Northanger Abbey

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Themes and Colors
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Northanger Abbey, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon

Northanger Abbey is a courtship novel that goes against certain important conventions of “courtship novels,” especially to make the point that loyalty is the surest sign of true love. In most of the sentimental novels written during the time when Austen was working on Northanger Abbey, the heroine is exceptionally beautiful and the hero is head over heels in love with her. In Northanger Abbey, on the other hand, the roles are reversed. Catherine is attracted to Henry, and it is her obvious love for him, rather than his admiration of her, that binds him to her. Even once he feels affection and commitment to her, he still recognizes that his feelings for her did not originate as a deep attraction to her, but that “a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought.” Indeed, it is only when his loyalty to Catherine is put to the test by his father’s command that he forget about her that Henry decides that he loves her. Henry’s sense that he would be acting disloyally by following his father’s command serves to cement his affection for Catherine.

The central importance of loyalty to love is also emphasized in the novel’s portrayal of a false love. In the novel’s other central relationship, Isabella Thorpe’s disloyalty to James Morland in flirting with Frederick Tilney betrays both her lack of true feeling for James and the fact that she is more concerned with marrying someone wealthy than with marrying someone she loves.

When Catherine is distressed by the flirtation between Frederick Tilney and Isabella (who is by this point James’s fiancée) and asks Henry to tell his brother to leave Bath, Henry’s refusal to interfere with his brother is also a testimonial to the importance of loyalty to relationships. Henry explains that any interference on his part would not benefit James, because for Isabella’s love to be worth anything she must be loyal to the man she loves without regard to the other men she meets. Similarly, the General’s interference between Henry and Catherine only strengthens their resolve to be together. An essential part of love between spouses or prospective spouses is a refusal to let any third person come between them.

Northanger Abbey portrays courting couples as needing to have their loyalty to one another tested before a relationship can be said to have a solid basis for marriage, but it also makes a larger point about the nature of love itself. In many of the conventional novels that Austen parodies, love is an almost magical state of emotional attachment and physical attraction. In Northanger Abbey, Henry Tilney states that marriage is a contract in which the two spouses must work to be agreeable to one another and keep each other from ever regretting having married. Austen makes the case that for a marriage to work, there should be a conscious decision to enter into a contract and abide by it.

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Loyalty and Love Quotes in Northanger Abbey

Below you will find the important quotes in Northanger Abbey related to the theme of Loyalty and Love.
Volume 1, Chapter 10 Quotes

“You will allow, that in both, man has the advantage of choice, woman only the power of refusal; that in both, it is an engagement between man and woman, formed for the advantage of each; and that when once entered into, they belong exclusively to each other till the moment of its dissolution; that it is their duty, each to endeavour to give the other no cause for wishing that he or she had bestowed themselves elsewhere, and their best interest to keep their own imaginations from wandering towards the perfections of their neighbours, or fancying that they should have been better off with any one else.”

Related Characters: Henry Tilney (Mr. Tilney) (speaker), Catherine Morland, John Thorpe
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

John Thorpe has just stopped Catherine on her way to the dance floor with Henry Tilney and complained that she was supposed to be his dance partner instead. John had not, in fact, asked Catherine to dance, but had merely assumed that he would be able to do so at the ball, but he detains her for several minutes, even telling her that he will arrange for Henry (whom he does not know) to buy a horse. Henry remarks on John’s rudeness by saying that John had no right to interrupt them on the way to the dance floor, because an engagement to dance is an agreement similar to a marriage contract. Catherine is puzzled by this comparison, so Henry explains that dancing, like marriage, is an activity in which loyalty to your partner is paramount. Although Henry is being playfully imaginative as he makes this comparison, he also gives deep insight into his view of love and marriage. For Henry, loyalty to a commitment is more important than attraction or desire. Once two people have committed to one another, it is their duty to look out for one another and not to allow other people to come between them. This speech gives insight into Henry Tilney’s values, which will be borne out later in the novel when his commitment to Catherine is tested by the intercession of his father.


