Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey


Jane Austen

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Northanger Abbey: Volume 1, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Catherine eagerly looks for Mr. Tilney the next day in the “Pump-room,” but he is nowhere to be seen. More luckily, however, when Mrs. Allen repeats for the umpteenth time her wish that they knew anyone in Bath, this wish is finally, unexpectedly fulfilled. Mrs. Allen is approached by a Mrs. Thorpe, an old schoolmate, and they are joyful at this reunion, despite having never missed one another during their fifteen-year separation. They catch up, talking over one another, but Mrs. Thorpe has the advantage of having more to say, because she has six children and Mrs. Allen has none. Mrs. Allen comforts herself, however, with the thought that Mrs. Thorpe is not as well dressed as she is.
The Pump-room was the principle place where people went to meet and socialize during the day, while also drinking the mineral waters that were said to improve health. Although Mrs. Allen and Mrs. Thorpe knew each other many years before, Mrs. Allen knows little about Mrs. Thorpe’s current life and does not think to consider whether the Thorpes are appropriate companions for Catherine, as Mr. Allen had done with Mr. Tilney. Instead, the two older women express a feigned joy to meet again and then try to outdo one another. Neither of them has the restraint or taste to think about the other’s interests, a quality the novel associates with true gentlemen and gentlewomen.
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Mrs. Thorpe’s three daughters approach, and when they are introduced to Catherine, exclaim how much she looks like her brother. They explain that Catherine’s brother James is a friend of their brother John, and Catherine remembers that her eldest brother spent time at the Thorpes’ house over Christmas. The oldest Miss Thorpe, Isabella, offers to walk around the room with Catherine, and they strike up a friendship, discussing balls, fashion, and flirtations. Isabella Thorpe is four years older and more experienced than Catherine, but she is so friendly that Catherine does not feel intimidated. Isabella even walks Catherine to the door of Mr. Allen’s home, and Catherine is very glad to have made such a friend.
Isabella immediately wins Catherine over with her friendliness and willingness to share her knowledge of Bath. Catherine does not think that Isabella may have any ulterior motives or be anything but sincere in showing her so much friendliness. She follows Mrs. Allen’s lead in trusting the Thorpes and sees the fact that her brother James is friends with them as further proof that it is appropriate for her to socialize with the Thorpes, and that indeed she ought to befriend them.
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