In the novel Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen uses character development to portray the theme of being separated from loved ones. The main character, Catherine Morland, is influenced by people, events, and decisions which cause her to change over time during her quest for heroism due to loneliness and rejection from being separated from the ones that she loves. Austen meant Catherine to be "simple-minded, insentimental, and commonplace unsolicitated falls in love with a man who snubs and educates her, not adores her" (Forster 51). These assets which make her so basic are the attributes which she develops from.
"Catherine couldn't be aware from the outset because the story developed precisely from Catherine's unawareness of distinctions" (Marvin 73). She had spent her entire life with her family, never knowing the concept of loneliness. She is only seventeen during the three months that the book takes place. Her mind was "about as ignorant and uninformed as the female mind at seventeen usually is" (Austen 5). This character trait of Catherine is a lot like Jane Austen, whose life was private, uneventful, extraordinarily narrow and restricted. (Southam 107). Catherine knew that if adventures did not befal her in her own village, she had to seek them abroad. So she traveled to Bath upon invitation, and was separated from her beloved family for the first time (Austen 5). Austen's life was very similar. For a period in her life, she had to take successive temporary visits to her relatives in Bath (Southam 107).
When Catherine went to Bath, she was determined to meet new people, since she was away from her entire family. In Bath "a whole new world" was opened to her. She was delighted to join in the social life of the colony to fill the gap in her heart due to being separated from her family (Magill 3303). Catherine visited Bath at the perfect time for meeting people, because in reality, this type of social life in Bath did not exist for long. Northanger Abbey was intended to be published in 1803, when Bath was a "social mixing pot." However, by the time the book was published in 1817, such a setting no longer existed, which affected the lack of interest readers had in the novel (Southam 113). Had Catherine been in Bath when it was not a social center, she may have had experiences similar to the monster in the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. The monster is so lonely from not having a friend in the world that he commits suicide in order to end his misery (Magill 1678). Due to the changes in society, Austen provided an "Advertisement" when she revised the novel, which warned readers of the historical changes since the book's intended date of publication (Southam 109). Since Catherine was in Bath during the social times, though, she quickly made friends, and began a love interest in Henry Tilney. However, after first meeting him, she did not see him again for a couple of weeks. She learned what rejection felt like, because she had expected to see him again the next day, which rolled into weeks. During this period of isolation from him she constantly thought of when they might cross paths again (Magill 3303). These aspects of Catherine's stay in Bath are very different from Austen's social life. She never mixed in fashionable society and "avoided literary circles like the plague." One could say Austen had an obsessive need for privacy, which was shaped by her dedication to writing (Southam 107). The way she isolated herself from society largely reflects her choice to isolate Catherine Morland from the people she loves.
Catherine was unschooled, but novel-struck (Lewis 64). So during the lonely times of her stay in Bath, she read the novel, The Mysteries of Udolpho, by Anne Radcliffe (Austen 23) for companionship. Radcliffe's novel was written in 1794, just a few years before Austen began to write Northanger Abbey (Southam 111). With her parents not around to look up to, the famous romance writer, Mrs. Radcliffe, becomes Catherine's idol. Catherine subconsciously "reconstructs her world to be like The Mysteries of Udolpho" (Forster 41). Having read Mrs. Radcliffe's gothic story, "Catherine tries to live a gothic romance and becomes entangled in real-life confusions which she is unprepared for" (Marvin 38). This longing for romance is likely a cause of her new found love interest for Mr. Henry Tilney. By acting well-brought up, (Lewis 64) Catherine gets invited to visit in the Tilney's home, Northanger Abbey (Austen 111). Catherine realizes this is her chance to live out her gothic romance. Her goal for a gothic romance reflects the final product of the book, which is classified as a gothic satire (Southam 110). She consents to go with the Tilneys, despite having to be separated from her best friend, brother, and the Allens, the people whom she loved and who guarded her.
What proves to be one of Jane Austen's major achievements in her novels is evident when Catherine visits the Tilney's gothic home. Austen captures the experience of living in privileged isolation (Southam 103). The Tilney's home stands alone from society. When Catherine is there she has very little contact with all the important people in her life such as her brother. For nearly two weeks, after Catherine arrived at Northanger Abbey, she received no letter from Isabella. This worried her because she felt rejected by her closest friend, who had promised to write her (Magill 3303). Perhaps the idea for this separation between Isabella and Catherine was sparked by Austen's life. In December 1804, the author lost her closest friend, Anne Lefroy, and her father died a month later. These mishaps led to a very distressing time period for Austen, in which she rarely wrote (Southam 108). This time period is portrayed by the weeks where Catherine did not have contact with Isabella.
Just as Catherine is happy in Northanger Abbey, she is tragically effected by General Tilney who expels her from his home for no apparent reason. (Howells 8). For Catherine, Austen "the novelist hardens perceptibly into rejection. A rejection of the illusionary world and of the unrealistic characters who disprove it. Irony overrides Austen and becomes rejection umlimited" (Marvin 59). Hence, Catherine finds no joy in returning to her family, who she misses and loves. She is too miserable for separation from Henry Tilney. Catherine's separation from Tilney, her companion, parallels an isolation in Frankenstein. Though the monster did not have a companion to be separated from, he became desperate for one. He is isolated from society and begs Frankenstein for just one companion to stop his loneliness (Kiely 9). He describes his loneliness by saying, "I am an unfortunate and deserted creature... I have no relation or friend upon earth" (Shelley 74). Anyway, on her journey home, "Catherine was too wretched to be fearful" (Austen 191). Over the next several days, "most of Catherine's thoughts were of Henry, whom she feared she might never see again" (Magill 3303). Based on Austen's descriptions of Catherine's longing to see Tilney in this part of the novel, there is unquestionable proof that she "understood the experience of love, of love broken and the pains of loss and loneliness" (Southam 108). In the end Catherine's period of separation proved to be bittersweet, because she married Tilney.
Catherine's desire for romance is somewhat surprising because she is "the anti-hero of romance. Her family, upbringing, and disposition are described in anti-romantic terms," (Forster 51) by Austen. These anti-romantic descriptions may be due to the romantic experiences of the author. She never married and virtually nothing can be found about her relationships with men. This could be what affected her to write in an anti-romantic manner (Southam 108). As Austen developed Catherine, "her ethical interest came through because she is very ungullible about right or wrong and decorous and undecorous (Lewis 64). Mentally, Catherine did not develop a lot. However, through being separated from loved ones she changed because she grew to become united into complete happiness in the end.
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