Northanger Abbey Ch. 3: What makes a hero perfect?

3 Jan

Just as soon as Jane jokes that a hero hasn’t been thrown in Catherine’s way, she turns around and does it. The novel wouldn’t be complete without our hero’s entrance, now would it?

As Catherine and Mrs. Allen go about the “regular duties” of visiting the shops and the pump-room, we meet Tilney – a gentlemanlike guy of 24 or 25 (Hey, hey, her age while writing this and my age now. Let’s see if he’s a catch.) He has good humor, is clever with words, and is generally handsome. He is tall, he can dance, and he’s a talented conversationalist. What more could you want?

I love the back-and-forth when they first meet. I wonder if Jane had these conversations herself at some point, if she observed them, or if she simply made them up. When writing, I enjoy using dialogue I’ve used or heard because it feels more authentic to me. I sometimes mine my chat conversations for banter as well – so watch out! Ha ha.

The part that strikes me is that these conversations seem to differ a good bit from other “manners” books written during her time. She’s showing real people having real conversations, and I like it. I especially appreciate the section where Tilney jokes about himself being a “poor figure” in her journal. Is this Jane’s own commentary on what women write?

Tilney pokes fun at letters that have a “general deficiency of subject, a total inattention to stops, and a very frequent ignorance of grammar.” Though I can’t quite tell if I take him seriously when he talks about “excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes,” I do like that the conversation happens at all. He knows his stuff when it comes to talking, dresses, and teasing Catherine about what she’s thinking. This is exactly the sort of guy who should be her first experience, don’t you think? We all need a clever guy in our lives.

So then I get to another point: Is Jane trying to create the “perfect” guy, as far as a 24/25-year-old guy can be at this point? Did she have someone in mind while creating Tilney, or is she simply creating a character who would be fun? Are there guys out there like this? It’s worth asking.

As usual, Jane ends the chapter on a grand note with her humor, smirking that “no young lady can be justified in falling in love before the gentleman’s love is declared.” This is all about being coquettish and “playing the game,” is it not? I wonder if Jane herself was clever about playing the game. Taking a look at today, how can I also take on this advice? I tend to be frank in my dating life, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to move back into the mysterious side. Laugh at me below!

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4 Responses to “Northanger Abbey Ch. 3: What makes a hero perfect?”

  1. Kirk January 5, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    Mary Mitford said of young Jane Austen “the prettist, silliest, most affected, husband-hunting butterfly”. Apparently that wasn’t from direct observation!

    Jane Austen Letter 1, Jan 9-10, 1796 to Cassandra Austen is full of fun/flirty references to….drumroll……wait for it….TOM LEFROY…:”In the first place I hope you will live twenty-three years longer. Mr. Tom Lefroy’s birthday was yesterday, so that you are very near of age”. (according to Deirdre Le Faye, Tom Lefroy bday 1/8/1776 & Cassandra 1/9/1773. JA is referring to the month/day) .

    I’m not a fan of Henry Tilney. Disclaimer: I’m a big fan(read: have a crush on) of Catherine. Later in the book he does Catherine no favors and leads her into trouble. I won’t do any spoilers but….One of the members of Austen in Boston Bookclub calls Henry Tilney “a metrosexual”. Jane’s favorite brother Henry was a Rev. later in life, after several other careers.

  2. Austenite78 January 6, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    When Jane Austen wrote Northanger Abbey, she was very young, and it seems normal to think that she had guys in her mind. That affair some people say she had with Tom Lefroy, for example, or the fact that she was later on engaged to a guy… though just for one day!!!
    Anyway, Henry Tilney is like the perfect guy at that time (though he has flaws too), and it seems quite obvious that such a witty person like Jane Austen would create such a teaser as the hero of this novel. It is like she was creating her perfect role-model guy.
    Sticking to the story, Henry Tilney is the best guy Catherine could have by her side, since they seem to be two sides of the same coin: Catherine is naiveté and inexperience, and Henry is common sense and experience.

    • Carolyn Crist January 6, 2012 at 10:43 am #

      Cinta, I love the way you phrased this. What a good choice of words. And I’m glad that we think along the same lines! It makes me feel a bit better that I’m not being silly in how I’m reading it 😀

      As you say, Tilney is the perfect guy *at that time.* One of my main philosophies about guys and relationships is that people are there for you for a reason and for a season. I spent the last two years with someone and it didn’t work out, but it’s not a waste. We were right for each other at that time and helped each other through the last two transitional years of our lives. Tilney’s just the guy to help Catherine.

  3. Irene January 24, 2012 at 2:52 am #

    I know… I’m doing it again… comparing with P&P…however…
    In P&P I feel Jane Austen herself behind Elizabeth, here in NA I feel Jane Behind Henry Tilney. I think he’s the character Jane choose to include her personal ideas in the novel.
    Of course, she was young and maybe she didn’t give up the marriage affair yet. So she was creating the perfect guy for her heroin. We immediately understand that Mr. Tilney has a superior mind and that’s why he’ll be an incentive for her to grow up.
    I like Mr. Tilney because he brings brightness in a gloomy situation. With his appearance, Jane remove a dark coat from the story…

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