Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey: Ch. 14

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Chapter 14d

The next morning was fair, and Catherine almost expected another attack from the assembled party. With Mr. Allen to support her, she felt no dread of the event: but she would gladly be spared a contest, where victory itself was painful, and was heartily rejoiced therefore at neither seeing nor hearing anything of them. The Tilneys called for her at the appointed time; and no new difficulty arising, no sudden recollection, no unexpected summons, no impertinent intrusion to disconcert their measures, my heroine was most unnaturally able to fulfil her engagement, though it was made with the hero himself. They determined on walking round Beechen Cliff, that noble hill whose beautiful verdurew and hanging coppice render it so striking an object from almost every opening in Bath.

"I never look at it," said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, "without thinking of the south of France."

"You have been abroad then?" said Henry, a little surprised.

"Oh! No, I only mean what I have read about. It always puts me in mind of the country that Emily and her father travelled through, in The Mysteries of Udolpho. But you never read novels, I dare say?"

"Why not?"

"Because they are not clever enough for you—gentlemen read better books."

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupidd. I have read all Mrs. Radcliffe's works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; I remember finishing it in two days—my hair standing on end the whole time."

"Yes," added Miss Tilney, "and I remember that you undertook to read it aloud to me, and that when I was called away for only five minutes to answer a note, instead of waiting for me, you took the volume into the Hermitage Walk, and I was obliged to stay till you had finished it."

"Thank you, Eleanor—a most honourable testimony. You see, Miss Morland, the injustice of your suspicions. Here was I, in my eagerness to get on, refusing to wait only five minutes for my sister, breaking the promise I had made of reading it aloud, and keeping her in suspense at a most interesting part, by running away with the volume, which, you are to observe, was her own, particularly her own. I am proud when I reflect on it, and I think it must establish me in your good opinion."

"I am very glad to hear it indeed, and now I shall never be ashamed of liking Udolpho myself. But I really thought before, young men despised novels amazingly."

"It is amazinglyd; it may well suggest amazement if they do—for they read nearly as many as women. I myself have readd hundreds and hundreds. Do not imagine that you can cope with me in a knowledge of Julias and Louisas. If we proceed to particulars, and engage in the never-ceasing inquiry of 'Have you read this?' and 'Have you read that?' I shall soon leave you as far behind me as—what shall I say?—I want an appropriate simile.—as far as your friend Emily herself left poor Valancourth when she went with her aunt into Italy. Consider how many years I have had the start of you. I had entered on my studies at Oxford, while you were a good little girl working your samplerw at home!"

"Not very good, I am afraid. But now really, do not you think Udolpho the nicestw book in the world?"

"The nicest—by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend upon the binding."

X [d] Chapter 14

Writing & Reading

A notable chapter.

Austen's lightest novel is also the most self-consciously literary, though Persuasion has an extended comment on literature. It's as if the parody and levity here leave her free for more personal reflections, emphasized by her dropping into the first person on some occasions. The most serious parts of NA dwell on literary rather than moral issues.  

X [w] verdure


X [d] The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has …

Writing & Reading

Tilney, in direct contrast with the male chauvinist Thorpe, expresses an enlightened view of fiction and its readership. The subject appears again in Persuasion, which offers Austen's most extended comment on fiction. (By "stupid" Tilney means more dull than idiotic.)…

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X [d] It is amazingly

Tilney objects to the use of "amazingly" as an adverb that does not modify anything specific. She means, "It is amazing how young men despise novels." A similar problem exists today in English with "hopefully" and other adverbs that irritate purists because the adverb modifies nothing specific: "Hopefully, they'll get used to that in time."

X [d] I myself have read

Writing & Reading

Tilney, we recall, is a clergyman. His moral scruples don't prevent his enjoying fiction.

X [h] Emily herself left poor Valancourt

Writing & Reading

The heroine and hero of The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Emily's mother has died, the family's finances are in trouble, and Emily's loving, kind father, weakened by his wife's death, undertakes with Emily a journey through the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean. Emily is deeply moved by the sublime mountainous landscape. Here she meets Valancourt, who like her is also a worshiper of nature. Bu…

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X [w] sampler

Daily Life

The culminating sampler was regarded as proof of a girl's accomplishment in needlework. 

X [w] nicest

Johnson gives "accurate, scrupulous, delicate," though the language is itself none too accurate (maybe she's also using something like Thorpean slang), and Tilney, who is in this way "nice," corrects her.