MY CHARACTER THIS WEEK: Catherine Morland
Catherine Morland is the protagonist of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey. The reason why I chose to talk about Catherine this week is because I can actually see a lot of myself in her. So, yes, I can really relate to Catherine.
Catherine Morland is a young woman who loves to read Gothic novels. As a child, she was quite a tomboy, but as she grew into a young woman, she became an avid reader – in particular, of Gothic novels written by Lewis, Mrs Radcliffe and other authors who wrote the genre that Catherine, or Cathy, as she is called by her family, reads so passionately. She likes to fantasize about herself as a heroine in a Gothic novel. Her imagination is very vivid and she compares real-life events to the drama she reads about in her beloved novels.
She is a good-hearted girl. She is naive and innocent, and tends to see the best in everyone that crosses her path. She is a very happy girl in general, fond of good conversation and some humour. Her spirits rise at the smallest compliments; she is a humble girl. She is, basically, the girl next door, with a good moral consciousness, but a slightly overactive imagination. In the beginning of the novel, she is nothing like the heroines of her novels that she wishes to be. As Austen puts it,
She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility; without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient.
Her own family were plain, matter-of-fact people, who seldom aimed at wit of any kind; her father, at the utmost, being contented with a pun, and her mother with a proverb; they were not in the habit therefore of telling lies to increase their importance, or of asserting at one moment what they would contradict the next.
So, in the beginning, Catherine is just an ordinary girl, but very lovely and likeable.
She is exposed to the real world for the first time when Mr and Mrs Allen, her family’s neighbours, take Catherine with them to Bath. There, Catherine meets new friends; some are worth keeping, and some are not, but Catherine does not see this immediately. Again, she likes to think that everyone is as good and pure at heart as she is. She meets Henry Tilney, a young, well-read clergyman, who is of a joyous nature and who likes to tease Catherine. She spends a lot of time with him and his sister Eleanor. Eventually, she begins to develop romantic feelings for Henry. Catherine’s adventure in the “real” world begins when she finds out that Henry and Eleanor live at Northanger Abbey, and when Catherine is invited there, she begins to imagine all sorts of exciting things.
On many occasions, she makes assumptions in the style of Gothic novels, as the abbey, with its Gothic architecture, feeds her imagination, as does the situation of the Tilney family. She begins to imagine all sorts of things, which leads her to a horrible assumption.
Catherine's blood ran cold with the horrid suggestions which naturally sprang from these words. Could it be possible? - Could Henry's father? - And yet how many were the examples to justify even the blackest suspicions!
By making a pretty crazy assumption, she embarrasses herself in front of Henry, which is a great blow for Cathy. But at this point, Catherine has grown into a true heroine. She has matured and learned a valuable lesson.
The visions of romance were over. Catherine was completely awakened. Henry's address, short as it had been, had more thoroughly opened her eyes to the extravagance of her late fancies than all their several disappointments had done. Most grievously was she humbled. Most bitterly did she cry [....] Her folly, which now seemed even criminal, was all exposed to him.
Catherine finally learns that Gothic novels are just fiction to be enjoyed in one’s pastime and do not correspond with reality. She apologises to Henry when the opportunity arises, and he also apologises to her for something that happened to Catherine and what she thought was a well-deserved punishment for her folly. At the end of the novel, Catherine is a mature woman. She is still Cathy in her essence, but wiser and less naive.
I really love Catherine’s character. She is such a realistic character and I have to confess, I was pretty much like her in my teenage years. I never made any horrible assumptions, but I read Gothic novels with a passion; I pretty much devoured them, and I liked to imagine exciting things in my imaginary dream world. Also, Catherine is a unique Austenesque heroine and she deserves more attention than she gets. It seems Catherine lives in Elizabeth Bennet’s shadow, but the truth is, Cathy is a wonderful gal.