The Passionate, Evocative Passages
in Jane Austen's Novels
The Third Page - Northanger Abbey

December 16, 2000
Updated: May 30, 2001
By Linda with contributions
from Ashton Dennis

Many people will explain to you that Jane Austen wrote nothing about romance or passion; the worst examples of this view are the petty remarks of Charlotte Bronte. We disagree, we believe that there was a deeply passionate side to Jane Austen. Perhaps Jane Austen's oldest brother, James Austen, said it best when he wrote this about his sister:

On such subjects no wonder that she shou'd write well,
In whom so united those Qualities dwell;
Where 'dear Sensibility', Sterne's darling Maid,
With Sense so attemper'd is finely portray'd
Fair Elinor's self in that Mind is exprest,
And the Feelings of Marianne live in that Breast,

Everyone points to the humor in our Lady's novels - the humor and the intricate logic. These seem to fuel the enduring interest in Jane Austen's novels, but the passionate feelings and the range of emotions are important too. This sensibility is not noticed as often as the other qualities, but its pull is as strong because it is closer to our hearts, and so it controls our tides and provides the mixing so that the more obvious qualities are better blended. This web page is devoted to those passages in the novels that evoke our strongest feelings. We purposely allow the sensibilities to eclipse those other qualities, to shade our view from the extreme brightness of the humor and the good sense in order better to view the passion and the sensibility.

You can move from here to the evocative passages of Northanger Abbey, or advance to the "passionate passages" of

| Emma | Mansfield Park | Persuasion |
| Pride and Prejudice | Sense and Sensibiliy |

Northanger Abbey

Catherine Morland was transforming from a plain, girlhood beginning into a charming and elegant young women. Perhaps too charming and too elegant for the young men in the neighborhood. And, so, as was the custom of the time, she was taken to Bath for the entertainments and to meet more suitable prospects. She was under the care of Mrs. Allen, a generous woman who, however, was not without her foibles. Most notable was Mrs. Allen's vain regard for her clothing. They had just met Mr. Tilney, with whom Catherine would fall in love and eventually marry. For the moment however he was merely to be Catherine's first dance partner since her arival in Bath. This is from Chapter 3.

"Mr. Tilney was polite enough to seem interested in what [Mrs. Allen] said; and she kept him on the subject of muslins till the dancing recommenced. Catherine feared, as she listened to their discourse, that he indulged himself a little too much with the foibles of others.

'What are you thinking of so earnestly?' said he, as they walked back to the ballroom; 'not of your partner, I hope, for, by that shake of the head, your meditations are not satisfactory.'

Catherine coloured, and said, 'I was not thinking of anything.'

'That is artful and deep, to be sure; but I had rather be told at once that you will not tell me.'

'Well then, I will not.'

'Thank you; for now we shall soon be acquainted, as I am authorized to tease you on this subject whenever we meet, and nothing in the world advances intimacy so much.'

They danced again; and, when the assembly closed, parted, on the lady's side at least, with a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance. Whether she thought of him so much, while she drank her warm wine and water, and prepared herself for bed, as to dream of him when there, cannot be ascertained; but I hope it was no more than in a slight slumber, or a morning doze at most; ...

Let us move back to Chapter 1; there, we are introduced to Catherine Morland.

"... [The Morlands] were in general very plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strong features--so much for her person; and not less unpropiteous for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond of all boy's plays, and greatly 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. Indeed she had no taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief--at least so it was conjectured from her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take. ... Writing and accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother: her proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons in both whenever she could. What a strange, unaccountable character!--for with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldom stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones, with few interruptions of tyranny; she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of the house.

Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexion improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart; she had now the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement. 'Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl--she is almost pretty today,' were words which caught her ears now and then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever receive.

Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, should prefer cricket, base ball, riding on horseback, and running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books--or at least books of information--for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.""

Still in Chapter 1, where the words "sensibility" and "real passion" set the mood for what is in store for Catherine and ourselves.

"She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. This was strange indeed! But strange things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out."

A canvas of the neighborhood produced no prospects; Catherine must be introduced at Bath! - and thus begins Catherine Morland's adventures.

By Chapter 10 Catherine had met Henry Tilney (along with the dreaded John Thorpe) and was expecting him to be at the cotillion ball which brought on this common frustration:

"Every young lady may feel for my heroine in this critical moment, for every young lady has at some time or other known the same agitation.  All have been, or at least all have believed themselves to be, in danger from the pursuit of someone whom they wished to avoid, and all have been anxious for the attentions of someone whom they wished to please."

