A Gothic Interpretation of Reality

Catherine was extremely impressed by the elegant breakfast table, and she made a pretty comment about the beautiful plates and cups.

‘I am pleased that you approve of my choice,’ General Tilney responded. ‘These dishes were manufactured in this county, and I believe the set is as fine as anything from the continent. In fact, I hope that soon I will have the opportunity of selecting another set of dishes from the same company, although this time not for my own dining-room.’

Catherine was probably the only one of the party who did not understand what the General was hinting at.

Soon after breakfast Henry left them for a three-day visit to Woodston, where he had parish work to do.

As the other three watched him go, Catherine asked his father, ‘Is Woodston a pretty place?’

‘Over the last few years, I have tried to make the house and gardens a suitable place for my son,’ General Tilney explained. ‘It is a family living, and I want Henry to be happy there. Of course, his clergyman’s salary is not important, although he could easily live on it. What is important for any son is to have a job, to be employed in worthwhile work. Even Frederick, my eldest son, who will inherit one of the largest pieces of private property in the country, has his profession. I am sure that your father, Miss Morland, would agree with me.’

Catherine could not answer for her father, but she was very impressed with everything General Tilney had just said.

‘Now, last night you mentioned that you would like to see the rest of Northanger Abbey. It would be my privilege to show you the house and the gardens if you can be ready to go out in five minutes. I will wait for you young ladies at the front door.’ Catherine would have preferred to go around the house with only Eleanor, and her disappointment showed on her face.

‘I hope you do not mind joining my father,’ said Eleanor, almost apologetically. ‘He always walks out at this time of day.’ Catherine thought it was odd that the General always took his walk so early. Neither her father nor Mr Allen did so. It made her wonder about her host. She certainly wanted to see the house, but she had to admit that she was not very interested in seeing the gardens.

Nevertheless, when Catherine was outside, being guided around the exterior of the Abbey, she was more impressed than she could ever have predicted. She admired the size, the design, the beauty of the buildings, as well as the wonderful gardens. General Tilney considered her reaction and all of her comments both pleasing and appropriate, especially when she made it clear that nothing in Fullerton, not even on Mr Allen’s land, could compare to what she was seeing at Northanger Abbey.

Finally the General said, ‘Here is a handy door. I think you young ladies are probably ready to go inside and get warm.’

‘But I will take our guest down this narrow path,’ said Eleanor. ‘It is my favourite walk. Will you join us, Father?’

‘No, Eleanor, it is cold and damp along that path. I will go across the park and meet you later, but don’t show our guest around the inside of the house until I join you.’

As the young ladies walked along, Miss Tilney said, ‘This was my mother’s favourite walk and brings back memories of her.’

‘I am surprised, then, that the General would not enter it. Your mother’s death must have caused great grief and distress.’

‘Yes, and it causes more pain every year. I was only thirteen when she died, too young to understand that I had lost a constant friend whose love and advice I could rely on.’

Catherine wanted to know more about Mrs Tilney and eagerly asked many questions: ‘Was your mother a charming woman? Is there a picture of her in the Abbey? Did this dark path reflect something sad in her?’

As Catherine listened to Eleanor’s answers, she came to the conclusion that General and Mrs Tilney had had an unhappy marriage. He did not love her favourite path, so how could he have loved her? And there was something in his handsome face that told Catherine he had not behaved well to his wife.

‘Is the picture of her in your father’s room?’ was Catherine’s final question.

‘No,’ answered Eleanor quietly. ‘My father was never satisfied with the picture and would not hang it in the sitting-room or in his apartment. After Mother’s death, I found it and hung it in my bedroom. I will show it to you if you would like to see it.’

Catherine believed this was one more proof that the General did not love his wife and must have been extremely cruel to her! She knew this kind of selfish, unfeeling man from her novels, and as he led her around the house, she came to the conclusion that General Tilney was the type of man that Mrs Radcliffe often wrote about — someone with dark, dangerous secrets, a man who lived by his own rules.

The General proudly pointed out the many modern improvements he had made to Northanger Abbey as they walked through the living rooms, the kitchens, the offices and the storerooms. Everything had been done to make the house both comfortable and efficient to run. But Catherine wondered if there was anything left of the original fifteenth-century building. Had every ancient treasure been swept away for the sake of domestic economy?


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