Northanger Abbey

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Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey Symbol Analysis

Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey Symbol Icon

Northanger Abbey parodies the gothic novels that Catherine Morland reads avidly, many of which are set in old buildings like castles and abbeys. Catherine, influenced by her gothic novels, hopes to have an adventure exploring one of these mysterious old buildings. But instead of involving herself in a thrilling narrative, Catherine’s interactions with these old buildings (most notable Northanger Abbey itself) force her to get to know her own character and to improve her own capacity to judge situations independently. The pursuit of self-knowledge and personal happiness, the novel suggests, can be just as dramatic and difficult as the pursuit of the mysterious, supernatural, or criminal. Similarly, the novel suggests that a person’s own self is like an old building, full of nooks and crannies and secrets that must be explored to be understood.

Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey Quotes in Northanger Abbey

The Northanger Abbey quotes below all refer to the symbol of Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of Northanger Abbey published in 2003.
Volume 1, Chapter 13 Quotes

It was painful to her to disappoint and displease them, particularly to displease her brother; but she could not repent her resistance. Setting her own inclination apart, to have failed a second time in her engagement to Miss Tilney, to have retracted a promise voluntarily made only five minutes before, and on a false pretence too, must have been wrong. She had not been withstanding them on selfish principles alone, she had not consulted merely her own satisfaction; that might have been ensured in some degree by the excursion itself, by seeing Blaize Castle; no, she had attended to what was due to others, and to her own character in their opinion.

Related Characters: Catherine Morland, Eleanor Tilney (Miss Tilney)
Related Symbols: Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine has refused to change her plans for a walk with the Tilneys to go on a drive with the Thorpes—so John Thorpe takes it upon himself to reschedule Catherine’s walk with the Tilney’s without her permission. Catherine refuses to accept this and is running away from Isabella, James, and John to rush to the Tilneys and confirm that she does want to go on the walk they had planned. Once again, John Thorpe has proven that he has no scruples when it comes to lying to get his way. Catherine on the other hand, has a strong sense of propriety and of loyalty to a promise given.

Catherine has already let the Tilneys down once, when John lied and told her he saw them leaving town to convince her to go on a drive with the Thorpes instead of waiting for the Tilneys to go on a walk. On this occasion, she saw how angry it made Henry Tilney when he thought she had purposefully ignored her commitment to take a walk. Henry has told her that he believes commitments should be honored, and Catherine shares this priority. For Henry and Catherine, it is important to follow through and keep your word not only when you want to, but at all times. This is a distinction that Henry sees as important to being well-mannered, honorable, and a gentleman or gentlewoman.

Although Catherine’s priority is to keep her promise to the Tilneys, she insists to herself that this is not only out of a selfish desire to spend time with Henry, but out of a commitment to do what is right. She feels sure of her own motives in insisting on sticking to her plan with the Tilneys, because she has a competing desire to see and explore Blaize Castle, which John Thorpe told her was a grand old castle like those described in the Gothic novels she loves. Catherine has said before that interest in reading the Gothic novel The Mysteries of Udolpho has stopped her from being too forlorn in Henry’s absence. In fact, her interest in old buildings is often just as keen as her interest in Henry Tilney. It is as if Catherine has not yet decided whether she would prefer her story to be like a Sentimental novel, centered around a romance, or a Gothic novel, in which the romance takes place in an exotic and frightening location. What Catherine does not know, however, is that Blaize Castle was built only a few years before, so the promise that it is an old castle is just another of John Thorpe’s lies.

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Volume 2, Chapter 2 Quotes

“'Well, proceed by all means. I know how much your heart is in it. My daughter, Miss Morland,” he continued, without leaving his daughter time to speak, “has been forming a very bold wish. We leave Bath, as she has perhaps told you, on Saturday se'nnight. A letter from my steward tells me that my presence is wanted at home; and being disappointed in my hope of seeing the Marquis of Longtown and General Courteney here, some of my very old friends, there is nothing to detain me longer in Bath. And could we carry our selfish point with you, we should leave it without a single regret. Can you, in short, be prevailed on to quit this scene of public triumph and oblige your friend Eleanor with your company in Gloucestershire? I am almost ashamed to make the request, though its presumption would certainly appear greater to every creature in Bath than yourself. Modesty such as yours—but not for the world would I pain it by open praise. If you can be induced to honour us with a visit, you will make us happy beyond expression. 'Tis true, we can offer you nothing like the gaieties of this lively place; we can tempt you neither by amusement nor splendour, for our mode of living, as you see, is plain and unpretending; yet no endeavours shall be wanting on our side to make Northanger Abbey not wholly disagreeable.”

