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Northanger Abbey Setting & Symbolism

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.
This section contains 752 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)


Fullerton is a lightly urbanized town center of a rural farming area in southwestern England. In nearly all respects it is a normal town full of large families of socially proper middle-class families. Fullerton is the initial setting in the novel and is the traditional home of the Morlands and the Allens.


Bath is a health spa resort town in southwestern England, popular because of its naturally occurring hot springs. During the period considered by the novel, Bath was a widely known and appreciated resort. The Allens go to Bath for a month of holidays and healthy recuperation. Their invitation to accompany them, extended to Catherine, initiates the basic rising action of the narrative.

The Pump Room

At Bath the naturally occurring hot springs are controlled via a series of pumps—the water is drawn from the ground and then pumped off to various steam rooms and heated pools. These pumps are nominally housed in the Pump Room at Bath. By the time of the novel this function, however, is secondary to the social gathering place which centers on the Pump House. The Pump House, only lightly described, is the dominant setting for the first third of the novel.

The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, is a Gothic novel published some years prior to Northanger Abbey. It, along with The Italian by Ann Radcliffe, Castle of Wolfenbach, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries make up the apparent reading list of Catherine and Isabella during their stay in Bath. Catherine finds the Gothic romance compelling and begins to confabulate elements of the fiction with her real life. This obviously leads to problems for the young heroine.

Carriages and Horses

Throughout the novel Catherine rides in a variety of conveyances, all of them a type of carriage drawn by horses. The narrator explains the designs of some of these conveyances and John Thorpe wrongfully claims to be a master driver and infallible judge of horseflesh. Within the novel, carriages and horses are symbolic of types of wealth, much as various sports cars are today.

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey is the rather misleading name given to General Tilney's family house and estate. Once a real abbey, the building during the time of Catherine's visit is fully restored and modernized, each room featuring the latest conveniences. Catherine is disappointed to discover Northanger Abbey is not a crumbling relic of mysterious days gone by. Northanger Abbey is the dominant setting for most of the second half of the novel.


Woodston is the pastoral home of Henry Tilney. It is described in some detail by General Tilney as he shows the house and grounds to Catherine. Although much smaller than Northanger Abbey, Catherine finds Woodston charming and is particularly taken by the orchards and lands surrounding the structure. Woodston is a minor setting within the novel.

The Chest, the Roll of Washing-Bills, and the Portrait

During her early stay at Northanger Abbey, Catherine's frenzied imagination causes her to suspect various mysterious plots to be afoot. Her overwrought fantasy is bolstered by a chest which is presumably somehow inherently mysterious—but contains only a hat; by a roll of strange papers—which turns out to be washing-bills; and by the location of a portrait of the late Mrs. Tilney. All of these spurious symbols of intrigue are in fact common objects made significant only through Catherine's misplaced interpretations.


The narrative presents a few letters as facsimile texts; Catherine is invariably the recipient. One letter tells of the end of the engagement between James and Isabella. Another letter tells of the end of the relationship between Captain Tilney and Isabella. The letters are used as a common form of narrative construction to allow various events to be presented chronologically out of order without harming the suspension of disbelief while reading the novel.


Wealth is considered in the novel in a variety of ways. The frugal Morlands and Allens consider wealth as an item to be conserved, as indicated by Mrs. Allen's constant attention to the prices and durability of various materials. John considers the sum of wealth to be a good carriage and fast horse. Isabella considers wealth as the be-all and end-all of matrimony. General Tilney considers equivalent wealth to be a prerequisite to marriage. The various types of wealth considered throughout the novel are interesting and inform some of the novel's major themes.

This section contains 752 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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