Study Guide

Northanger Abbey Society and Class

By Jane Austen

Society and Class

Catherine began to feel something of disappointment - she was tired of being continually pressed against by people, the generality of whose faces possessed nothing to interest, and with all of whom she was so wholly unacquainted. (2.10)

Though Catherine is sociable and is excited to be in Bath, this reveals that Catherine isn't a fan of just being at a nice party for the sake of it. Catherine shows some signs of preferring smaller domestic gatherings and possibly even quieter, country life, as opposed to the press of strangers in a more urban setting.

"Only conceive, my dear Catherine, what your brother wants me to do? He wants me to dance with him again, though I tell him that it is a most improper thing, and entirely against the rules. It would make us the talk of the place, if we were not to change partners."

"Upon my honour," said James, "in these public assemblies it is as often done as not." (8.21-22)

Isabella and James have competing views on the rules that govern public dances, though Isabella is most likely lying in order to play hard to get. She really has no intention of not dancing with James. Isabella does draw our attention to the problem of gossip and rumors in polite society, though.

and though in all probability not an observation was made, nor an expression used by either which had not been made and used some thousands of time before, under that roof, in every Bath season, yet the merit of their being spoken with simplicity and truth, and without personal conceit, might be something uncommon. (10.8)

The narrator is critical of Bath high society here, noting that the members of this "polite" society are often quite phony and insincere. Conversation in Bath is usually frivolous, or pointless.

"You are not fond of the country."

"Yes, I am. I have always lived there, and always been very happy. But certainly there is much more sameness in a country life than in a Bath life. One day in the country is exactly like another."

"But then you spend your time so much more rationally in the country." (10.46-48)

Country society and urban society are debated once again here. Catherine is fond of both, though she enjoys the social life she has in Bath. Henry implies that there is something irrational and ridiculous about life in Bath.

She knew not how such an offense as hers might be classed by the laws of worldly politeness, to what a degree of unforgiveness it might with propriety lead, nor to what rigours of rudeness in return might justly make her amendable. (12.3)

Learning the rules of polite society is a difficult task for Catherine, who is experiencing "worldly" urban society for the first time.

"These schemes are not at all the thing. Young men and women driving about the country in open carriages! Now and then it is very well; but going to inns and public places together! It is not right; and I wonder Mrs. Thorpe should allow it." (13.30)

Mr. Allen notes that such behavior is improper and bordering on scandalous. Catherine had a rather fortunate escape from gossip here, since she went out riding unchaperoned with the Thorpes multiple times.

for what would the Tilneys have thought of her, if she had broken her promise to them in order to do what was wrong in itself – if she had been guilty of one breach of propriety, only to enable her to be guilty of another? (13.40)

Catherine has a lot of anxiety about doing the proper thing and behaving well in polite society. Social rules are complicated and mysterious, and Catherine is having to figure things out as she goes along.

"If there is a good fortune on one side, there can be no occasion for any on the other. No matter which has it, so that there is enough. I hate the idea of one great fortune looking out for another. And to marry for money I think the wickedest thing in existence." (15.48)

Catherine has very decisive opinions on people marrying for money. Implicitly, Catherine holds more romantic views on marriage and does not look at it as just an economic transaction, or as a way to become rich, or richer.

"But I confess, as soon as I read this letter, I thought it a very foolish, imprudent business, and not likely to promote the good of either; for what were you to live upon, supposing you came together? You have both of you something to be sure, but it is not a trifle that will support a family now-a-days; and after all that romancers may say, there is no doing without money." (18.16)

Isabella has a much more pragmatic and practical view of marriage than Catherine, and she is rather mercenary, or greedy, in her pursuit of wealth. Though Isabella is speaking of John and Catherine, she voicing doubts concerning her match with James, who does not have much money, in the subtext.

Nay, perverse as it seemed, she doubted whether she might not have felt less, had she been less attended to [...] She felt utterly unworthy of such respect, and knew not how to reply to it. (20.2)

General Tilney is going overboard with attention to his guest, Catherine. This makes Catherine uneasy and more aware of her own lower social status than she would have been if the General behaved more naturally.