Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Profile: Catherine Morland

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.

Name: Catherine Morland

Age: 17

Hobbies: Novel reading

Most charming quality: Disarming sincerity

Most detrimental tendency: Fancifulness

Greatest strength: Apologizing

Truest friend: Elinor Tilney

Worst enemy: John Thorpe

Prospects: As one of ten siblings, she will always have a roof overhead, but her portion is necessarily small.

Favorite quotations: "What beautiful hyacinths! -- I have just learnt to love a hyacinth."

"A woman in love with one man cannot flirt with another."

"I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London."

"I never look at it," said Catherine, as they walked along the side of the river, "without thinking of the south of France."

"Oh! dear, there are a great many people like me, I dare say, only a great deal better."
"And as to most matters, to say the truth, there are not many that I know my own mind about."

Musings: While all of Austen's heroines grow during the course of their respective books, Catherine's story is the only true Bildungsroman, or coming of age story. We dwell on the Gothic aspects of Northanger Abbey, but I always felt the parody was just a device Austen used to chronicle Catherine's emotional maturation, which is the true subject of the story. From unpromising beginnings, she leaves her home for a series of adventures which teach her to judge people by their actions, not their words, and to curb her speculative imagination. Upon first arriving in Bath, she is not even capable of deciding for herself whether or not to venture out in Mr. Thorpe's gig, but by the end of the story she is traveling alone through the country, a thing that Miss Morland, upon our first acquaintance with her, would never have been able to accomplish without a debilitating concern for highwaymen. I always thought Mrs. Morland's comments upon her return most telling:
"It is always good for young people to be put upon exerting themselves; and you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad little shatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you, with so much changing of chaises and so forth; and I hope it will appear that you have not left anything behind you in any of the pockets."
While some concern for the child that was remains, Catherine has proven herself a capable young lady, and though her adventures were mostly mundane, encompassing nothing more horrid than some malicious gossip, atrocious hospitality, and an unchaperoned journey, they have, nevertheless, transformed her into a true Austen heroine. The meaning that I derive from this story, both now and when I first read it as a rather awkward twelve year-old, is that all woman have the potential to become beautiful and captivating: the heroines of their own stories, their own lives, and loves. A heroine need not be a princess locked in a tower or an heiress persecuted by malignant forces. All she needs is a hero, and even a mere clergyman can appear a knight in shinning armor in the eyes of the lady who loves him. When I felt doomed forever by acne and braces, Catherine both gave me hope for the future and ignited my obsession with Miss Jane Austen, teaching me to seek romance in reality rather than fantasy.   



  1. I just loved reading your analysis of Catherine Morland! I've always found her a very interesting character, different form the rest of Austen leads. But there is always something new to notice or learn reading the same story or about the same figure from another person's (well, a fond one) point of view. Thank you so much for sharing, Alexa.

  2. Your welcome, Maria! This is kind of lark for me, based off of character sketches I'm using for Janeicillin, and I'm delighted you enjoyed it. If the heroines go well, I'll do the heroes next.

  3. This is great! I never quite connected with Catherine, but you know, over time, and from reading (and watching) Northanger Abbey, I've found so much of Catherine Morland to admire. I guess that is one of the wonderful things about Jane Austen: there is always something new to discover!