Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey Volume 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Catherine is pleasant-looking, unaffected, affectionate, cheerful, and uninformed. As she prepares for this adventure in the wider world (her trip to Bath), it might be expected that her mother would worry about her daughter being seduced by wicked noblemen, but Mrs. Morland is too unexperienced with the world to have this concern. And although Catherine might have been expected to promise to write her sister daily, she did not. The Morlands were simple people, and they parted with Catherine without drama. Similarly, neither robbers nor storms interrupt Catherine and the Allens’ journey to Bath.
The threat of seduction by a wicked nobleman is an idea drawn from the Gothic novels that many of Northanger Abbey’s readers would probably know, while sisters so close as to find any separation painful could be found in many sentimental novels. The Morlands are not only too practical for melodrama, but also too inexperienced to anticipate danger. Catherine is, after all, going into a society where she will meet people who may want to take advantage of her, but her mother does not think to give her any warnings about this.
Themes
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
It is necessary to describe Mrs. Allen, so that the reader can guess what kind of dramatic part she will play in Catherine’s story. Mrs. Allen is a good-tempered gentlewoman, but neither beautiful, nor smart, nor accomplished, nor charming. She is obsessed with fashion, however, and so she and Catherine spend their first days in Bath shopping for clothes and getting their hair styled. After this makeover, Mrs. Allen compliments Catherine, saying she looks “as she should.”
Mrs. Allen, like Mrs. Morland, is not wise and worldly. The only way she can help prepare Catherine to meet new people is by sprucing up her wardrobe, so that Catherine will look as though she has money. It is a further sign of Mrs. Morland’s innocence and failure to judge character that she entrusts her daughter’s care to Mrs. Allen.
Themes
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
On their first night out, Mrs. Allen takes so long getting ready that they arrive late to a ball. It is very crowded and they don’t know anyone there. Catherine wishes to dance and Mrs. Allen wishes aloud repeatedly that Catherine could dance. But the two women know no one, and so no one can possibly ask Catherine to dance. Tea is served, and after jostling through the crowd to find a seat, they sit down alone together at the end of a long table where a party of strangers is sitting. Catherine feels awkward at seeming to barge into this party. Mrs. Allen wonders aloud whether her clothes have been damaged by the crowds, and repeats her wish that she had some acquaintance at the ball. Mr. Allen comes to collect the two ladies to go home. As the crowd thins out, Catherine can be seen by young men, and, as the Narrator remarks, it is time for a heroine to be noticed. No one is stunned by her beauty, but Catherine does overhear two gentlemen say that she is a pretty girl, and she is very content.
The first night out in Bath shows how little Catherine will be able to depend on Mrs. Allen to guide her socially. Outside of the topic of clothing, Mrs. Allen rarely has an original thought, doing little but repeating things that have already been said to her. The rules of social conduct, meanwhile, dictate that no one can ask Catherine to dance at a ball without having been introduced to her by a mutual acquaintance. Mrs. Allen is only interested in seeing people’s clothing and being seen by them, so she does not recognize how awkward a situation this is for Catherine. Once again, the difference between Catherine and the typical stunningly beautiful heroine is underlined. But Catherine does not need to stun the crowds with her beauty; she is happy to be called pretty.
Themes
Novels and the Heroine Theme Icon
Wealth and Respectability Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon