The Jane Austen Wiki

Catherine Tilney (née Morland) is the protagonist of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey.


Early life[]

Catherine grew up in the county of Wiltshire, and was one of ten siblings. Her father was a clergyman and so the family was highly respected in the community, and while not extremely wealthy they were well off. Her mother did not require her two eldest daughters to be accomplished as she had so many other children to care for, so Catherine never acquired the skills that many young ladies of means did. She shirked her lessons, and did not put her heart and soul into learning. She was an avid reader, and took many of the themes she read to heart[3]. Until her teenage years Catherine enjoyed athletic activities and spent time outdoors, not engaging in the past times of a heroine (such as watering flower bushes, nursing a mouse, or feeding a canary as listed by the narrator).

Adventures in Bath[]


When Catherine was seventeen, she was invited to go to Bath with Mr. and Mrs. Allen, the latter of whom was expressly fond of her. Her parents accepted such an invitation for her[3], but Mrs. Morland worried over her daughter when she was leaving without stop. She warned Catherine to be careful, to stay warm, and especially to stay out of trouble[4].

New acquaintances[]

The Allens and Catherine set up on Pulteney St., a fashionable part of the city[4]. There, she became immersed in the social life that Bath had to offer, although she was a bit nervous at first having no acquaintances besides the Allens. She became acquainted with the handsome and fashionable Henry Tilney, and they talked of books and fashion together.

She later met Mrs. Thorpe, a widow, and her daughters. Catherine immediately got along with Isabella, the eldest Thorpe daughter, and they moved through the stages of friendship quite quickly. They soon addressed each other weird stuff by their Christian names, and were never seen without each other[5]. They especially talked of books of the Gothic genre, namely Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe.

Miss Tilney arrives[]

She and Isabella ran into John Thorpe, Isabella's brother, and James Morland, Catherine's brother in Bath while the two young men were driving. John Thorpe gave Catherine a ride to her destination in his curricle, which Isabella pushed, mostly because she wanted to be alone with James Morland. They attended an assembly in the Upper Rooms of the pump room later, where Catherine saw Henry Tilney again, along with a young lady whom she immediately assumed was his sister, as she did not want to acknowledge that he might be lost to her forever by being already married.[6] She was introduced to Miss Tilney by Mrs. Hughes, the other young lady's companion. She wanted so much to be liked by Miss Tilney because of her relationship to Henry that she said whatever she thought, which barred any sort of intimacy in their first meeting.

Henry asked her to dance, but she had already promised her hand to John Thorpe, much to her chagrin. Mrs. Thorpe was eager to hear praise about her son from Catherine later. She could not find Henry Tilney again, which upset her and made her only want to go home.[6] Later, Catherine wallowed in misery by eating as much as possible back at the Allens' apartments on Pulteney St., and slept for nine hours. She woke up with the dearest wish of becoming a closer acquaintance of Miss Tilney's first and foremost.[7] This was all ruined when John Thorpe arrived saying he had come to take her for a drive in his gig, and that Isabella and James were waiting outside for them. Catherine, dismayed, tried to get out of it more than once subtly, but none of her efforts worked and she had to go and listen to John brag, while Isabella was with her brother.

Pursuit of Mr. Tilney[]

Catherine was greatly pleased when Mr. and Miss Tilney were at the theater the same night. Isabella and James sat together, and Isabella made sure to show James how close of a friendship she had with his sister. She was very excited to see Miss Tilney again, who met her with civility, and she asked Miss Tilney about the young woman who was dancing with her brother and whether or not Miss Tilney thought Miss Smith was at all pretty. At the end of their conversation, Miss Tilney had an idea that Catherine had an affection for her brother, but Catherine, being Catherine, did not realize she gave so much away to her new acquaintance.[8]

Catherine danced with Mr. Tilney later that evening, much to John Thorpe's chagrin. Thorpe actually interrupted them in the middle of their dance, to ask why Catherine was dancing with Mr. Tilney and not him. It was a showcase of such poor manners that it brought Mr. Tilney over the moment Thorpe left. She assured Tilney that she had no connection with John, only that he was a particular friend of her brother's. This seemed to mollify Tilney, who, after their dance, escorted her downstairs to meet his father, General Tilney, who greeted Catherine with the utmost civility. Catherine made plans to go for a walk with Mr. and Miss Tilney if the weather was favorable the next day.[8]

