• The Mystery of Northanger Abbey - chapter 1

    The Mystery of Northanger Abbey

    Based on and adapted from

    Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey

    and Jon Jones's film adaptation thereof

     

     

    The Mystery of Northanger Abbey - chapter 1

     

    (about this short story)

     

     

    Chapter 1

    Bath

     

    When Mr and Mrs Allen invited Catherine Morland to come with them to Bath, very little did the eighteen-year-old girl suspect that she was going to become an heroine, very much like the heroines of all the Gothic novels she spent so much time reading and dreaming about.

    Catherine Morland was the eldest of ten children. She was of average beauty and divided her time between reading and helping her mother take care of the younger children. As a child, she had not been particularly fond of books, though. She would rather spend her time outside, running in the meadows, playing cricket or riding a horse. It was only when she turned fifteen that she discovered the pleasure of reading. She then devoted most of her free time to reading all the books that she could find in her father's, neighbour's and circulating libraries. Of late, after she had been through all the history books, she had been particularly drawn to Gothic novels. She had just began The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.

    The Allens were the Morlands' wealthiest neighbours in Fullerton. They were quite a common pair. They never seemed to agree on anything but would spend most of their time together. Mrs Allen was a real chatterbox. She always had something to say about fabrics, ribbons and fashion in general, while Mr Allen would express his perpetual exasperation by sighing every two minutes.

    “We are going to Bath because of Mr Allen's health,” said Mrs Allen, “but I expect to make some purchases in the finest shops while we are there, especially concerning muslins”. (Mr Allen sighed) “And it was Mr Allen who pointed out that dear Catherine could benefit from such an introduction into society”. Addressing Mrs Morland while turning her back to Mr Allen who was still sighing, she added “and you need not worry about her gowns, I am sure we will find everything we need once we arrive there.”

    So it was settled. Catherine was to go to Bath with the Allens in their chaise-and-four. There, she would live with them. Her father gave her some money, but Mr Allen declared that he had too much money, even to spend on Mrs Allen's muslins, and that as a guest, Catherine should not use a penny during the stay. They set off a fortnight later, and after a two-day-long journey, arrived in their hired lodgings in Bath.

    After a tremendous week spent shopping and trying new gowns, the ladies were finally ready to appear in society. To that purpose, they went to the Rooms. It was then Catherine realised that the only introduction she could get from the Allens was her physically entering Bath. They had absolutely no aquaintance whatsoever in the place, and this situation made Catherine very uncomfortable while sitting in a corner of the Tea Room. She could not talk to anybody without being properly introduced, but she did not know anybody who could possibly introduce her. After a few moments, she begged Mrs Allen to go back home. As they were exiting the room, a young man bumped into Mrs Allen.

    “Oh!” she cried. “Catherine, do take this pin out of my sleeve.” Then adressing the gentleman, “It was not your fault, sir. Tho' I'm afraid it has torn a hole, already. Which is very sad, because it is a favorite gown. It cost but nine shillings a yard!”

    “Nine shillings?” the gentleman replied. Casting a conniving smile in Catherine's direction, he added “That is exactly what I should have guessed.”

    “Do you understand muslins, sir?”

    “I understand them very well. My sister has often entrusted me in the choice of a gown.”

    “Well, and I can never get Mr Allen to tell one of my gowns from another” Mrs Allen sighed.

    The gentleman then very politely excused himself.

    “I should not let you talk to him, Catherine” Mrs Allen whispered, “as he is a stranger. But he has such an understaning of muslins.”1

    The gentleman then came back, accompanied by the Master of Ceremony, who introduced him as Mr Henry Tilney. This formal introduction was very important because it now officially allowed the two ladies to converse with the gentleman, according to the rules of society. Catherine felt very grateful to him for rescuing them from public shame, and was genuinely surprised when Henry Tilney asked her “Might I request the pleasure of the next dance with you?” The two young persons then spent the evening in the Ball Room, sometimes dancing, sometimes talking, most of the time both at once. Mr Henry Tinley was the son of General Tilney. He had an older brother, Captain Frederick Tilney, and a younger sister, Eleanor. As the second son of a quite wealthy family, he was bound to become a clergyman, which career pleased him very well. But the most interesting piece of information Catherine learnt that evening was that his family lived in a place called Northanger Abbey.

    Abbeys were of course supposed to house monks–or nuns–, but when king Henry VIII had had a lot of them closed, many monastic buildings had been bought by wealthy families to live therein. Northanger Abbey was one of those very ancient places. Catherine could picture it just like the castle of Udolpho: “though it was now lighted up by the setting sun, the gothic greatness of its features, and its mouldering walls of dark grey stone, rendered it a gloomy and sublime object. As she gazed, the light died away on its walls, leaving a melancholy purple tint, which spread deeper and deeper, as the thin vapour crept up the mountain, while the battlements above were still tipped with splendour. From those, too, the rays soon faded, and the whole edifice was invested with the solemn duskiness of evening. Silent, lonely, and sublime, it seemed to stand the sovereign of the scene, and to frown defiance on all, who dared to invade its solitary reign.”2

    Later that evening, as she related all this to the Allens, she had the confirmation from Mr Allen that Northanger Abbey was a very grand and old place indeed.

    “Is it haunted?” she asked.

    “No doubt, my dear, these abbeys usually are” was his reply. Catherine could not tell whether he was serious or just messing with her juvenile, naive and very easily impressed mind.