While trying to avoid John Thorpe and looking for Henry Tilney, Catherine realized the near impossibility of seeing the latter in such a crowd ...

"... when she suddenly found herself addressed and again solicited to dance, by Mr. Tilney himself. With what sparkling eyes and ready motion she granted his request, and with how pleasing a flutter of heart she went with him to the set, may be easily imagined.  To escape, and, as she believed, so narrowly escape John Thorpe, and to be asked, so immediately on his joining her, asked by Mr. Tilney, as if he had sought her on purpose!--it did not appear to her that life could supply any greater felicity."

The Thorpe siblings, John and Isabella, are the worst of characters - use this link to a more comprehensive discussion of the Thorpes.

In Chapter 15 Isabella Thorpe relates the news to our surprised heroine that she is engaged to Catherine's brother, James Morland!  However ...

"Their conference was put an end to by the anxious young lover himself, who came to breathe his parting sigh before he set off for Wiltshire.  Catherine wished to congratulate him, but knew not what to say, and her eloquence was only in her eyes.  From them, however, the eight parts of speech shone out most expressively, and James could combine them with ease."

Such a fine turn of a phrase to express "happiness."

Chapter 17 brought an invitation for Catherine to visit Northanger Abbey.  Her response:

"Northanger Abbey! These were thrilling words, and wound up Catherine's feelings to the highest point of ecstasy.  Her grateful and gratified heart could hardly restrain its expressions within the language of tolerable calmness.  To receive so flattering an invitation! To have her company so warmly solicited! Everything honourable and soothing, every present enjoyment, and every future hope was contained in it; and her acceptance, with only the saving clause of Papa and Mamma's approbation, was eagerly given. 'I will write home directly,' said she, 'and if they do not object, as I dare say they will not--' "


The circumstances of the morning had led Catherine's feelings through the varieties of suspense, security, and disappointment; but they were now safely lodged in perfect bliss; and with spirits elated to rapture, with Henry at her heart, and Northanger Abbey on her lips, she hurried home to write her letter.  Mr. and Mrs. Morland, relying on the discretion of the friends to whom they had already entrusted their daughter, felt no doubt of the propriety of an acquaintance which had been formed under their eye, and sent therefore by return of post their ready consent to her visit in Gloucestershire.  This indulgence, though not more than Catherine had hoped for, completed her conviction of being favoured beyond every other human creature, in friends and fortune, circumstance and chance.  Everything seemed to cooperate for her advantage. By the kindness of her first friends, the Allens, she had been introduced into scenes where pleasures of every kind had met her.  Her feelings, her preferences, had each known the happiness of a return.  Wherever she felt attachment, she had been able to create it.  The affection of Isabella was to be secured to her in a sister.  The Tilneys, they, by whom, above all, she desired to be favourably thought of, outstripped even her wishes in the flattering measures by which their intimacy was to be continued.  She was to be their chosen visitor, she was to be for weeks under the same roof with the person whose society she mostly prized--and, in addition to all the rest, this roof was to be the roof of an abbey! Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney--and castles and abbeys made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill.  To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour had seemed too nearly impossible for desire.  And yet, this was to happen.  With all the chances against her of house, hall, place, park, court, and cottage, Northanger turned up an abbey, and she was to be its inhabitant.  Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach, and she could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun."

One might say that is a pretty fair description of happiness!

This passage in Chapter 22 will be extremely hard to bear for tender hearts who have been obliged to put up with a General Tilney in their own lives. - It cuts to the quick.  Count yourself lucky if you have not known a General.  Previously, Catherine has witnessed his idiosyncrasies.  Now, as Eleanor began to talk about her Mother, she revealed a less than loving, attentive attitude on the side of the General. Catherine began to reevaluate her feelings towards him.

"Catherine attempted no longer to hide from herself the nature of the feelings which, in spite of all his attentions, he had previously excited; and what had been terror and dislike before, was now absolute aversion.  Yes, aversion! His cruelty to such a charming woman made him odious to her.  She had often read of such characters, characters which Mr. Allen had been used to call unnatural and overdrawn; but here was proof positive of the contrary. "

Yes, there are General Tilneys in the world - always.

This passage in Chapter 25 is a description of Catherine's awakening - her epiphany. Catherine had just closed the door on her clandestine visit to Mrs. Tilney's room, where she had realized that her ideas about General Tilney's conduct had been mistaken.  Henry's surprise entrance at that moment led to questions that brought out the whole truth about Catherine's horrified, ill-founded suspicions.