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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.

Volume 1, Chapter 14 Quotes

But Catherine did not know her own advantages—did not know that a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man, unless circumstances are particularly untoward. In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge; declared that she would give any thing in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in every thing admired by him, and her attention was so earnest, that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Catherine Morland, Henry Tilney (Mr. Tilney)
Page Number: 106-107
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine is taking a walk through the countryside around Bath with Henry and Eleanor Tilney, who begin to discuss which elements of the landscape would be best to capture in a drawing. Drawing was a skill cultivated by gentlewomen of the era; if a girl was good at drawing, it showed that her parents had invested in drawing instruction and meant her to have a life of wealth and leisure. Due to her inexperience with the world of high society, Catherine does not know that drawing is both a talent and a sign of social status. She sincerely wishes she knew about drawing because she wishes to be able to converse with the Tilneys intelligently and to make them like her. Henry, who has made fun of the hypocrisy and pretentions of many of those he meets in Bath, may like that Catherine is innocent of the class implications of drawing. He also finds her interest and faith in what he says a sign of her attraction to him, which, in turn, makes him feel a certain loyalty and affection for her.

Volume 1, Chapter 15 Quotes

“Morland says exactly the same,” replied Isabella; “and yet I dare not expect it; my fortune will be so small; they never can consent to it. Your brother, who might marry any body!”
Here Catherine again discerned the force of love. “Indeed, Isabella, you are too humble.—The difference of fortune can be nothing to signify.”
“Oh! my sweet Catherine, in your generous heart I know it would signify nothing; but we must not expect such disinterestedness in many. As for myself, I am sure I only wish our situations were reversed. Had I the command of millions, were I mistress of the whole world, your brother would be my only choice.”
This charming sentiment, recommended as much by sense as novelty, gave Catherine a most pleasing remembrance of all the heroines of her acquaintance; and she thought her friend never looked more lovely than in uttering the grand idea.

Related Characters: Catherine Morland (speaker), Isabella Thorpe (speaker), James Morland
Page Number: 114
Explanation and Analysis:

Isabella and James are engaged, but James has not yet gotten his parents’ permission for the marriage. Isabella believes the Morlands to be wealthy and fears that they will object to her as a daughter-in-law on the grounds that she has no fortune. Unaware that Isabella thinks the Morlands are wealthier than they are, Catherine believes all of Isabella’s anxiety to arise from her fear of losing the man she loves. In fact, if Isabella knew the actual extent of the Morlands’ fortune, she would not be interested in James at all, but she conceals her true motives by hypocritically saying how little she cares for money and overstating her absolute devotion to James. Catherine has read many novels about love across class lines, so Isabella’s hypocritical speech seems to Catherine just like a sincere and romantic declaration drawn from a Sentimental novel. To Catherine, the fact that her family is not much richer than Isabella’s makes Isabella’s fear of rejection seem like an even more potent sign of Isabella’s love for James.

Volume 2, Chapter 1 Quotes

“It is not on my own account I wish for more; but I cannot bear to be the means of injuring my dear Morland, making him sit down upon an income hardly enough to find one in the common necessaries of life. For myself, it is nothing; I never think of myself.”
“I know you never do, my dear; and you will always find your reward in the affection it makes every body feel for you. There never was a young woman so beloved as you are by every body that knows you; and I dare say when Mr. Morland sees you, my dear child—but do not let us distress our dear Catherine by talking of such things. Mr. Morland has behaved so very handsome you know. I always heard he was a most excellent man; and you know, my dear, we are not to suppose but what, if you had had a suitable fortune, he would have come down with something more, for I am sure he must be a most liberal-minded man.”
“Nobody can think better of Mr. Morland than I do, I am sure. But every body has their failing you know, and every body has a right to do what they like with their own money.” Catherine was hurt by these insinuations. “I am very sure” said she, “that my father has promised to do as much as he can afford.”

