With this information, which he had no reason to doubt, General Tilney had decided to welcome Miss Morland to Northanger Abbey and to encourage his son to consider Miss Catherine Morland as a possible bride. Henry and Eleanor knew nothing about their father’s conversation with John Thorpe; they were astonished by the kind, friendly attention he showed towards Catherine, and the clear signals he gave Henry that he approved of her as his son’s future wife.
But on his visit to London, the General had met Mr John Thorpe again. The younger man was by that time suffering from what he considered to be ill treatment by both James and Catherine Morland: she had refused his proposal of marriage and James would not accept Isabella’s apologies. Now he was eager to change the General’s good opinion of the whole Morland family. This time he gave a more accurate account of how many Morland children there were and the amount of money and possessions the parents had; in fact, he mentioned too many of one and too few of the other. And the Allens? Their entire fortune would be inherited by one of Mr Allen’s nephews.
Angry with almost everyone in the world except himself, the General had returned to the Abbey, where you have seen how he behaved towards our heroine.
Having heard all this, Catherine forgave herself for thinking that General Tilney could either have murdered or imprisoned his wife. Now she understood how cruel he could be in reality.
Poor Henry was blushing with shame while telling Catherine this story. He had had an angry conversation with his father at Northanger Abbey, and had shocked the General by refusing to agree with his judgement of Catherine. He felt tied to Catherine as much by honour as affection; he would not dismiss her from his heart or from his life. He refused to accompany Eleanor and his father to Herefordshire, and declared his intention of asking Miss Morland to marry him.
General Tilney had been angrier than he had ever been with his son, and the two had parted without speaking to each other again. Henry had returned to Woodston, and had begun his journey to Fullerton on the following afternoon.
Mr and Mrs Morland were quite astonished to be asked by Mr Henry Tilney for permission to marry their daughter. They had not suspected a connection between the two young people, but they believed Catherine was worth loving and they soon happily accepted the situation. They had no reason to object to the marriage, not having heard anything negative about Henry and liking his pleasing manners and good sense. Mrs Morland’s only additional comment was, ‘I am sure Catherine will make a poor housekeeper, but practice is a good teacher.’
Nevertheless, even with everyone celebrating the proposal, Mr and Mrs Morland could not approve of the engagement. They had mild tempers, but their principles were strong; they did not expect heartfelt approval from the General, but they required his agreement, at least. They assured the pair that they would be happy for them to marry when that agreement was obtained, but not before, and they trusted that it would not be denied for long. There need be no expectation of money from the father, since his son’s present income already made him independent and comfortable, their daughter could not hope for more.
The young people were not surprised by this decision. They were, of course, upset, but they parted from each other with the hope that the General’s opinion could be changed very soon. Henry returned to what was now his only home, at Woodston, to look after his parish and to make improvements to his house for his future wife; Catherine remained at Fullerton to cry rather dramatically and to look forward to regular letters from Henry. We need not enquire whether the difficulties of absence were made easier by such secret communication. Mr and Mrs Morland never did — they had been too kind to demand promises and whenever Catherine received a letter, which happened quite often, they always looked the other way.
As we approach the last of these pages, you will have guessed that a happy ending is promised very soon. The only doubt can be the way in which perfect happiness was achieved. What circumstance could possibly change the General’s opinion of a marriage between his son and Miss Morland?
The answer was another marriage. In the course of the summer, Eleanor Tilney married a young man with a large fortune and a very respectable position in society. Such an addition to his own importance threw the General into a good mood for months, and Eleanor insisted that he must forgive Henry and accept Catherine as his future daughter-in-law.
Everyone who knows Eleanor Tilney will, I am sure, congratulate her and wish her well in the home and with the man of her choice, away from the strict discipline of Northanger Abbey. My own joy on the occasion is very sincere. I know of no one who, after all her suffering, deserves happiness more.
And her husband was a young man who truly deserved her: he was not only rich and important, but also affectionate and charming. Eleanor had known him for years, but General Tilney had approved of him as little as he approved of Catherine, and for the same reason: he came from a respectable family with no money. But then this young man inherited an enormous fortune as well as a title, and the General’s opinion changed immediately. Suddenly he too could see that Eleanor’s future husband was the most charming young man in the world. And I should add that this was the same gentleman whose careless servant left the laundry lists in a drawer at Northanger Abbey and involved our heroine in one of her most alarming adventures.
Eleanor and her delightful, rich husband used their influence to persuade the General that Henry should be allowed to marry Catherine Morland. In fact, they explained that Catherine was not, in fact, poor and would have an income of her own of three thousand pounds a year, and that her father was much wealthier than John Thorpe had reported during his second meeting with General Tilney. As a result of this happy news, the General soon permitted his son to return to Northanger Abbey and wrote to Mr Morland, politely giving his agreement to the marriage of his younger son and the Morlands’ eldest daughter.
The event which the General’s letter permitted soon followed: Henry and Catherine were married, the church bells rang and everybody celebrated. The wedding took place less than twelve months after the young couple had met, so the General’s cruelty did not hurt them very much or for very long. To begin perfect happiness at twenty-six and eighteen is to do quite well. I should add, moreover, that perhaps the General added to this happiness by delaying the marriage and giving them time to improve their knowledge of each other and to strengthen their attachment.
I leave it for you to make a final judgement on this question: Is the purpose of this story to recommend parental cruelty, or to reward a son’s disobedience?