Posted tagged ‘Hero’

Northanger Abbey Chapter 2: The High Feathers

March 30, 2009

Here are my notes from Chapter 2 of Northanger Abbey.

Plot Points

Catherine Morland and Mrs. Allen travel to Bath, the resort city. There, they prepare for a ball, where they are disappointed by a lack of participating. Left to the periphery of the excitement, Catherine becomes bored.

Character Commentary

Chapter 2 opens with what seems to be a preemptive defense of Catherine: “it may be stated, for the reader’s more certain information, lest the following pages should otherwise fail of giving any idea of what her character is meant to be; that her heart was affectionate, her disposition cheerful and open, without conceit or affectation of any kind…”

The preempt may have been appropriate, for during the ball/dance she shows some considerably vain sensibilities. After experiencing the boredom of not participating in the dancing activities due to lack of a partner, Catherine overhears something flattering said about her: “She was looked at however, and with some admiration; for, in her own hearing, two gentlemen pronounced her to be a pretty girl.” To me, this seems to show an unflattering view of the character, regardless of the disclaimer given by Austen, perhaps part of the theme of busting up over-romanticization.

Mrs. Allen, a landowner in Wiltshire where the Morlands live, and who is traveling with Catherine to Bath, is described as having “neither beauty, genius, accomplishment, nor manner.” Furthermore, she has “good temper” and “a trifling turn of mind” and is obsessed with fashion. Her description and place in the narrative (guardian to Catherine during trip to Bath) imply that she should have some social skills, i.e., ability to facilitate Catherine’s entry into the social scene; however, she does not, as she knows nobody at the ball and laments that one couple she does know is not in attendance.

Themes and Threads

This is the only information given on the trip to the city of Bath:

“Under these unpromising Auspices, the parting took place, and the jouney began. It was performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. Neither the robber nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero. Nothing more alarming occured than a fear on Mrs. Allen’s side, of having once left her clogs behind her at an inn, and that fortunately proved to be groundless.”

I notice that (1) no information is given regarding an event, and (2) the speaker goes out of her way to indicate that, in fact, nothing actually happened. Coming off of reading Sense and Sensibility, in which stuff does happen while characters are en route (if only a discussion of their moods; a measure of time is achieved). The trip is anti-heroic: there are no strong protagonists and no antagonists, and Austen is clearly aware (or expecting?) that her audience would be looking for these things. This seems to be pointed at all of the epics, gothics, and romances that deposit characters in troublesome situations, out of which a “hero” is revealed.

Out of Context

I can relate to Catherine’s feelings of awkwardness at a social event. Feeling down and then overreacting (at least in the characterizational context that Austen gives) to a change toward the positive is normal.


“… they saw nothing of the dancers but the high feathers of some of the ladies.”