Related Characters: Catherine Morland (speaker), Isabella Thorpe (speaker), Mrs. Thorpe (speaker), James Morland, Mr. Morland
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:

Isabella has received a letter from James informing her of how much they can expect to receive from his father upon their marrying—and it is a much smaller amount than Isabella had hoped for. Mrs. Thorpe may have been the source of the Thorpes’ mistaken idea that the Morlands are a very wealthy family; she went to school with Mrs. Allen and knows the Allens to be wealthy. She may have heard from her son John that he had met someone named James Morland and told John to cultivate a friendship with James, just as Isabella has cultivated a friendship with Catherine, in the hope that her children would marry into money.

Isabella’s disappointment in the provision promised by Mr. Moreland does not prevent her from continuing to hypocritically declare how little she cares for money. She claims that she is disappointed only because she feels that by marrying her, James will miss out on his fair share of the family wealth. It was not uncommon for parents to give a smaller amount of money to children who wanted to marry someone that the parents did not approve of. Isabella and Mrs. Thorpe seem not yet to have realized that Mr. Morland has provided for his son as generously as he can. They believe that Mr. Morland is withholding his money out of a desire that his son marry a richer woman. They may hope to test this theory out, then, by dropping such broad hints to Catherine that they are disappointed in what Mr. Morland will provide.

Volume 2, Chapter 3 Quotes

“A little harmless flirtation or so will occur, and one is often drawn on to give more encouragement than one wishes to stand by. But you may be assured that I am the last person in the world to judge you severely. All those things should be allowed for in youth and high spirits. What one means one day, you know, one may not mean the next. Circumstances change, opinions alter.”
“But my opinion of your brother never did alter; it was always the same. You are describing what never happened.”
“My dearest Catherine,” continued the other without at all listening to her, “I would not for all the world be the means of hurrying you into an engagement before you knew what you were about. I do not think any thing would justify me in wishing you to sacrifice all your happiness merely to oblige my brother, because he is my brother, and who perhaps after all, you know, might be just as happy without you, for people seldom know what they would be at, young men especially, they are so amazingly changeable and inconstant.”

Related Characters: Catherine Morland (speaker), Isabella Thorpe (speaker), John Thorpe, James Morland, Frederick Tilney (Captain Tilney)
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

Isabella’s hypocrisy often takes the form of attributing her own thoughts and desires to someone else. In the past, Catherine has not picked up on this, because Isabella has attributed these desires to James or to “young men” in general. But in this case, Isabella describes her understanding of what passed between Catherine and John while actually giving a description of how she sees the situation between herself and James. When Isabella says that Catherine may have given John encouragement without meaning anything by it, she is mostly describing her own regret at having become engaged to James. When Isabella says that John may be just as happy without Catherine as with her, she is suggesting that James may never really have loved her as much as he thought he did. And when she says that she would not judge Catherine severely if Catherine led John on, she is suggesting that Catherine should be similarly lenient about forgiving her, if she ends up jilting James. Isabella still wants to keep Catherine as a friend, seemingly because she now hopes for them to both marry into the Tilney family.

Catherine does not agree with anything Isabella is saying, whether these ideas are to be applied to her situation with John, or more generally. Catherine has no concept of idle flirtations that do not lead to marriage. She would be even more horrified at the idea of someone dissolving an engagement after they met someone else richer or more attractive. Catherine, like Henry, is a deep believer in the importance of loyalty to love. This speech of Isabella’s, on the other hand, articulates the opposite theory: that love can be fleeting and commitments can be broken at a whim.

Volume 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

“My dear Miss Morland,” said Henry, “in this amiable solicitude for your brother's comfort, may you not be a little mistaken? Are you not carried a little too far? Would he thank you, either on his own account or Miss Thorpe's, for supposing that her affection, or at least her good-behaviour, is only to be secured by her seeing nothing of Captain Tilney? Is he safe only in solitude?—or, is her heart constant to him only when unsolicited by any one else?—He cannot think this—and you may be sure that he would not have you think it. I will not say, 'Do not be uneasy' because I know that you are so, at this moment; but be as little uneasy as you can. You have no doubt of the mutual attachment of your brother and your friend; depend upon it therefore, that real jealousy never can exist between them; depend upon it that no disagreement between them can be of any duration. Their hearts are open to each other, as neither heart can be to you; they know exactly what is required and what can be borne; and you may be certain, that one will never tease the other beyond what is known to be pleasant.”

Related Characters: Henry Tilney (Mr. Tilney) (speaker), Catherine Morland, Isabella Thorpe, James Morland, Frederick Tilney (Captain Tilney)
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine has told Henry Tilney that she is worried about the growing flirtation between his brother Frederick and Isabella, who is engaged to Catherine’s brother James. Catherine then asks Henry to tell his father to intervene and send Frederick away, but Henry refuses. Catherine is still moving from girlhood, when anyone who misbehaved was told that they were doing the wrong thing, to womanhood, when there are many decisions that individuals make on their own. She does not realize that Frederick, James, and Isabella are all adults and cannot simply be told that they are behaving badly and should do something differently.

In explaining his refusal, Henry stresses the importance of loyalty to love. He explains that a relationship must be based on an understanding between two people: only these two people can be responsible for their own conduct as it affects one another. It is up to the two halves of a couple to decide what is and is not acceptable behavior. What Henry does not say, but follows from this principle, is that if Isabella cannot remain loyal to James without any outside interference, James will be best served by learning that fact before he marries her, so that he can break the engagement.

Henry’s insistence on the importance of a commitment between two people that cannot be interfered with by anyone else foreshadows how he will act later in the novel, when his father tries to interfere in his relationship with Catherine.

Volume 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

“I am quite uneasy about your dear brother, not having heard from him since he went to Oxford; and am fearful of some misunderstanding. Your kind offices will set all right:—he is the only man I ever did or could love, and I trust you will convince him of it. The spring fashions are partly down; and the hats the most frightful you can imagine. I hope you spend your time pleasantly, but am afraid you never think of me. I will not say all that I could of the family you are with, because I would not be ungenerous, or set you against those you esteem; but it is very difficult to know whom to trust, and young men never know their minds two days together. I rejoice to say, that the young man whom, of all others, I particularly abhor, has left Bath. You will know, from this description, I must mean Captain Tilney, who, as you may remember, was amazingly disposed to follow and tease me, before you went away. Afterwards he got worse, and became quite my shadow. Many girls might have been taken in, for never were such attentions; but I knew the fickle sex too well. He went away to his regiment two days ago, and I trust I shall never be plagued with him again.”

Related Characters: Isabella Thorpe (speaker), Catherine Morland, James Morland, Frederick Tilney (Captain Tilney)
Related Symbols: Clothing
Page Number: 202-203
Explanation and Analysis:

Catherine has already heard from James that his marriage with Isabella has been called off, because she is presumably going to marry Frederick Tilney. Now, after it has become clear to Isabella that Frederick will not propose to her, she writes to enlist Catherine’s help to salvage her relationship with James. In this context, and set down in a letter where each statement can be carefully considered, Isabella’s true motivations could not be any more transparent. For instance, when Isabella writes that “many girls might have been taken in,” she suggests that, in her place, anyone would have believed that Frederick Tilney meant to marry her judging by how much attention he paid her. Logically, though, it would not matter if Frederick did or not deceive Isabella about his intention to marry, if Isabella truly loved James and wanted to marry him, as she says earlier in the letter. But Isabella cannot help bragging about how much attention she received from Frederick, which makes her hypocrisy even more glaring.

Isabella is right about one thing: Frederick was fickle. He never intended to marry her, only to lead her on. But when she describes all men as “the fickle sex,” after her disloyalty to James led to the breaking off of their engagement, it becomes clear that she is once again assigning faults to others that are actually her own.

Volume 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

She was assured of his affection; and that heart in return was solicited, which, perhaps, they pretty equally knew was already entirely his own; for, though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her a serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of an heroine's dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own.

