Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey": Is Catherine Morland an Ideal Heroine?

Essay, 2011

10 Pages, Grade: 1,3



I. Introduction

II. Analysis and Interpretation
1. Catherine's Qualifications
2. Catherine's Weaknesses

III. Conclusion

IV. Bibliography

I. Introduction

In the British fiction of the nineteenth century female protagonists were especially outstanding and not only used by Jane Austen, who wrote about Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse or Catherine Morland, just to name a few of them, but also by Sir Walter Scott with his heroine Jeanie Deans (cf. Morgan 559). Many other authors of the nineteenth century chose a heroine as a main character and not a hero, even if there are very well men participating in the story, but they only have a minor role and represent the counterpart to the women (cf. Morgan 559). Of course they are not unimportant as they play at the same time the major role in the lives of the heroines.

Now the question may arise why especially in that century women played the major role in the novels whereas before and after that the protagonists had mostly been male (cf. Morgan 560). Although this is very striking and interesting, it should not be the subject of this paper. Instead, it is to take a closer look at one of these heroines, which is Catherine Morland. The aim of this work is to decide whether she is an ideal heroine or not. To come to a decision it is necessary to analyse her character as well as her actions.

Since the whole story, as well as all the other protagonists, are set around her, the reader gets to know how Catherine feels, how she thinks, and especially learns a lot about her likes and dislikes. We do not get as much information about other characters as we get about Catherine. But if we look closer at the person of Catherine, it becomes questionable whether it is justified to award the title of an ideal heroine to her. The reader accompanies her through her whole stay in Bath and Northanger Abbey and has a chance to observe her behaviour in crucial situations. This observation is often bilateral, as on the one hand we can see the self-confident girl travelling on her own, and on the other hand her childish behaviour and her naivete point out that she is not yet a grown-up. This becomes notably evident when we compare her to the other characters in the novel.

Nevertheless, this has to be analysed in detail in order to make a fair decision. In the following passages I would therefore firstly like to illustrate to what extend one can call Catherine an ideal heroine, what her strengths are and when she might be superior to other persons, and secondly, this should be contrasted to the attributes which disqualify her to be labelled such in regard to the weak points in her character and behaviour.

II. Analysis and Interpretation

1. Catherine's Qualifications

As mentioned before, this chapter should illustrate those of Catherine's character traits which

qualify her as an ideal heroine. First of all, it has to be said that, with only seventeen years, Catherine is “the youngest of Jane Austen's heroines, in the sense that she has the least experience. [Therefore] she has not only to grow, like the other heroines, but to grow up.” (McMaster 725). Nevertheless, she is not a fearful person at all. Although she has spent her whole life in a protected home, surrounded by a carrying family and far away from any serious problems, she is brave enough to travel only with the Allens to Bath. Hence she shows that she is independent of her parents and does not necessarily need someone to look after her. The reason for this might be that she has never been a typical girl, but “preferred cricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush.” (I, 15). Her behaviour during childhood was closer to that of a boy, she was “noisy and loud, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.” (I, 16). On the other hand she was predestinated to become a tomboy; growing up with three elder brothers she did have to learn to win out over them and to become self- confident, but in no case she could allow herself to be frightful. This definitely makes her an ideal heroine.

Although or precisely because she has probably not seen much of the world except of her home town Fullerton, she is eager to travel to Bath. She does not even hesitate or think about any possible dangers, but is at once “all happiness” (I, 18). The subject of travelling or leaving home plays a big role not only in Northanger Abbey, but also in other novels written by Austen

“her heroines usually do not stay in that "country village" […], and often do not spend much time there at all. […]. Northanger Abbey […] sports a heroine who is on the road for almost all of the novel. Catherine Morland is introduced to us in Chapter One, and the narrator moves quickly from her infancy through age ten to seventeen. So much for her home life. She leaves home on the very first page of Chapter Two, and is delighted to do so. […], [T]he rest of the novel is Catherine in the public world of Bath and then as a houseguest at Northanger Abbey. Finally, in Chapter Twenty- Nine, eleven weeks after her departure and with just three chapters left in her story, Catherine quite reluctantly comes home.” (Morgan, Jane Austen On-line journal).

This seems very typical of Austen's heroines and Catherine does not make an exception in this case. Therefore she is not inferior to the other heroines.

Comparing Catherine's behaviour to that of the other women in the novel, it becomes obvious that she is superior to most of them, especially to the superficial Isabella or Mrs. Allen. First of all she is very honest, even in unpleasant situations she tries to say the truth about her thoughts and feelings. There is one situation where this behaviour can be perfectly seen, namely when she suspects General Tilney of having killed his wife. While Catherine is investigating Mrs.

Tilney's former room, Henry surprises her and asks what she is doing alone in that part of the abbey. Instead of lying to him, she admits her doubts concerning his mother's natural death. Of course her thoughts are not realistic and Henry resolves the misunderstanding at once; but this behaviour is very sincere and is not to be taken for granted. This is not a malicious intent but only her lack of life experience.

Besides she has a very well-marked conscience. She always wants to clarify a situation, especially when something has gone wrong. This can, for example, be observed in chapter XI when the appointment with the Tilneys cannot take place because of the rain; later she urgently wants to explain to Henry why she has gone with the Thorpes and her brother instead. This behaviour shows very clearly how important friends are to Catherine and particularly how people think of her. She does not want to harm anyone at all or to do something wrong and thus she wants the people to know that she really “[has] neither a bad heart nor a bad temper” (I, 16). Her aim is to create and to keep peace with everyone, therefore, she always tries to be friendly and honest; she even remains civil to John Thorpe, who has lied to her so many times and has bored her with conceited hymns of praise about himself. With this behaviour and attitude she differs very much from John and Isabella Thorpe who always act with ulterior motives. Kathleen Glancy fittingly states that “Henry’s ironic description of Isabella Thorpe is a true portrait of Catherine, 'open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions and knowing no disguise.'” and summed up with Henry's further characterisation that “[…] she is superior in good nature to the rest of the world.” (Glancy). And that is why Henry loves her; not because she is prettier than other women, which she is definitely not, only “almost pretty” (I, 17), but because she “has far more than the appearance of good humour – she has an abundance of the real thing.” (Glancy). And that is the reason why she “is constitutionally incapable of artifice, which may account for her slowness to recognize it in others.”, what leads her astray with Isabella (Glancy). This is probably her best attribute and one further point which is in favour of her being an ideal heroine.

Furthermore, she learns quite fast what is proper in such a society. During her stay in Bath she gets to know another environment than her usual one and understands how she should behave in different situations, what is appropriate and what is less appropriate. When Mr. Allen tells her that it is quite odd for a woman to travel alone with a man in an open carriage, she keeps this advice in mind for the rest of the stay.

She also understands that her appearance is now more important than it has been at home. She tries hard to choose suitable dresses for every occasion and to stand out from the masses. Now, she has completely changed her mind and has finally become a young lady, casting off her image as a boyish girl.


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Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey": Is Catherine Morland an Ideal Heroine?
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jane, austen, northanger, abbey, catherine, morland, ideal, heroine
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Anna Miller (Author), 2011, Jane Austen's "Northanger Abbey": Is Catherine Morland an Ideal Heroine?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/197065


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