Related Characters: General Tilney (speaker), Catherine Morland, Eleanor Tilney (Miss Tilney)
Related Symbols: Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

General Tilney has walked into the room just as Eleanor is about to invite Catherine to come stay at her home, Northanger Abbey, and he issues the invitation himself. It is the first time in the novel that he gives a long speech and its content reveals a great deal about him. He says that he will let his daughter continue, but then cuts her off seemingly without even realizing it. This reveals that he is not a very considerate or accommodating parent.

The General then goes on to invite Catherine in very flattering and self-effacing terms. This scene comes only one chapter after we see that Isabella Thorpe has been disappointed to find out how much money the Morlands have, so the General’s flattering speech to Catherine suggests that he is another hypocrite seeking to cultivate a relationship with Catherine in order to improve his social standing in the false belief that she is an heiress. But based on Eleanor and Henry’s obvious good education and Eleanor’s elegant way of dressing, it does not seem likely that the Tilneys really live as plainly as the General contends.

Volume 2, Chapter 8 Quotes

To be kept up for hours, after the family were in bed, by stupid pamphlets, was not very likely. There must be some deeper cause: something was to be done which could be done only while the household slept; and the probability that Mrs. Tilney yet lived, shut up for causes unknown, and receiving from the pitiless hands of her husband a nightly supply of coarse food, was the conclusion which necessarily followed. Shocking as was the idea, it was at least better than a death unfairly hastened, as, in the natural course of things, she must ere long be released. The suddenness of her reputed illness; the absence of her daughter, and probably of her other children, at the time—all favoured the supposition of her imprisonment.—Its origin—jealousy perhaps, or wanton cruelty—was yet to be unravelled.

Related Characters: Catherine Morland, General Tilney, Eleanor Tilney (Miss Tilney), Mrs. Tilney
Related Symbols: Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

The General has said that he will stay awake after Catherine and Eleanor go to bed. Excited to be staying in an old building like Northanger Abbey, Catherine is on the lookout for signs of something mysterious or sinister that would be familiar to her from the Gothic novels she loves. She finds the General unpleasant and domineering, but she is not used to making such judgments for herself. Instead of imagining him to be a harsh man whose company she dislikes, Catherine concocts a theory that the General is a dramatic and murderous villain. When she hears that the General plans to stay up after everyone else goes to bed, she instantly remembers the way that Montoni in The Mysteries of Udolpho keeps the heroine’s aunt locked up in the castle. She knows of no motive for a crime against Mrs. Tilney, nor is she sure that Frederick and Henry were not home at the time of their mother’s death. But despite these many gaps in her knowledge, Catherine decides that she has finally found a mystery worthy of investigating. Earlier in the novel, Catherine was afraid even to think ill of someone—but now she swings to the opposite extreme, thinking the absolute worst of the General. Both attitudes reflect her lack of experience analyzing other people and the world around her.

Volume 2, Chapter 9 Quotes

“If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the 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 passing around you—Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing; where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay every thing open? Dearest Miss Morland, what ideas have you been admitting?”

Related Characters: Henry Tilney (Mr. Tilney) (speaker), Catherine Morland, General Tilney, Mrs. Tilney
Related Symbols: Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine has been looking at everything she sees at Northanger Abbey through the lens of the Gothic novels she has read, and has concocted a theory that General Tilney either murdered his wife or keeps her prisoner somewhere in the house. She has just realized that this was a foolish fantasy after sneaking into the deceased Mrs. Tilney’s room to investigate, when she runs into Henry and reluctantly reveals to him that she suspected his father of committing some terrible crime against his mother. Henry, who knows that Catherine was excited about visiting an Abbey because so many Gothic novels are set in such old buildings, instantly understands that the basis for her suspicion was not her real observations, but the things she has read about in books. Henry has already had several conversations with Catherine during which he appreciated her ability to listen, learn, and mature. It is likely because of this trusting relationship that he gives her such a direct lecture about how far she let herself get carried away by baseless fantasies.

