General Tilney is a character in Northanger Abbey. He is a high-ranking member of the military, and is also the head of the very wealthy Tilney family of Northanger Abbey. His name is likely "Frederick", after the custom of naming the eldest male chil after the father.



"The general certainly had been an unkind husband. He did not love her walk: could he therefore have loved her?"
—Catherine Morland speculating about the state of General Tilney's marriage[1][src]

Tilney married a very wealthy heiress, a Miss Drummond, who brought in a dowry of £20,000.[2] He had three children with her, Frederick, Henry, and Eleanor.

As a husband, Tilney was a bit neglectful, or at least Catherine Morland believes so when she hears an account from Eleanor. General Tilney never accompanied his wife on her favorite walks around Northanger, and he refused to hang her portrait in his bedroom and actually refused to show it in the house at all due to his dissatisfaction with it. After Mrs. Tilney died, Eleanor took the portrait to hang it in her own room in order to remember her mother.[3]

Miss Tilney: "No, I was unfortunately from home. Her illness was sudden and short; and, before I arrived it was all over."
Narration: "Catherine's blood ran cold with the horrid suggestions which naturally sprang from these words. Could it be possible? Could Henry's father—? And yet how many were the samples to justify in the blackest suspicions!"
— Catherine immediately believing the worst of General Tilney[src]

His wife was taken by a sudden illness, and even Eleanor was away from home when this happened. When Catherine hears of the suddenness, she believes that General Tilney's villainy is set in stone and speculates that he killed his wife.

After Mrs. Tilney's untimely death, General Tilney had a very elegant monument erected in the church in his late wife's honor.[4]

Arrival in BathEdit

Eleanor Tilney, his daughter, presumably told him that Catherine Morland had set her sights on his son, Henry Tilney. He came to Bath to meet the young lady and to see if she was a fit match for his son. He examined her very earnestly while she and Henry Tilney were descending the stairs after their dance.[5]

Catherine was worried when she saw the general in conversation with John Thorpe, as she thought the other man would tell the general that she was attached to him. It turned out that Thorpe was actually regaling the general of Catherine's future wealth, as he believed he would be married to Catherine and thus be privy to that wealth. This is the main reason why the general was so kind to Catherine while she stayed with them at Northanger.[6]

Return to NorthangerEdit

The Tilneys returned to their grand estate with Catherine Morland in tow, as Eleanor now considered Catherine to be a close friend. General Tilney was glad to be able to show the impressive estate to another person.

Catherine's suspicions about the nature of General and Mrs. Tilney's marriage were piqued during this stay. Catherine came to the belief that the general had murdered his wife in cold blood.

The general had to go to London for business, and told his children to watch over Catherine. While in London, he heard that Catherine was to be virtually penniless and was not the heiress of the Allen fortune, from ironically, the very person who told him she was quite an heiress, John Thorpe. Thorpe, who was still reeling from Catherine's rejection, told General Tilney that Catherine was not very wealthy at all. The general, who believed this mistake was due to a deception on Catherine's part, had her turned out of Northanger almost immediately, and sent back to Fullerton, Wiltshire. The general wanted his children to marry people with money. He called his second son, Henry, a fool for wanting to go after Catherine. His daughter ended up marrying a very handsome viscount, who was also very wealthy. The viscount and viscountess convinced General Tilney to give Henry his blessing.[6]

Character traitsEdit

He is very handsome with a commanding aspect. His age makes him past the bloom, but he still has the vigor of life.[5] He is very proud of his heritage, and his estate. He shows the admirable qualities of the estate to his young guest, Catherine, and supplies most of the praise, as Catherine's eye is not practiced enough to see real quality in the furnishings or architecture. He is sometimes very odd, seen in how he paces around the drawing-room with his eyes downcast, clearly lost in thought. According to his daughter, he exhibits that sort of behavior quite often.

Role in the StoryEdit

"Catherine attempted no longer to hide from herself the nature of the feelings which, in spite of all his attentions, he [General Tilney] had previously excited; and what had been terror and dislike, was now absolute aversion. Yes, aversion! His cruelty to such a charming woman made him odious to her. She had often read of such characters, characters which Mr. Allen had been used to call unnatural and overdrawn; but here was proof positive of the contrary.[3]"
—Catherine casting Tilney as a villain with scant evidence and proof[src]

In her own imagination, Catherine makes General Tilney the antagonist of the story. She bases her knowledge of human emotion and actions off of the characters in her favorite genre, Gothic romance, with their hyperbolic emotions and passionate responses. She believes Tilney of cruelty from only learning that he disliked to accompany his wife on her walks around the garden, and that he did not hang his wife's portrait in the drawing-room as was originally intended.

Mr. Allen, clearly, had tried many times to steer Catherine away from making such assumptions about people and that he had tried to say that the villains in these stories were quite overdrawn and rather ridiculous. She, however, believes that Tilney proves that these characters do exist in real life, and that the villains in Gothic romance can indeed be real people.

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. This line likely was meant to highlight Catherine's naive and idealistic approach to love and romance, probably garnered from the time she spent reading Gothic novels about impassioned lovers.
  2. Equivalent of $662,000 in 1988
  3. 3.0 3.1 Northanger Abbey, Chapter 22
  4. Chapter 24
  5. 5.0 5.1 Northanger Abbey, Chapter 10
  6. 6.0 6.1 Chapter 31
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