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Northanger Abbey

Jane Austen

  Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer



  Jane Austen (1803)


  THIS little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended forimmediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was evenadvertised, and why the business proceeded no farther, the authorhas never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think itworth-while to purchase what he did not think it worth-while to publishseems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the publichave any other concern than as some observation is necessary upon thoseparts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete.The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passedsince it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that duringthat period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergoneconsiderable changes.


  No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would havesupposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the characterof her father and mother, her own person and disposition, wereall equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without beingneglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his namewas Richard--and he had never been handsome. He had a considerableindependence besides two good livings--and he was not in the leastaddicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother was a woman of usefulplain sense, with a good temper, and, what is more remarkable, with agood constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; andinstead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody mightexpect, she still lived on--lived to have six children more--to see themgrowing up around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A familyof ten children will be always called a fine family, where there areheads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands hadlittle other right to the word, for they were in general very plain, andCatherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any. She had a thinawkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark lank hair, and strongfeatures--so much for her person; and not less unpropitious for heroismseemed her mind. She was fond of all boy's plays, and greatly preferredcricket not merely to dolls, but to the more heroic enjoyments ofinfancy, nursing a dormouse, feeding a canary-bird, or watering arose-bush. Indeed she had no taste for a garden; and if she gatheredflowers at all, it was chiefly for the pleasure of mischief--at leastso it was conjectured from her always preferring those which she wasforbidden to take. Such were her propensities--her abilities were quiteas extraordinary. She never could learn or understand anythingbefore she was taught; and sometimes not even then, for she was ofteninattentive, and occasionally stupid. Her mother was three months inteaching her only to repeat the "Beggar's Petition"; and after all, hernext sister, Sally, could say it better than she did. Not that Catherinewas always stupid--by no means; she learnt the fable of "The Hare andMany Friends" as quickly as any girl in England. Her mother wished herto learn music; and Catherine was sure she should like it, for she wasvery fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlorn spinnet; so, at eightyears old she began. She learnt a year, and could not bear it; and Mrs.Morland, who did not insist on her daughters being accomplished inspite of incapacity or distaste, allowed her to leave off. The day whichdismissed the music-master was one of the happiest of Catherine's life.Her taste for drawing was not superior; though whenever she could obtainthe outside of a letter from her mother or seize upon any other oddpiece of paper, she did what she could in that way, by drawing housesand trees, hens and chickens, all very much like one another. Writingand accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother: herproficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her lessons inboth whenever she could. What a strange, unaccountable character!--forwith all these symptoms of profligacy at ten years old, she had neithera bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldom stubborn, scarcely everquarrelsome, and very kind to the little ones, with few interruptionsof tyranny; she was moreover noisy and wild, hated confinement andcleanliness, and loved nothing so well in the world as rolling down thegreen slope at the back of the house.

  Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were mending;she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexion improved,her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her eyes gained moreanimation, and her figure more consequence. Her love of dirt gave way toan inclination for finery, and she grew clean as she grew smart; she hadnow the pleasure of sometimes hearing her father and mother remarkon her personal improvement. "Catherine grows quite a good-lookinggirl--she is almost pretty today," were words which caught her ears nowand then; and how welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is anacquisition of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain thefirst fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can everreceive.

  Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her childreneverything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied inlying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters wereinevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very wonderfulthat Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about her, shouldprefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and running aboutthe country at the age of fourteen, to books--or at least books ofinformation--for, provided that nothing like useful knowledge could begained from them, provided they were all story and no reflection, shehad never any objection to books at all. But from fifteen to seventeenshe was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroinesmust read to supply their memories with those quotations which are soserviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.

  From Pope, she learnt to censure those who

  "bear about the mockery of woe."

  From Gray, that

  "Many a flower is born to blush unseen, "And waste its fragrance on the desert air."

  From Thompson, that--

  "It is a delightful task "To teach the young idea how to shoot."

  And from Shakespeare she gained a great store of information--amongstthe rest, that--

  "Trifles light as air, "Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong, "As proofs of Holy Writ."


  "The poor beetle, which we tread upon, "In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great "As when a giant dies."

  And that a young woman in love always looks--

  "like Patience on a monument "Smiling at Grief."

  So far her improvement was sufficient--and in many other points she cameon exceedingly well; for though she could not write sonnets, she broughtherself to read them; and though there seemed no chance of her throwinga whole party into raptures by a prelude on the pianoforte, of her owncomposition, she could listen to other people's performance with verylittle fatigue. Her greatest deficiency was in the pencil--she had nonotion of drawing--not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover'sprofile, that she might be detected in the design. There she fellmiserably short of the true heroic height. At present she did not knowher own poverty, for she had no lover to portray. She had reached theage of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could callforth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion, andwithout having excited even any admiration but what was very moderateand very transient. This was strange indeed! But strange things may begenerally accounted for if their cause be fairly searched out. There wasnot one lord in the neighbourhood; no--not even a baronet. There was notone family among their acquaintance who had reared and supported a boyaccidentally found at their door--not one young man whose originwas unknown. Her father had no ward, and the squire of the parish nochildren.

  But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of fortysurrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will happento t
hrow a hero in her way.

  Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property about Fullerton, thevillage in Wiltshire where the Morlands lived, was ordered to Bathfor the benefit of a gouty constitution--and his lady, a good-humouredwoman, fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware that if adventures willnot befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad,invited her to go with them. Mr. and Mrs. Morland were all compliance,and Catherine all happiness.