Henry has two main points. First, that Catherine should consider the society that they live in and what is probable to happen in it. Whereas in Gothic novels, the abbey or castle where a heroine may be kept captive is often far away from any town, on a cliff in the Italian countryside, Northanger is located in the middle of England. Catherine has been brought up in English society to respect the moral principles and codes of conduct that govern it (and presumably to assume, as Henry does, that England and the Christians living in it are more “civilized” than people in more exotic locations). She herself worries that she will violate these principles out of ignorance and inexperience and has a deep respect for them. Henry then feels that she should recognize that these principles restrain and guide other people’s actions just as they do hers.

Second, Henry urges Catherine to think for herself and consult her own understanding instead of relying on other guides, whether they are novels or unreliable people around her. One of the book’s central questions is whether Catherine will learn to analyze the behavior and motivations of other people. In suspecting the General of murdering his wife, she has failed at this analysis very dramatically—but Henry has faith that she can do better. From what he knows of her, he thinks that she can learn from this failure and begin to exercise her own judgment moving forward.

Volume 2, Chapter 13 Quotes

That room, in which her disturbed imagination had tormented her on her first arrival, was again the scene of agitated spirits and unquiet slumbers. Yet how different now the source of her inquietude from what it had been then—how mournfully superior in reality and substance! Her anxiety had foundation in fact, her fears in probability; and with a mind so occupied in the contemplation of actual and natural evil, the solitude of her situation, the darkness of her chamber, the antiquity of the building were felt and considered without the smallest emotion; and though the wind was high, and often produced strange and sudden noises throughout the house, she heard it all as she lay awake, hour after hour, without curiosity or terror.

Related Characters: Catherine Morland
Related Symbols: Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine is being expelled from Northanger Abbey by the General without any explanation. She here looks back on when she first arrived at Northanger, when she naively hoped to uncover a mystery like those she had read about in Gothic novels—when she wanted to be scared and agitated. Now she faces the mystery of why the General would turn on her so suddenly, but it is not a tantalizing, romantic mystery with supernatural undertones, although she still finds it inexplicable and painful. Catherine has matured a great deal since coming to Northanger in search of drama. She has realized that she much prefers a normal country parsonage, like the one where she grew up and the one where Henry lives, to an old building that could be the scene for a Gothic novel.

This comparison of Catherine’s real anxieties to the anxieties portrayed in a Gothic novel also recalls the opening lines of the novel, which mocked the conventions of many of the novels of the time in only choosing certain types of heroines—beautiful, talented, very rich or very poor—and only placing them in certain very dramatic situations—kidnapping, elopement, rape. The novel suggests that this moment of suffering for the unremarkable, middle-class Catherine is just as meaningful to her and worthy of reading about as any of the dramatic scenes of suffering portrayed in the Gothic novels that were most popular during that era.

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Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey Symbol Timeline in Northanger Abbey