Related Characters: Narrator (speaker), Catherine Morland, Henry Tilney (Mr. Tilney)
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry has followed Catherine to Fullerton after General Tilney kicked her out of Northanger Abbey, and has proposed to her. This proposal contrasts with those typical of the Sentimental novels of the time in several ways. First, all of those novels respected the convention of the day in giving the man the lead in beginning a romance. Although Catherine is younger and less sophisticated than Henry, she is the real driver of their relationship. It is her obvious attraction to Henry that then attracts him to her. Although the Narrator says that this is “derogatory of an heroine’s dignity,” it is a clear improvement on the lot of many of the heroines of Sentimental novels, who are so often pursued by immoral villains instead of by men they like. Henry’s sense that Catherine liked him, combined with his impression, as he got to know her, that she would remain loyal to him, trust in him, listen to him, and learn from him, made him feel tenderly to her when she made mistakes and loyal to her when she was mistreated by the General.

The General, accustomed on every ordinary occasion to give the law in his family, prepared for no reluctance but of feeling, no opposing desire that should dare to clothe itself in words, could ill brook the opposition of his son, steady as the sanction of reason and the dictate of conscience could make it. But, in such a cause, his anger, though it must shock, could not intimidate Henry, who was sustained in his purpose by a conviction of its justice. He felt himself bound as much in honour as in affection to Miss Morland, and believing that heart to be his own which he had been directed to gain, no unworthy retraction of a tacit consent, no reversing decree of unjustifiable anger, could shake his fidelity, or influence the resolutions it prompted.

Related Characters: Catherine Morland, John Thorpe, Henry Tilney (Mr. Tilney), General Tilney
Page Number: 230-231
Explanation and Analysis:

General Tilney has expelled Catherine from Northanger Abbey after learning that she is not an heiress. He has told Henry to forget about marrying her, but Henry, to the General’s shock, is determined to defy his father. This fight between father and son represents a battle between wealth and true respectability. Henry has never before defied the General in this way, and likely always grew up imagining that he would marry a woman rich enough to please his father’s greedy vanity. But now the General has thrown out everything else that makes a gentleman a gentleman in his treatment of Catherine, defying the code of conduct that requires the proper supervision and care of a gentlewoman. For Henry, money may be important, but behaving honorably and respectably is more so.

As a true gentleman, Henry cares about his honor, which is bound up in remaining loyal to Catherine. He feels that by courting her and leading her to believe that he wanted to marry her, he has bound himself to her. Although there is not yet an explicit engagement between them, he knows that she loves him and that he and his father have given her every reason to believe that he will marry her. Her love and his encouragement of it demand his loyalty, even in the face of his father’s newfound disapproval.

Finally, as a hypocrite caught in his lies, the General does not want to accept the consequences of his mistake. Although the General said to Catherine that he did not care about money, he never expected to be forced to follow through on his many insincere declarations that he cared only for the happiness of his children. The General had hoped to set an example for Catherine, showing her that she should marry Henry even if she were richer than he was. Instead he will have to allow Henry to marry Catherine despite her relative lack of wealth.

Volume 2, Chapter 16 Quotes

To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced, that the General's unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.

Related Characters: Catherine Morland, Henry Tilney (Mr. Tilney), General Tilney
Page Number: 235
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel’s last sentence emphasizes the importance of a commitment between two people to make love work. In this instance, Henry and Catherine’s love is tested by the interference of the General, who seeks to split them up once he realizes that Catherine is not an heiress. It is Henry’s decision to stand by Catherine through this that proves he loves her, and eventually the General gives his permission for Henry and Catherine to marry. The experience of having to wait and hope for permission that might never come provides Catherine and Henry with yet another test of their love. They can only communicate during the period of separation by letter, and through these letters they are able to learn about how they each deal with difficulties. Unlike Isabella and James, who failed to stay unified and committed to one another in the face of outside interference by Frederick, Catherine and Henry pass this test, and thus “begin perfect happiness” together.