" 'If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to--Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained.  What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live.  Remember that we are English, that we are Christians.  Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you.  Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing, where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay everything open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?' "

Could this possibly be Jane Austen's "answer" to those gothic novels?

C. S. Lewis excerpted four epiphanies (sudden realizations of things as they are) experienced by Jane-Austen heroines. Those were used to begin his essay, "A Note on Jane Austen", Essays In Criticism, October 1954. All four are dramatic and belong in our collection. This one is from Chapter 25 of Northanger Abbey; this comes just after Henry Tilney had discovered Catherine's foolish notions and admonished her for them.

"The visions of romance were over.  Catherine was completely awakened. Henry's address, short as it had been, had more thoroughly opened her eyes to the extravagance of her late fancies than all their several disappointments had done.  Most grievously was she humbled. Most bitterly did she cry.  It was not only with herself that she was sunk--but with Henry.  Her folly, which now seemed even criminal, was all exposed to him, and he must despise her forever. The liberty which her imagination had dared to take with the character of his father--could he ever forgive it? The absurdity of her curiosity and her fears--could they ever be forgotten? She hated herself more than she could express.  He had--she thought he had, once or twice before this fatal morning, shown something like affection for her.  But now--in short, she made herself as miserable as possible for about half an hour, went down when the clock struck five, with a broken heart, and could scarcely give an intelligible answer to Eleanor's inquiry if she was well.  The formidable Henry soon followed her into the room, and the only difference in his behaviour to her was that he paid her rather more attention than usual.  Catherine had never wanted comfort more, and he looked as if he was aware of it.


Her thoughts being still chiefly fixed on what she had with such causeless terror felt and done, nothing could shortly be clearer than that it had been all a voluntary, self-created delusion, each trifling circumstance receiving importance from an imagination resolved on alarm, and everything forced to bend to one purpose by a mind which, before she entered the abbey, had been craving to be frightened."

This is what she had allowed to happen.

After this awakening comes a disturbing letter from James.

"Dear Catherine,

Though, God knows, with little inclination for writing, I think it my duty to tell you that everything is at an end between Miss Thorpe and me. I left her and Bath yesterday, never to see either again.  I shall not enter into particulars--they would only pain you more.  You will soon hear enough from another quarter to know where lies the blame, and I hope will acquit your brother of everything but the folly of too easily thinking his affection returned.  Thank God! I am undeceived in time!  But it is a heavy blow! After my father's consent had been so kindly given--but no more of this.  She has made me miserable forever! Let me soon hear from you, dear Catherine, you are my only friend; your love I do build upon.  I wish your visit at Northanger may be over before Captain Tilney makes his engagement known, or you will be uncomfortably circumstanced. Poor Thorpe is in town: I dread the sight of him; his honest heart would feel so much.  I have written to him and my father.  Her duplicity hurts me more than all; till the very last, if I reasoned with her, she declared herself as much attached to me as ever, and laughed at my fears.  I am ashamed to think how long I bore with it; but if ever man had reason to believe himself loved, I was that man. I cannot understand even now what she would be at, for there could be no need of my being played off to make her secure of Tilney.  We parted at last by mutual consent--happy for me had we never met! I can never expect to know such another woman! Dearest Catherine, beware how you give your heart.

Believe me, &c."

This we may call an epiphany for James.  Of particular interest is the last pleading sentence. It sounds so much like advice from Jane to us all - to all our generation.

In Chapter 28 begins with Eleanor Tilney's horrible assignment of informing Catherine that she must leave Northanger Abbey immediately without any civil considerations. Catherine forebore until after Eleanor had left the room.  Then ...

"Catherine's swelling heart needed relief.  In Eleanor's presence friendship and pride had equally restrained her tears, but no sooner was she gone than they burst forth in torrents.  Turned from the house, and in such a way! Without any reason that could justify, any apology that could atone for the abruptness, the rudeness, nay, the insolence of it.  Henry at a distance--not able even to bid him farewell.  Every hope, every expectation from him suspended, at least, and who could say how long? Who could say when they might meet again? And all this by such a man as General Tilney, so polite, so well bred, and heretofore so particularly fond of her! It was as incomprehensible as it was mortifying and grievous.  From what it could arise, and where it would end, were considerations of equal perplexity and alarm. The manner in which it was done so grossly uncivil, hurrying her away without any reference to her own convenience, or allowing her even the appearance of choice as to the time or mode of her travelling of two days, the earliest fixed on, and of that almost the earliest hour, as if resolved to have her gone before he was stirring in the morning, that he might not be obliged even to see her.  What could all this mean but an intentional affront? By some means or other she must have had the misfortune to offend him.  Eleanor had wished to spare her from so painful a notion, but Catherine could not believe it possible that any injury or any misfortune could provoke such ill will against a person not connected, or, at least, not supposed to be connected with it."

