Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey is essentially the “coming of age” story of Catherine Morland, a sympathetic yet naïve young girl who spends some time away from home at the impressionable age of seventeen. As Catherine matures in the town of Bath and at Northanger Abbey, she learns to forgo immature childhood fantasies in favor of the solid realities of adult life, thus separating falsehood from truth. This theme is expressed in a couple of ways, most obviously when Catherine’s infatuation with Gothic novels causes her to nearly ruin her relationship with Henry Tilney: her imagination finally goes too far, and she wrongly suspects General Tilney of murdering his late wife. The theme is less apparent but just as present in the characterization of Catherine’s very dissimilar friends, Isabella and Eleanor. It is clear that Catherine’s growth of maturity occurs as she learns to discern reality from fantasy, and this coincides with her newly-learned ability to truly read people as she rejects Isabella as a fake friend and accepts Eleanor as a true friend.
Catherine arrives in Bath as a very inexperienced and vulnerable girl, and quickly becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe, a girl overflowing with the very traits that Catherine lacks. Isabella is graceful, fashionable, and very knowledgeable in matters such as balls, flirtations, and men, considering that she is “four years older than Miss Morland, and at least four years better informed” (Austen 32). The friendship between the two girls blossoms rapidly; indeed they “called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set” (36...
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...better worth keeping than Eleanor” (220) proves to be a correct evaluation, because Henry and Eleanor apologize profusely for their father’s rude treatment of Catherine, and nothing could be a better demonstration of their regret than Henry’s proposal to her.
The conclusion of Northanger Abbey highlights two main points: Catherine’s achievement of emotional and social maturity, and the development of her ability to discern the true natures of her “friends” and acquaintances. Catherine has reached this point as she has learned to separate reality from fantasy, from her dismissal of the world of Gothic romance and through her rejection of Isabella. Fortunately, Catherine was lucky enough to move on from her humiliating and disappointing experience with Isabella, and to realize the importance of real love and friendship with true friends like the Tilneys.
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