The timeline below shows where the symbol Old Buildings / Northanger Abbey appears in Northanger Abbey. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Volume 1, Chapter 11
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
...much, but John says they will be able to do even more, going also to Blaize Castle . Catherine asks if Blaize Castle is an old building and like the castles one... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
In the carriage, Catherine looks forward to seeing an old building like the one in Udolpho, but feels hurt that the Tilneys gave up so easily... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
...Tilneys no matter how thrilling the castle is. Still she looks forward to seeing this old building . After about an hour, James pulls up and says that they must go back:... (full context)
Volume 1, Chapter 15
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...rushing around and being rained on. Catherine is relieved to learn that they didn’t visit Blaize Castle without her. (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 2
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
...as to ask Catherine to come and spend some time with Eleanor at their home, Northanger Abbey. He makes a long speech saying how honored he would be to host her,... (full context)
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...and quickly writes to her parents to get explicit permission to make the trip to Northanger Abbey a certainty. She feels that she is the luckiest person in the world: she... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Catherine is thrilled that she will be visiting an abbey, an old building and similar to the setting of the gothic novels she loves. She... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 3
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
...missed her very much, because she has been so preoccupied with her trip to the abbey. When she does run into Isabella in the Pump-room, Isabella pulls her aside. Isabella seems... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 5
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
As she heads to Northanger Abbey, Catherine at first feels very uncomfortable among the Tilneys. Although Henry and Eleanor are... (full context)
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
General Tilney suggests that Catherine should ride the rest of the way to Northanger Abbey with Henry in his open carriage. She thinks of what Mr. Allen said about... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...to live in an ordinary parsonage, after growing up in an old building like the abbey. (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Smiling, Henry asks if Catherine has a very high opinion of the abbey. She says she does, and asks if it is really “a fine old place, just... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...close to their destination, Catherine keeps her eyes peeled for a sign of the grand old building . She passes through its gates without seeing anything antique looking, but instead sees modern... (full context)
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
...the room is very simple and plain, but that there are other, better rooms at Northanger. He exclaims that it is almost five, and Miss Tilney rushes Catherine to her room... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 6
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
...now feels relieved to be in a comfortable, renovated home, rather than in a haunted-seeming abbey from a book. Convinced that there is nothing to fear in her room, she decides... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 7
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
The General offers to give a tour of Northanger, and Catherine gladly accepts. The General says that he can see she may prefer looking... (full context)
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Seeing the Abbey from the lawn, Catherine praises it enthusiastically, to the General’s pleasure. Catherine is shocked by... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
...sends her back to rest, but instructs Eleanor to wait for him to tour the Abbey. (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 8
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...is disappointed to see so many modern things and that an entire part of the old building has been destroyed and a modern structure put up in its place. She is glad,... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...that wing and a winding staircase. She feels that the interesting, old part of the Abbey is being kept from her. Eleanor tells her that that was her mother’s room. Catherine... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
...a chance. Catherine understands that this means that they must wait until the General leaves Northanger. She asks Eleanor how long it has been since her mother's death, and learns it’s... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...Tilney must stay up late because his wife is alive, but locked up in the Abbey somewhere, and that he must wait until the rest of the house is asleep to... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 9
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...not let the monument convince her that Mrs. Tilney is not being held prison in Northanger Abbey; she has read of burials being staged. (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...go immediately. Entering, she sees a cheerful and tidy room that is part of the abbey’s newer construction. The surroundings make her doubt her theory that the General harmed his wife,... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 10
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Catherine realizes that she had been looking for something dramatic when she came to Northanger. She sees that, although the novels she reads are very entertaining, they do not always... (full context)
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
...James. James writes that his engagement with Isabella is over, and that she should leave Northanger before Captain Tilney arrives and announces his engagement to Isabella, as this would put Catherine... (full context)
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
...that she must ask that they let her know if their brother is coming to Northanger, because she must avoid meeting him. Eleanor is very surprised. Henry guesses that this has... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 11
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
...Eleanor are sure that Frederick will not have the courage to come in person to Northanger to ask his father's consent to marry Isabella, and Catherine is reassured that she does... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...on Wednesday and prevent their going to Woodston. She is no longer charmed by the abbey and cannot wait to see Woodston. Although it is a regular parsonage, she thinks it... (full context)
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
...is beautiful. The General tells Henry that, in this case, they must not tear this old cottage down. Catherine realizes what is being hinted and goes silent, although the General continues to... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 13
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
...terrible message so soon after they had agreed that Catherine should extend her visit at Northanger. She tells Catherine that it is the General who has returned. He has remembered a... (full context)
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
...General. Catherine spends a sleepless night, similar to her first night when she feared that Northanger was the scene of some frightening story, but much worse, because her anxieties are now... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 14
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
...however, about how Henry will take the news of her having been turned out of Northanger. She alternately thinks that he will calmly accept his father’s will and that he will... (full context)
Volume 2, Chapter 15
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
...of pleasure and now she must be content, although her home is less grand than Northanger. Mrs. Morland says she knows of an essay about young girls who have been spoiled... (full context)