The next morning Eleanor bids her goodbye.

" 'You must write to me, Catherine,' she cried, 'you must let me hear from you as soon as possible.  Till I know you to be safe at home, I shall not have an hour's comfort. For one letter, at all risks, all hazards, I must entreat.  Let me have the satisfaction of knowing that you are safe at Fullerton, and have found your family well, and then, till I can ask for your correspondence as I ought to do, I will not expect more.  Direct to me at Lord Longtown's, and, I must ask it, under cover to Alice.'

'No, Eleanor, if you are not allowed to receive a letter from me, I am sure I had better not write. There can be no doubt of my getting home safe.' "

However, Eleanor’s few words and look of sorrow melted Catherine’s pride to allow her to say ... , 'Oh, Eleanor, I will write to you indeed.'  As I said, dear reader, you are lucky indeed if you have not known a General Tilney.  I have known one and was brought to tears at the remembrance.

In Chapter 30 Henry arrived at Fullerton just two days after Catherine.  He had a few moments alone with Catherine before Mrs. Morland entered the room, and "received him with the simple professions of unaffected benevolence ... and entreating him to say not another word of the past."

"He was not ill-inclined to obey this request, for, though his heart was greatly relieved by such unlooked-for mildness, it was not just at that moment in his power to say anything to the purpose.  Returning in silence to his seat, therefore, he remained for some minutes most civilly answering all Mrs. Morland's common remarks about the weather and roads. Catherine meanwhile--the anxious, agitated, happy, feverish Catherine--said not a word, but her glowing cheek and brightened eye made her mother trust that this good-natured visit would at least set her heart at ease for a time, and gladly therefore did she lay aside the first volume of The Mirror for a future hour."

Our Dear Lady can say so much with so few words - "the anxious, agitated, happy, feverish Catherine"!

The following portrays a very understanding Mother indeed! Tilney seeks permission to walk alone with Catherine, and

" ... for Mrs. Morland, thinking it probable, as a secondary consideration in his wish of waiting on their worthy neighbours, that he might have some explanation to give of his father's behaviour, which it must be more pleasant for him to communicate only to Catherine, would not on any account prevent [Catherine] accompanying him.  They began their walk, and Mrs. Morland was not entirely mistaken in his object in wishing it.  Some explanation on his father's account he had to give; but his first purpose was to explain himself, and before they reached Mr. Allen's grounds he had done it so well that Catherine did not think it could ever be repeated too often.  She was assured of his affection; and that heart in return was solicited, which, perhaps, they pretty equally knew was already entirely his own; for, though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.  It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own."

That was Henry's proposal!  "his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude!" Jane has mentioned this "idea" elsewhere.  Henry informed Catherine of how John Thorpe had led General Tilney astray.

"Henry, in having such things to relate of his father, was almost as pitiable as in their first avowal to himself.  He blushed for the narrow-minded counsel which he was obliged to expose.  The conversation between them at Northanger had been of the most unfriendly kind.  Henry's indignation on hearing how Catherine had been treated, on comprehending his father's views, and being ordered to acquiesce in them, had been open and bold.  The general, accustomed on every ordinary occasion to give the law in his family, prepared for no reluctance but of feeling, no opposing desire that should dare to clothe itself in words, could ill brook the opposition of his son, steady as the sanction of reason and the dictate of conscience could make it.  But, in such a cause, his anger, though it must shock, could not intimidate Henry, who was sustained in his purpose by a conviction of its justice.  He felt himself bound as much in honour as in affection to Miss Morland, and believing that heart to be his own which he had been directed to gain, no unworthy retraction of a tacit consent, no reversing decree of unjustifiable anger, could shake his fidelity, or influence the resolutions it prompted."

Links to the Passionate
Passages of

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The Erotic Jane Austen

Other Local Links

Want to read the contrary point of view?
See the comments of Charlotte Bronte.

Read more excerpts from
the essay of C. S. Lewis.

Was Jane Austen ever in love?
No one knows, but see
Jane Austen's Eleventh Letter.

The events surrounding the
Death of Jane Austen

Links to Other Web Sites