In Jane Austen’s, Northanger Abbey, John Thorpe and General Tilney are portrayed as unpleasant villains. Villains are defined as, “a wicked or evil person; a scoundrel” (The American Heritage Dictionary http://www.dictionary.com/search?q=VILLAIN). Austen description of both men as power-hungry, easily upset, and manipulative follows this definition. She introduces both characters in separate parts of the book, however simultaneously she delivers a stunning example of their identical villainous personalities. Through the portrayal of John Thorpe and General Tilney as villains, Austen comments on the male supremacy that permeates through her time.
In the first half of the novel, John Thorpe stands out as the villain of the novel. He is introduced as a, “stout young man of middling height, who, with a plain face and ungraceful form, seemed fearful of being too handsome unless he wore the dress of a groom, and to much like a gentleman unless he were easy where he ought to be civil, and imprudent where he might be allowed to be easy” (Austen 25). Following the initial description, John is introduced to Catherine. Rather than engaging in personable dialogue, he brags about the quality and speed of his horses, his authority on ascertaining distances, and his proficiency in leading his horses. Immediately, the reader is struck with the similarity of John to an immature ‘schoolboy’. Although Austen continues to portray John as juvenile, she does not develop him into the villain until later in the novel.
While Catherine’s love grows for her hero, Henry Tilney, John also develops affection for Catherine. During this struggle for Catherine’s love, John begins to mature into the ‘classic villain.’ For example, during a normal evening at the ball, Catherine had promises to dance with Henry Tilney. However, Thorpe approaches Catherine and declares, “What is the meaning of this? - I thought you and I were to dance together” (Austen 46). Catherine is flustered since this declaration is false. After a barrage of half-truths, John once again talks about his beloved horses and his knowledge of them. Suddenly without any type of closure, he is wisped away by the “resistless pressure of a long string of passing ladies” (Austen 47). In this section of the novel, John Thorpe quickly becomes dislikeable and Jan...
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... that she came from a wealthy family of consequence. However, when the General bumps into John during Catherine’s visit at Northanger Abbey, John amends his story. Bitter that Catherine had fallen in love with Henry and rejected him, he changes his entire story and tells the General she only from a middle class family.
Jane Austen completes her story with a “Cinderella ending” of Catherine and Henry marrying. However, her novel is more than a fairytale ending. Although often wrong and misguided in their judgments, she shows the supremacy of males that permeated throughout her society. Jane Austen takes us from a portrayal of men as rude, self-centered, and opinionate to uncaring, demanding, and lying to downright ruthless, hurtful, and evil. John Thorpe’s and General Tilney’s total disregard for others feelings and their villainous ways prove Austen’s point. Whether reading Northanger Abbey for the happy ending or the moral lesson, this novel has much to offer.
The American Heritage Dictionary. Fourth Edition. 9 November 2000. 4 March 2002. http://www.dictionary.com/search?q=VILLAIN
Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics.
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