The weather was not favorable the next morning until Catherine began to not worry about it so much. However, everything was nearly ruined with John and Isabella Thorpe and her brother came in their carriages to go on an excursion. Catherine refused to go at first, but Mrs. Allen pushed her into going later. During the ride, Catherine saw Miss Tilney and urged Thorpe to stop the carriage, but he made them go faster. Later, Catherine saw Thorpe talking with General Tilney, and she worried that he was telling the General untruths about her, which shows her mistrust of the Thorpes.[9]

Over the next few days, John and Isabella used manipulation in order to separate Catherine from the Tilney family. Isabella used James Morland's affection for her to get him to side against his beloved sister. While Catherine was being distracted by Isabella's charade, John went to Miss Tilney and told her of Catherine's prior engagement, which was never really a prior engagement at all. She went after the Tilneys, but could not catch up to them, and then just went back to her lodgings on Pulteney St. She talked to the Allens about what happened, and both Mr. and Mrs. Allen advised her to stay away from John Thorpe.[10] The next day, Catherine knew it would be okay if the Thorpes came to pressure her into going on their outing with Mr. Allen on her side, but they never came, and she went out with the Tilneys at the appointed hour. She ran into Anne Thorpe, the younger sister of Isabella and John, and asked her about the outing, learning that they did indeed go.[11]

The next day, Isabella told her about her new engagement with James, and Catherine's apprehension about her friend was put to rest. She chalked up a lot of Isabella's feelings for her brother as being the product of love. Mr. Morland wrote that he gave his consent to the match, and Catherine was happy for Isabella and her brother. Catherine accidentally encouraged John Thorpe's suit by mistaking his wish to visit her in Fullerton as being because of friendship as opposed to a romantic advance.[12] He or Isabella likely mentioned the success of the suit to a member of the Tilney family, as both Eleanor and Henry Tilney acted very cold toward Catherine the next day at tea.[13] Isabella told her their actions were likely due to their snobbery, and that Catherine should stay away from them—she did not take this advice. She danced with Henry Tilney that night and met his handsome brother, Frederick Tilney, who danced with Isabella much to Catherine's surprise.

Upon her sixth week in Bath, Catherine was invited to Northanger Abbey by Eleanor Tilney and General Tilney.[14] After receiving the Tilneys' invitation to their family seat, Catherine immediately wrote home to Fullerton, asking permission. Her parents did not disappoint, as they viewed the Allens with the utmost admiration, and knew that any acquaintance garnered under their care would be quite a good one. Catherine thought herself the luckiest of humans after receiving their consent.[14]

Suspicions of Isabella Thorpe[]

Henry: "I understand: she [Isabella] is in love with James, and flirts with Frederick."
Catherine: "Oh! no, not flirts. A woman in love with one man cannot flirt with another."
Henry: "It is probable that she neither love so well, nor flirt so well, as she might do either singly. The gentlemen must each give up a little."
— Henry and Catherine talking about Isabella's straying affections[15][src]

Isabella's behavior began to get even more peculiar to Catherine, as she was always under the impression that Isabella was very trustworthy and a good friend. Isabella subtly accused Catherine of flirting and leading on two men at once, both John Thorpe and Henry Tilney and Catherine was very put off by her behavior.[16] It also made Catherine very uncomfortable when she noticed that Isabella flirted with Frederick Tilney just as much as she flirted with James. She also saw how it was hurting her brother and entreated Henry to tell his elder brother that Isabella was already engaged to James. Henry told her that he already had, and that his brother was his own man. He also pointed out that maybe Isabella was not as in love with James as she appeared, and as Catherine thought.[15]

Henry did advise Catherine to stay out of it, as James would hardly thank her for her interference, and soon Catherine saw that everything was back to "normal".

