Our Heroine’s Adventures Begin

If you had known Catherine Morland as a young child, you would never have imagined that one day she would be the heroine of a novel filled with adventure, mystery and romance. Her father was a respected clergyman, neither rich nor poor, and her mother was a strong, sensible mother of ten children. The Morlands were often described as a fine family, but that was because there were so many of them, not because any of them were handsome, beautiful or noticeably talented.

For the first ten years of her life, Catherine was as ordinary as the rest of the Morlands. She was thin and clumsy, with dull skin and hair. She spent her time throwing a ball, riding a horse or chasing her brothers and sisters while avoiding any lady-like activities like arranging flowers, nursing a poor injured pet or watering a pretty rose bush.

And certainly Catherine’s education could not be described as appropriate for a heroine. In fact, she had an obvious dislike for the classroom and never could learn or understand anything before she was taught; occasionally she even seemed rather stupid. Her mother wanted her to learn music and Catherine was sure that she would like to play the piano, so at eight years old she began lessons. But she soon gave up, and the day on which the music teacher was dismissed was one of the happiest days of her young life. Her drawing ability was also disappointing; although she enjoyed drawing animals, all her pictures, from chickens to horses, looked very similar.

Whatastrange, incomprehensible character! Incomprehensible because, in spite of such clear signs of a difficult nature, Catherine was seldom unpleasant; she rarely quarrelled and was very kind to her six younger brothers and sisters and quite friendly with the three older ones. But it still must be admitted that she was untidy, noisy and wild and loved nothing better than rolling down her favourite hill at the back of the house.

At fifteen, Catherine’s appearance began to improve; her skin was brighter, her hair was shinier and nicely styled, her eyes shone and her figure was pleasing. Her love of dirt was replaced by an interest in the latest fashions and in the possibility of going to a ball. She was quite thrilled one day to hear her father remark on her personal improvement: ‘Catherine is almost pretty today.’ To be almost pretty is a great prize to a girl who has been plain for fifteen years.

Catherine had never been interested in books full of facts and useful knowledge, but from the age of fifteen she began to read the type of books which heroines must read: stories of romance, adventure and fantasy, set in mysterious foreign places. These supplied her memory with useful instructions about life, death, and especially love. And although she could not write poetry or play the piano or paint a picture — achievements we might expect in a heroine — she began, nevertheless, to admire those skills in others.

At the beginning of our story, Catherine was seventeen and eager for life. But the world around Fullerton, the village in Wiltshire where the Morlands lived, did not offer the kind of adventure and romance that a heroine needs. Luckily for Catherine, Mr Allen, the gentleman who owned most of the property around Fullerton, was required by his doctor to go to the city of Bath for a healthy rest. His wife, a good-natured woman with no children of her own, was very fond of Catherine. She understood that a young lady of seventeen is ready to take her place in society, so she invited our heroine to accompany her and Mr Allen to Bath for the season.


When the time came for Catherine’s first trip away from home without her family, you can imagine the excitement and anxiety in the Morland household. Would Mrs Morland warn her daughter about the evils of city life and the dangers of mixing with the wrong sort of gentleman? Would her father generously hand her a blank cheque to cover every need? Would the sister closest to her in age insist that she write to her every day and tell her every detail of her life in Bath?

Well, no. This, after all, was an ordinary family from rural England. Mrs Morland simply said: ‘Catherine, please remember to wear your warm scarf around your throat when you are out in the evening.’ Mr Morland gave Catherine a small purse with ten pounds and promised more if it was needed. Catherine’s sister, Sarah, shouted goodbye as she ran out to meet a friend. In fact, the family had not realised that Catherine was going to be a heroine. They cheerfully but quietly sent her off without any dramatic speeches, tears or warnings.

The trip to Bath was both calm and safe. The carriage was not stopped by robbers or by stormy weather; nor were the passengers lucky enough to meet a hero before arriving at their destination. But when they arrived in Bath, Catherine felt happy immediately. Her eyes were here, there, everywhere as the carriage drove through the pretty streets. Soon Mr and Mrs Allen and Catherine were settled in comfortable lodgings in Pulteney Street.


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