    After such a delightful evening, Catherine expected Henry Tilney to call on her in the next days, but he never showed up and she did not meet him anywhere. She realised that he must have left Bath and felt very sad about it. Not only was he the only aquaintance that she had acquired in Bath, but she was also very eager to see him again and learn to know him better. She could not help thinking that her situation looked quite as in Cinderella, except that he had suddenly disappeard and was nowhere to be found, and she was desperate to find him. However, he had left no item in his flight that might be of some help in her research.

    This helpless situation even led her to make the strangest dreams, in which the characters of her life in Bath embodied the characters of the horrid novels she was reading. Many times did she dream that Henry Tilney had been abducted by a vampire or a ghost to lure her into his lair, which perfectly matched Ann Radcliffe's description of the castle of Udolpho. She would find Henry in a bleak dunjeon, clad in chains and rags. She would then wake up with a start.

    Fortunately, a few days later, Mrs Allen happened to bump into an old friend, which bumping brought more introductions and acquaintance into Catherine's social life in Bath. For some time, she befriended one of Mrs Allen's friend's daughters, Isabella, but eventually decided against this friendship when her new friend once told her “I am not altogether happy to learn that you are acquainted with the Tilneys. The whole family has a terrible reputation, something very strange about the mother's death”. Indeed, how could Isabella dare to speak ill of somebody she was absolutely not acquainted with–and was so charming and had rescued her from public infamy without even knowing her?

    It was only a fortnight later, though, before she saw Henry Tilney again, in the Ball Room. Her heart leapt with joy, but her instantly drawn smile as quickly sank when she saw that he was in the company of a young lady. They seemed to be quite close indeed. He then saw her and they came forward to meet her.

    “Miss Morland, allow me to introduce Eleanor, my sister.”

    Catherine was immediately relieved. Of course it was his sister! They spoke together for five minutes, before a young man came to talk to Henry. Catherine then had a good opportunity to talk to Eleanor.

    “You can't imagine how surprised I was to see your brother again! I felt so sure of his being quite gone from Bath.”

    “Oh yes, when he saw you before, he was here to engage lodgings for us. He only stayed the one night. But he has told me so much about you that I could not wait to meet you and I begged him on our arrival to come straight to the Ball Room.”

    After five more minutes of common talk, the words Udolpho and horrid stories were spoken, and the two young ladies discovered that, in addition to a very deep affection for Henry, they also shared an insatiable interest for Gothic novels. This was the beginning of a very long friendship. The two friends also both liked country walks very much and endeavoured to take one every morning without rain, which happened, fortunately, very often that year. When Henry was free of any other engagement, he would very gladly join them. As a friend of Henry and now Eleanor as well, Catherine was invited several times to dine with General Tilney. She felt very honoured, of course, and always attended these dinners with a great pleasure, but she could not help having mixed feelings towards the General. He was quite a handsome man, with very good manners. He could afford very fine lodgings in a very fashionable part of the city and had a very good taste for music and theater. But he was also a very strict man, especially when it came to dinner hours. “That must come from his military experience”, Catherine thought, and she would not have let it particularly bother her were it not for the strange looks she saw Henry and Eleanor exchange whenever the General mentionned money, marriage or fashinable things in general. His children seemed quite uncomfortable with their father's opinions, but never dared say so. They also seemed to always make sure not to mention a certain Mr Charles Collins, whom Eleanor confessed to Catherine she liked very much, altho' Catherine could not understand why her two friends endeavoured so heartily not to speak of him before their father.

    Another member of the family that Catherine found quite hard to like was Captain Tilney, the General's eldest son. He joined them in Bath after a few weeks and never showed any interest in Catherine. Indeed, he barely talked to her on their first encounter.

    “Do not let my brother offend you, miss Morland”, Henry told her, “that is how he is, I am afraid. Indeed, he was already ill-mannered as a baby.”

    “How could you know what he was like as a baby? Catherine asked in amazement. “When he was a baby, you were nothing at all!”

    “Sure enough”, he answered with a conniving smile. After a pause, he added “My mother told me of it.” He then smiled again, but Catherine could not help but notice that this smile was much less jovial than earlier and wondered about it. Actually, it was quite a sad smile. No wonder of course, since Henry had lost his mother. Still, that was such a long time ago. But since Henry made no further mention of his mother and never showed a sad smile again, she soon forgot about it and simply enjoyed the company of her new but very dear friends.

    She had not known the Tilneys for more that four weeks when the General decided to quit Bath. Henry and Eleanor were to go back to Northanger Abbey with him, and Catherine felt her heart sink in her chest when they told her so. Great was then her surprise, and theirs, when the General stepped forward and told her very solemnly: “Miss Morland. I am afraid we must leave Bath very soon. I have one request, though. Can you be prevailed on to quit the scene of public triomph and oblige us with your company at Northanger Abbey?”

    Catherine needed a few moments to understand the words, and a few more to think of what to say. Her reply was thus: “Well, sir, if Mr and Mrs Allen agree to it, it would be an honour.”

    And this is how Catherine Morland set off to the place where she was bound, altho' she had no idea of it herself, to become a true heroine.

     

    1Many dialogues are directly quoted, or slightly adapted, from the movie Northanger Abbey by Jon Jones, 2007, some of which are, in their turn, adapted from Jane Austen's novel.

    2Quote from The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Ann Radcliffe, 1794

     

    The Mystery of Northanger Abbey - chapter 1


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