Study Guide

Northanger Abbey Family

By Jane Austen


A family of ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands had little other right to the word, for they were in general very plain. (1.1)

We get a very satirical, or joking, to introduction to the Morlands here, and the novel as a whole.

Everything indeed relative to this important journey was done, on the part of the Morlands, with a degree of moderation and composure, which seemed rather consistent with the common feelings of common life, than with the refined susceptibilities, the tender emotions which the first separation of a heroine from her family ought to excite. (2.3)

Expectations are once again disrupted here as the Morlands fail to conform to typical Gothic and romantic literature. Rather, the Morlands are here connected more with common life and reason than with romantic imagination.

"Here come my dear girls," cried Mrs. Thorpe, pointing at three smart looking females, who, arm in arm, were then moving towards her. "My dear Mrs. Allen, I long to introduce them; they will be so delighted to see you: the tallest is Isabella, my eldest; is not she a fine young woman? The others are very much admired too, but I believe Isabella is the handsomest." (4.3)

With this lovely introduction, Mrs. Thorpe thus creates severe inferiority complexes in her younger daughters. Mrs. Thorpe does show blatant, or obvious, favoritism and seems to value looks above other traits in her daughters.

"Ah, mother! how do you do?" said he, giving her a hearty shake of the hand: "where did you get that quiz of a hat, it makes you look like an old witch? Here is Morland and I come to stay a few days with you, so you must look out for a couple of good beds some where near." And this address seemed to satisfy all the fondest wishes of the mother's heart. (7.43)

The Thorpe family dynamic is definitely an odd one. John is very rude to his mother and Mrs. Thorpe seems to allow any and all sort of behavior from her children.

"Indeed he is, Mrs. Allen," said Mrs. Thorpe, smiling complacently; "I must say it, though I am his mother, that there is not a more agreeable young man in the world."

This in applicable answer might have been too much for the comprehension of many; but it did not puzzle Mrs. Allen, for after only a moment's consideration, she said, in a whisper to Catherine, "I dare say she thought I was speaking of her son." (8.33-34)

Mrs. Thorpe seems oblivious to the actual nature's of her children, and she also seems to read a compliment to them into anything anyone says. Mrs. Allen was speaking of Mr. Tilney, but Mrs. Thorpe "complacently," or smugly, assumed Mrs. Allen was speaking of John.

Her own family were plain, matter-of-fact people, who seldom aimed at wit of any kind; her father, at the utmost, being contented with a pun, and her mother with a proverb; they were not in the habit therefore of telling lies to increase their importance, or of asserting at one moment what they would contradict the next. (9.31)

The Morlands are contrasted to the other families in the book, who engage in witty displays and falsehoods. Catherine is mystified by the Thorpe's double-speak, or by how they say one thing and mean another. Catherine recalls her family's plain-spoken attitude fondly, noting how they do not lie or deliberately contradict themselves.

"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 [...] keeping her in suspense at a most interesting part, by running away with the volume, which, you are to observe, was her own [....] I am proud when I reflect on it, and I think it must establish me in your good opinion." (14.6)

Henry and Eleanor have a fun sibling relationship and often joke around with one another. Eleanor even manages to embarrass Henry in front of Catherine with a story about how he stole her book, but the witty Henry manages to turn it into a joke.

"You think me foolish to call instruction a torment, but if you had been as much used as myself to hear poor little children first learning their letters and then learning to spell, if you had ever seen how stupid they can be for a whole morning together, and how tired my poor mother is at the end of it, as I am in the habit of seeing almost every day of my life at home, you would allow that to torment and to instruct might sometimes be used as synonymous words." (14.25)

This is one of the few descriptions we get of what it must be like to grow up in a house with nine siblings, as Catherine has done. Given her degree of agitation, Catherine (one of the eldest children) most likely had to help her mother instruct, or torment, her siblings.

It could not be General Tilney's fault. That he was perfectly agreeable and good-natured, and altogether a very charming man, did not admit of a doubt, for he was tall and handsome, and Henry's father. He could not be accountable for his children's want of spirit, or for her want of enjoyment in his company. (16.1)

Catherine assumes that, since Henry is great, the rest of his family must be too. It takes Catherine some work to learn that not all families, or members of families, are exactly alike. General Tilney is in fact an oppressive, mood-killing force on his otherwise fun and talkative children.

The means by which their early marriage was effected can be the only doubt: what probable circumstance could work upon a temper like the General's? The circumstance which chiefly availed was the marriage of his daughter with a man of fortune [...] an accession of dignity that threw him into a fit of good humour, from which he did not recover till after Eleanor had obtained his forgiveness of Henry, and his permission for him to "be a fool if he liked it!" (31.4)

General Tilney cares about money and status, even at the expense of his children's happiness. He only agrees to forgive Henry after Eleanor marries a rich man.

in the embrace of each, as she stepped from the carriage, she found herself soothed beyond any thing that she had believed possible. So surrounded, so caressed, she was even happy! In the joyfulness of family love every thing was for a short time was subdued [...]. (29.9)

Catherine has a heartfelt reunion with her family, proving that family bonds can soothe Catherine even after being traumatically expelled from Northanger Abbey.