Northanger Abbey Topics for Discussion

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.
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Northanger Abbey is Austen's first-written novel. Before final publication, it underwent several major revisions. What aspects of the novel do you imagine Austen would have altered given the fact that she had become a significant literary figure between the original writing and the original publication?

Catherine Morland is presented as a naïve girl of seventeen. Is her character believable? What aspects of her behavior are particularly convincing? Do you find her typical lack of insight into others' motivation to be humorous or frustrating? If the novel did not state her age as seventeen, what age would you guess her to be?

Isabella Thorpe first befriends Catherine and expands Catherine's social sphere. Later, Isabella ignores Catherine and, finally, attempts to manipulate her for her own reasons. Henry remarks at one point that Catherine should be glad to be rid of such a friend as Isabella. Do you agree with Henry? Why or why not?

Catherine reads The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. The narrative satirizes Clermont by Regina Maria Roche. Isabella recommends The Italian by Ann Radcliffe as well as Castle of Wolfenbach, Mysterious Warnings, Necromancer of the Black Forest, Midnight Bell, Orphan of the Rhine, and Horrid Mysteries. Would it surprise you to know that all of these titles were actually published novels? Would you like to read any of these so-called "Northanger horrid novels"? Why or why not?

In the opening chapters of the novel John Thorpe pursues Catherine rather indifferently, attempting—apparently—to impress her with bluster and loud-talking. What aspects of Catherine do you think John finds attractive? Later, John comes to believe Catherine has accepted a marriage proposal while in fact she has done no such thing. Who is to blame for this misunderstanding? John, Catherine, or both? Discuss.

James Morland becomes engaged to Isabella but is subsequently spurned for a richer man. Catherine is heartbroken at James's misfortune, but in responding to this situation, Henry muses that James is lucky. Why do you think Henry feels this way? Do you think that James was lucky or unlucky in love?

While driving Catherine to Northanger Abbey, Henry spins a yarn about romantic Gothic events which putatively commonly transpire at the place—until he can't keep from laughing aloud at the ridiculous stories. Review Henry's mini-narrative and determine which events in the narrative relate to each major event in Henry's tall tale. Does it surprise you to discover that Henry's joking actually describes the salient details of Catherine's visit to Northanger Abbey?

During the first days at Northanger Abbey, Catherine confuses her Gothic novels with reality and begins to imagine General Tilney guilty of perverse and monstrous crimes. Have you ever confabulated fantasy with reality in such a way as to miss the entire thrust of a given situation? Discuss Catherine's reaction when her theories are discarded by Henry.

Why does General Tilney invite Catherine to Northanger Abbey? Why is he so solicitous of her comfort while she is a guest in his home? Why does he then eject her in a most shameful fashion? Discuss how John's blustering lies about Catherine influence her life.

The most "romantically Gothic" moment in the novel arguably concerns the roll of washing-bills that Catherine finds in an unlocked—but oh, so mysterious!—cabinet in her room. Who put the washing-bills there? Does this humorous coincidence fit the tone of the remainder of the novel? Discuss.

This section contains 552 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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