Northanger Abbey describes the experiences of Catherine Morland, a sincere young woman raised in a small, rural parsonage, as she comes into her first sustained contact with the worldly and sometimes hypocritical world of society. Catherine has grown up being told explicitly how others viewed her and her behavior, but those she meets in Bath society sometimes lie about or hide their true opinions to influence or manipulate others. Specifically, Catherine is taken in by the hypocrisy of Isabella Thorpe, who thinks the Morlands are rich and therefore seeks Catherine’s friendship because she hopes to marry Catherine’s brother James. Catherine similarly misunderstands the motives of General Tilney, who seeks to marry his son Henry to Catherine for the same reason. Meanwhile, both Isabella and General Tilney belittle the importance of wealth when in conversation, because they want to hide their motives. Their hypocrisy is eventually unmasked to Catherine once they realize that they were mistaken about the Morlands’ affluence and then change the way they behave towards the Morland brother and sister. But to a reader of the time, these characters’ hypocrisy and their ulterior motive of marrying someone for wealth rather than love would have been clear from the start. Their protestations not to care about money are much too overstated to be believable by anyone with a bit of experience.
While Catherine’s sincerity makes her vulnerable to manipulation by hypocrites, the novel is not simply criticizing such sincerity. In fact, the novel shows how Catherine’s sincerity also earns her the affection and loyalty of true and caring friends. Henry and Eleanor Tilney find Catherine’s sincerity refreshing, a bit comic, and ultimately extremely attractive. For them, her sincerity goes hand in hand with her other fine qualities: loyalty, curiosity, and lack of pretension. In the end, the contrast between Catherine’s sincere love for Henry and Henry’s father’s hypocrisy in courting her only because he believed her to be an heiress convinces Henry that he must stand up to his father and marry Catherine, despite her lower social standing. Through the course of the novel, Catherine learns to better understand when others are not being forthright, but does not cease to be so herself. Although her assumption that others are sincere is a sign of her innocence, her own sincerity is not mere naïveté, but one of her most admirable character traits.
The novel, then, distinguishes between sincerity as naïveté and sincerity as honesty. The happy ending to Catherine’s story, along with the unhappy one to Isabella’s, shows that the novel prizes the latter view—sincerity as honesty. Although Isabella sought to marry to raise her position in the world and Catherine (despite her family’s lack of wealth) had no such intention, Catherine’s sincerity earns her this more comfortable and desirable fate.
Sincerity and Hypocrisy ThemeTracker
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Quotes in Northanger Abbey
Isabella was very sure that he must be a charming young man and was equally sure that he must have been delighted with her dear Catherine, and would therefore shortly return. She liked him the better for being a clergyman, “for she must confess herself very partial to the profession” and something like a sigh escaped her as she said it. Perhaps Catherine was wrong in not demanding the cause of that gentle emotion—but she was not experienced enough in the finesse of love, or the duties of friendship, to know when delicate raillery was properly called for, or when a confidence should be forced.
These manners did not please Catherine; but he was James's friend and Isabella's brother; and her judgment was further bought off by Isabella's assuring her, when they withdrew to see the new hat, that John thought her the most charming girl in the world, and by John's engaging her before they parted to dance with him that evening. Had she been older or vainer, such attacks might have done little; but, where youth and diffidence are united, it requires uncommon steadiness of reason to resist the attraction of being called the most charming girl in the world, and of being so very early engaged as a partner; and the consequence was, that, when the two Morlands, after sitting an hour with the Thorpes, set off to walk together to Mr. Allen's, and James, as the door was closed on them, said, “Well, Catherine, how do you like my friend Thorpe?” instead of answering, as she probably would have done, had there been no friendship and no flattery in the case, “I do not like him at all;” she directly replied, “I like him very much; he seems very agreeable.”
Catherine listened with astonishment; she knew not how to reconcile two such very different accounts of the same thing; for she had not been brought up to understand the propensities of a rattle, nor to know to how many idle assertions and impudent falsehoods the excess of vanity will lead. Her own family were plain matter-of-fact people, who seldom aimed at wit of any kind; her father, at the utmost, being contented with a pun, and her mother with a proverb; they were not in the habit therefore of telling lies to increase their importance, or of asserting at one moment what they would contradict the next.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
“'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.”
“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.”
He went; and, it being at any time a much simpler operation to Catherine to doubt her own judgment than Henry's, she was very soon obliged to give him credit for being right, however disagreeable to her his going. But the inexplicability of the General's conduct dwelt much on her thoughts. That he was very particular in his eating, she had, by her own unassisted observation, already discovered; but why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood? Who but Henry could have been aware of what his father was at?
“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.”
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.