggests that Catherine intervene with James to salvage their engagement. Fortunately, Catherine has deduced what sort of person Isabella is and refuses. Isabella is a dominant character in the first dozen chapters of the novel but then quickly fades into a minor role as Catherine moves beyond her circle of influence.

John Thorpe

John Thorpe is Isabella's brother and the school friend of James Morland. John accidentally introduced James to Isabella during a home visit. With Isabella, John is the early antagonist in the novel and pursues Catherine with unwanted attention. John is a boor and speaks unceasingly about his own putative abilities and intelligence. In fact, he is normal in nearly all respects save only his inflated regard for his own accomplishments. Even the polite and retiring Catherine tires of his bombastic self-promotion after a single afternoon and, upon spending a second day with him, finds him irritating and seeks to avoid him. John believes what he wants to believe, though, and becomes convinced that Catherine's cold shoulder indicates a warm heart awaiting his proposal. While developing his fantasy of reciprocated affection, John presents Catherine as a woman of vast substance and import during a casual conversation with General Tilney. This has a profound effect on General Tilney, of course. Later, after Catherine has unambiguously rejected his advances, he presents Catherine as a fallen woman of ill repute during another casual conversation with General Tilney. This, too, has a profound effect. Because of John's loud-mouthed behavior, Catherine has the opportunity to fall in love with Henry and, also because of John's loud-mouthed behavior, Henry has the opportunity to demonstrate his heroism.

John fancies himself an excellent driver and superb judge of horseflesh—though he is neither. He usually speaks of large sums of money and frequently uses profanity to drive home his dubious point. Most of his talk is self-contradictory and usually verges on the nonsensical. He is very apt to promise things impossible to deliver, relying upon his bluster to carry him through. He is not averse to lying to gain his goals and does not hesitate to intrude into other's personal affairs. In general, John is a disagreeable and unlikable character who provides much comedy and acts as a sort of personified plot device. He occurs in many scenes in the first half of the novel but thereafter nearly disappears from the narrative.

James Morland

James Morland is the oldest of the numerous Morland siblings and is probably in his early twenties during the time considered in the novel. Like Catherine, James is a poor judge of character and believes the buffoonery of John Thorpe to signal real friendship and the coquettish behavior of Isabella Thorpe to signify real devotion and love. James has been away at school for perhaps a year before the opening of the novel; at school he has befriended John. Accompanying John to his home, James has met Isabella and fallen in love with her. James's feelings are sincere and uncomplicated. The destitute Thorpes, however, value James rather more for his father's wealth than for his own characteristics. Isabella pursues a relationship with James based upon the apparent misconception that his father is wealthy. It can be inferred that the loudmouthed John has grossly inflated James's wealth via meaningless boasting. Thus, Isabella and James mutually pursue a relationship which ends in an accepted proposal of marriage. However, when Isabella learns of James's meager inheritance she rejects him in favor of another suitor. James watches in horror as his relationship disintegrates and, once fully cast off, he returns home to Fullerton and writes Catherine a despondent letter. James is somewhat pitiable during the narrative but, as Henry Tilney points out, he is fortunate to be rid of such a climber as Isabella Thorpe. James is, in reality, a minor character in the novel.

Captain Frederick Tilney

Captain Frederick Tilney is the oldest of the three children of General Tilney and is perhaps twenty-nine or thirty at the time of the novel. He appears only briefly in the narrative but has a fairly major influence on the plot development. A notorious womanizer, Captain Tilney pursues the beautiful Isabella Thorpe even though she is engaged to James Morland at the time. Because of Captain Tilney's wealth and prestige, Isabella rejects James in favor of the military officer. However, Captain Tilney has no intention of engaging Isabella in a serious relationship, and once he has satisfied his vanity with her he casts her off. Captain Tilney is presented as a man fully conscious of class, wealth, and station. He apparently shares little with his younger siblings Henry and Eleanor, and shares much in common with his rigorous father General Tilney. In general, Captain Tilney is a minor character in the novel.

Mr. and Mrs. Allen

Mr. and Mrs. Allen are a childless couple living in Fullerton. They are friends with the Morlands and invite Catherine to accompany them to Bath on holiday—this invitation initiates the rising action of the novel. They prove to be generous and capable wards of Catherine, allowing her to explore her new surroundings while simultaneously providing gentle advice, which ultimately proves of sound judgment. Mr. Allen makes discreet inquiries about Catherine's friends while Mrs. Allen coaches her on needful topics such as dress and social propriety. In all respects they are a traditional couple aware of society and engaged with their neighbors. They remain, however, fairly minor characters in the novel.

Richard and Mrs. Morland

Richard and his unnamed wife are Catherine's parents. They maintain a comfortable if modest home in Fullerton, and Richard is able to provide for his children ably—though perhaps not to Isabella's satisfaction. They display a remarkable trust in the Allens and their own daughter and the novel bears out that this trust is correctly placed. In general, however, they are minor characters and appear briefly in the opening chapter and then again in the closing of the novel. They behave as typical parents and, as the novel points out, are notable for being rather mundane as far as parents in novels go.

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