Catherine Morland Lives

Catherine Morland LivesFriendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love. –  Jane Austen

But when one experiences both the pangs of disappointed love AND friendship….it’s a double whammy.  

Such is the case for the lovely Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey (the shortest and most satirical of Austen’s six completed novels). 

As our heroine observes society within the walls of the dubiously-named Pump-room, (an establishment that sits in the unfortunately-named city of Bath), she finds a companion in the person of Isabella Thorpe.  Isabella is thrilled to have the gentle, close-in-age and enthusiastic Catherine as her compatriot. 

They walk together; they shop together; they ride around town together; Isabella talks; Isabella talks; Isabella talks; Catherine listens; and they meet at the Pump-room during the most opportune people-spotting time of day.

Their friendship develops rapidly.  Too rapidly.  That happens a lot with girls.  Quickly formed 24-7 friendships that heedlessly dash-in only to ultimately fizzle-out.  Eventually, we see the friendship die due to distance; the ill-treatment of her brother; and total lack-of-trust (which is the leading killer in any relationship). 

The gradual slower-growing friendship between Catherine and Henry Tilney, however, is sure to last the test of time.  From their initial introduction, Catherine’s spirits are lifted by the lively banter shared between the two.  She meets her match and we, the readers, instantly know it.   With Henry’s playfulness and quirky personality, she feels alive.  She stops observing life and starts actively participating.  

All too often people can find themselves in that “observational” trap.     

Along with re-reading Northanger Abbey (perhaps my second favorite Austen book), I’m also reading World War Z (An oral history of the Zombie War) which is written in a series of fictional interviews with a serious bite of realismCould there be a wider gap between these two books?  I think not.

But in an attempt to bridge this gap (and this is a major reach) the “common thread” between the two books is in the human experience of feeling alive. 

Not alive in the sense of going-through-the-motions, taking-breath, blood-flowing-through-veins sort of alive, but the deeper spirit-filled alive that one experiences with joy, pain, love, and friendship.  

Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings. –  Jane Austen

So true!  Living a life full of busy nothings feels depressingly robotic; almost zombie-esque.  

In my opinion, the characters in Northanger Abbey (should any bear any remote semblance to a zombie) would be the superficial, materialistic-loving characters.  Such as Mrs. Allen.  

Her symptom?  Her unhealthy fascination of trimmings and muslin. This trait I consider zombie-esque.   

Another life-sucking character is General Tilney.  

His symptom?   His acceptance of Catherine into his home only because he believes she’s wealthy.  Love of money leads to soulless behavior.  (And, I’m still not 100% sure that he didn’t actually murder his wife).

But Henry and Catherine, full of life, full of challenging conversation with imaginations in full swing are purely human as they experience joy, silliness, friendship, and above all…love. 

*Photo: Cream colored tulips in a field by Horia Varlan, obtained through Flickr.


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