Northanger Abbey[]

Arrival at Northanger[]

She left soon after with Miss Tilney, bound for Northanger Abbey. Mr. and Mrs. Allen were sad to lose her, as she was a valuable companion for both of them. Catherine began to feel a little sorry for Captain Tilney when his father reproved him.[17] She learned that Henry actually didn't live at Northanger most of the time, as he had his own house twenty miles from Northanger. He worried her though, when he started a tale about the abbey being haunted. Her excited belief gave him a lot of amusement, and he stopped the story before his amusement gave him away. The idea stuck with her, however.[17]

Upon arriving at Northanger, Catherine was relieved to see that her apartments bore no resemblance to the haunted and creepy ones that Henry jokingly described on the journey over. She did find a mysterious wooden chest, which she opened and discovered a white counterpane within. At that moment, Miss Tilney came in to see if she was ready, and noted the oddness of the chest.[18]

The Tempest[]

Her first night at Northanger only succeeded in arousing her suspicions further about the haunted aspect of the house. A tempest raged outside, creating a very dramatic and creepy feel in the room. She refused to go to bed as she wished to discover the haunted elements. She found a "manuscript" hidden, and was shocked to be unable to read the letters in the scant light. She knew that this must have been what Henry was talking about.[18]

The next morning, she realized that the "manuscript" was not really that at all, but an account of expenditures. She laughed over her folly, and hoped that Henry never did discover her error. When she went down to breakfast, Henry was surprisingly there, and alone. When the general arrived, they had a very elegant breakfast, and then Henry had to leave for his estate, Woodston, and would be gone for 2 or 3 days.[19]

Strange mysteries[]

General Tilney began to show Catherine the more intricate and grand parts of the estate, including the drawing-room, and the library. When she heard that the general rarely accompanied his wife on her walks around the garden and that he did not display her portrait in the drawing-room as he originally intended, Catherine began to believe him to be a man of extreme cruelty.[19] She began to suspect him even of murdering his wife in cold blood while their children were from home. After she had sneaked into Mrs. Tilney's former apartments, she met Henry on the stairs. After asking him a few questions about his parents' marriage, Henry began to realize what exactly she suspected and scolded her for it.[20] She was appalled at herself and deeply shamed, and was convinced that he hated her. It was then that she realized that the characters of Ann Radcliffe cannot really be projected onto any real person in modernity, and that she was a fool for thinking thus.[21]

"Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and 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 happening around you."
—Henry Tilney scolding Catherine for thinking the worst of his father[src]

Frederick and Isabella[]

"I am very sorry for Mr. Morland—sorry that anyone you love should be unhappy; but my surprise would be greater at Frederick's marrying her than at any other part of the story."
—Henry telling Catherine of his disbelief.[src]

Not long after the incident outside the late Mrs. Tilney's former apartments, Catherine received a letter from her brother James detailing Isabella's deception and betrayal. Isabella had moved her affections from James to Frederick, as she believed the latter man was far more wealthy.[21]

She later told the Tilney siblings about Frederick's interest in Isabella, and Henry was apprehensive that Frederick would marry Isabella. Frederick had never been stalwart in that respect. Eleanor, after reading the letter, asked Catherine of Miss Thorpe's connections and fortune, and learned that she indeed is not very wealthy and that her late father was a lawyer.[21] Catherine learned that both siblings thought that Isabella was after money, and thus that would not bode well in a marriage with Frederick. She also learned that General Tilney would be likely to very strongly oppose the match between his eldest son and Isabella.[22]

While waiting for Captain Tilney's letter asking for permission to wed Isabella, Catherine was able to see Henry's house, Woodston, as well as the lovely cottage connected to it.[22] She also received a very surprising letter from Isabella asking her to convince James to take her back.[23]

General Tilney had to quit Northanger for a bit to go to London. He soon demanded that his family be removed from Northanger to stay at Lord Longtown's for some unknown reason. Catherine was worried that she offended the general at some point.[24]

After Northanger[]

The trip home[]

Catherine had to make the full trip to Fullerton since the Allens had quit Bath, so she couldn't go to them. The entire journey was 70 miles. Eleanor Tilney had been worried about such a young woman her age making such a trip alone, but Catherine assured her friend that she would be fine.[24] On the journey home, she cried and grieved about what had happened.[25] Once she reached home, the parsonage, she was greeted by her family, including her young siblings George and Harriet. Mrs. Morland believed that General Tilney had acted dishonorably and unfeelingly by sending Catherine away.[25]

Reconciliation with the Tilneys[]

It soon became known that the general acted that way because he believed that Catherine was trying to deceive him about her wealth and future inheritances. The idea was started by John Thorpe, who made it sound as if Catherine's family was extremely wealthy already, and that she would inherit most of Mr. Allen's wealth upon his passing. The general heard a different story from the same person later in London, after John was reeling from being rejected by Catherine, and told the general that she had nothing. This is what prompted him just sending her away. His only daughter, Eleanor Tilney, married the man of her dreams, a very handsome and kind viscount. His daughter and new son-in-law assisted Henry in getting their father's approval for a match between Henry and Catherine.[1]

Character traits[]

At 10 years of age, Catherine shirked her lessons, was wild and hoydenish, and loved nothing in the world so much as rolling down the slope at the back of the house. On the other hand, she was kind-hearted, seldom stubborn, and never quarrelsome. At 15, things changed; she longed for balls and her physical appearance ameliorated[3].

Catherine is a hopeless romantic, and is a fond reader of Ann Radcliff’s novels. (A writer who also inspired Jane Austen herself, as well as many Romantic period writers.) She sees the world like these novels with twists and turns around every corner. While her gullibility and naivety served her poorly as she navigated polite society, Catherine is shown to be an admirably innocent and trusting girl, these qualities contrasted by figures such as the Thorpe siblings. Catherine is earnest, devoted, curious, artless and simple in her affections, making her a likeable character and endearing her to characters such as Mr Tilney.

Jane Austen informs the reader in the beginning that Catherine Morland isn't really much of a heroine. She isn't especially smart, wealthy, beautiful, or tragic. This is the point of course, precisely the point in Austen's efforts to skewer the Gothic novel, which generally featured almost ludicrously heroic young females.


Henry Tilney[]

Main article: Henry Tilney

The moment she meets Henry, Catherine becomes besotted with him. She values above all his good opinion, so she does not like it when she realizes she has done something foolish in front of him. Being a very imaginative girl does not help this, as she thinks that Henry hates her for some of the foolish things she has done. Henry merely recognizes that Catherine is imaginative and rather naive, and steers her in the right direction. He does not hate her for conjecturing that his father killed his mother, but realizes that she thought so because of her imagination. He is even kinder to her after this.

It becomes very clear that Henry deeply cares for Catherine when he decides to go after her even when it would earn him his father's ire. This is after General Tilney hears that Catherine would not inherit a large fortune and believes her a liar.

Eleanor Tilney[]

Main article: Eleanor Tilney

Upon meeting Miss Tilney, Catherine wants nothing more than to become the young lady's friend, on account of her being the sister of Henry Tilney. Catherine's forthrightness seems to charm the sister as it did the brother, and Miss Tilney looks kindly on her. There were a few bumps in their friendship, created by the elder Thorpe siblings in their quest to snag the Morlands for marriage. Miss Tilney is also the one who has the idea to invite Catherine to Northanger.

Isabella Thorpe[]

Main article: Isabella Thorpe

Catherine becomes fast friends with Isabella when she first arrives in Bath, much to the other girl's machinations, as she wants Catherine to look kindly upon her in order to snag James Morland in the marriage mart. The two girls spend much time together and, displaying their closeness, address each other by their Christian names. When James arrives in Bath when Isabella's brother, John Thorpe, Isabella does everything she can to showcase her close friendship with Catherine to James, in order to appeal more to him. Catherine is put off of Isabella during her stay, as Isabella exhibits no interest in Catherine's worries about the Tilney family, and even manipulates Catherine into doing something she does not want to do. It was the little things that made Catherine very uncomfortable about Isabella, like her obsession with James's money (even though he had none), her manipulations and passive aggressiveness, and that she would dance with another man after swearing that she was only for James. It was also very off putting for Catherine when Isabella asked James for a long engagement after learning that they would receive a yearly income of only £400[26] from Mr. Morland.


Notes and references[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Chapter 31
  2. Equivalent of around 200,000 USD as of April, 2017
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Northanger Abbey, Chapter 1
  4. 4.0 4.1 Chapter 2
  5. Chapter 4
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chapter 8
  7. Chapter 9
  8. 8.0 8.1 Chapter 10
  9. Chapter 11
  10. Chapter 13
  11. Chapter 14
  12. Chapter 15
  13. Chapter 16
  14. 14.0 14.1 Chapter 17
  15. 15.0 15.1 Chapter 19
  16. Chapter 18
  17. 17.0 17.1 Chapter 20
  18. 18.0 18.1 Chapter 21
  19. 19.0 19.1 Chapter 22
  20. Chapter 24
  21. 21.0 21.1 21.2 Chapter 25
  22. 22.0 22.1 Chapter 26
  23. Chapter 27
  24. 24.0 24.1 Chapter 28
  25. 25.0 25.1 Chapter 29
  26. Equivalent of around 27,000 USD as of April, 2017