There will always be differences between men and women. Besides the obvious differences, men and women received different educations, upbringings, and places in society. Men, more often than not, benefit from these differences and their role in society. The men of Northanger Abbey are no different. The men of this story create boundaries to control and manipulate the women. Language and knowledge is often used against the women as a form of intimidation and controlling the conversation. When we first meet Henry Tilney he engages in a conversation with Mrs.
Allen about the ways of muslin and women’s dress. “Do you understand muslin, sir? ” “Particularly well; I always buy my own cravats, and am allowed to be an excellent judge; and my sister has often trusted me in the choice of a gown. I bought one for her the other day, and it was pronounced to be a prodigious bargain by every lady who saw it. I gave but five shillings a yard for it, and a true Indian muslin”(12). Here we see Tilney assuming the language of women; in doing so he is inserting himself into their world and controlling the conversation.
He is praised for his interest and knowledge of muslin, but is he even interested? “Mr. Tilney was polite enough to seem interested in what she said; and she kept him on the subject of muslins till the dancing recommenced”(13). This statement, that he was “polite enough to seem interested,” suggests that he is not truly concerned about muslin and dresses but is instead exercising his power of control simply because he can. This conversation could be considered an intrusion, on his part, into the world of women.
Men control so much of the world, especially at this time, meaning women have very few spaces to themselves. One could argue that he is simply trying to relate to them and spark a conversation. But the way he talks about muslin, especially Catherine’s dress, comes across as condescending. If he was looking to strike a conversation, why this subject in particular? Does he assume muslin and clothing are all women are capable of talking about? A similar interaction is seen in a conversation between Tilney, his sister Eleanor, and Catherine.
The topic in this instance is novels and Catherine, being so enthralled with them, uses the word “nice” to express her fondness for one of her favorites. “But now really, do not you think Udolpho the nicest book in the world? ” “The nicest;-by which I suppose you mean the neatest. That must depend upon the binding”(72). Tilney proceeds to go on an extensive rant on Catherine’s improper use of the word “nice. ” This unnecessary and rather harsh critique intimidates Catherine, leading her to believe she has done something wrong or even offended him. “… nd this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies.
Oh! it is a very nice word indeed! -it does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement;-people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word”(72). Again Tilney is in control of the conversation, using his higher education against her. At this time, he would have received a rather different education from Catherine, a more extensive one to be sure.
So an innocent mistake on her part becomes something more. Perhaps for him this display of knowledge is an ego boost, showing he is more knowledgable and educated than his female counterpart. This is not to say that Catherine is in some way of less intelligence than Tilney, but he makes her feel that she is. Ultimately, his condescending tone eventually silences her. John Thorpe does something similar in just about every conversation he has with Catherine with his constant droning on about himself and his horses.
Of course there are topics that would be more familiar to a man or woman. The rather masculine topic of horses and gigs is foreign to Catherine and as a result she is unable to carry a conversation with him. “Thorpe’s ideas then all reverted to the merits of his own equipage, and she was called on to admire the spirit and freedom with which his horse moved along, and the ease which his paces, as well as the excellence of the springs, gave the motion of the carriage. She followed him in all his admiration as well as she could. To go before, or beyond him, was impossible.
His knowledge and her ignorance of the subject, his rapidity of expression, and her diffidence of herself put that out of her power; she could strike out nothing new in commendation, but she readily echoed whatever he chose to assert, and it was finally settled between them without any difficult, that his equipage was altogether the most complete of its kind in England, his carriage the neatest, his horse the best goer, and himself the best coachman” (40). Her sheltered nature certainly contributes to her ignorance but is he aware of it?
If he is he doesn’t seem to care. There are other boundaries these men create that are not quite physical but are boundaries nonetheless. Thorpe, due to his conceited nature, has this narrative, this delusion that Catherine is in love with him. Throughout the novel he attempts to impose this belief on Catherine, creating boundaries to make her play along. Here, Thorpe uses wordplay to slyly propose a marriage to Catherine and impose his fantasy on her. “A famous good things this marrying scheme, upon my soul! A clever fancy of Morland’s and Belle’s.
What do you think of it, Miss Morland? | say it is no bad notion. ” “I am sure I think it a very good one. ” “Do you? -that’s honest, by heavens! I am glad you are no enemy to matrimony however. Did you ever hear the old song, ‘Going to one wedding brings another? ‘ I say, you will come to Belle’s wedding, I hope. ” “Yes, I have promised to our sister to be with her, if possible. ” “And the you know”-twisting himself about and forcing a foolish laugh-“I say, then you know, we may try the truth of this same old song”(84).
Catherine, in her innocence or ignorance, does not notice this subtle proposal. Instead of proposing to her directly, he again uses words to control the conversation, taking her innocent naive answer as a yes to his proposal, if one can call it that. Why not ask her directly? Perhaps he is afraid of rejection or he knows he can manipulate her to get his way. Catherine is later put in an uncomfortable situation. When later confronted about it she is alarmed and immediately declines his advances.
This refusal paints her in a bad light, as some kind of seductress flirting with Thorpe’s emotions. This narrative of Thorpe’s continues on several occasions where he assumes she is his automatically. He shows up to dance and is shocked to find her with another man, Tilney. “Heyday, Miss Morland! ” said he,”what is the meaning of this? | thought you and I were to dance together. ” “I wonder you should think so, for you never asked me. ” “That is a good one, by Jove! -I asked you as soon as I came into the room…
I only came for the sake of dancing with you, and I firmly believe you were engaged to me ever since Monday” (48). He never did ask her to dance but in his mind she belongs to him. His language is possessive and a bit manipulative, stating, “I only came for the sake of dancing with you,” is an attempt at guilting her to get his way. In the end, he doesn’t even seem that interested, “This was the last sentence by which he could weary Catherine’s attention, for he was just then born off by the resistless pressure of a long string of passing ladies” (48).
He seems to just want to control her and when he can’t his attention is quickly moved elsewhere. This narrative of Thorpe’s gives Catherine no say in the matter. His complete disregard for her wishes and her voice makes her appear more as an object to be won than a person. In this same scene Tilney makes a similar attempt and tries to control Catherine by setting odd and rather absurd boundaries. “He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me.
We have entered into a contract of mutual agreeableness for the space of an evening, and all our agreeableness belongs solely to each other for that time. dy can fasten themselves on the notice of one, without injuring the rights of the other. I consider a country-dance as an emblem of marriage” (49). Equating a dance to a marriage bond is his attempt at claiming her as his own. Again, like Thorpe, his language is possessive and almost setting a physical boundary. His very first statement illustrates this clearly, “He has no business to withdraw the attention of my partner from me.
Here he states that alone has the right to decide who she speaks to and the use of the word contract and “my partner” also suggests that she is chained to him. When Catherine disagrees with his assessment he uses language to intimidate her and ultimately bullies her into submissions. It is only when she does submit to his control that he lets the subject drop. Although most of the men of this story impose boundaries on the women, I think it important to consider their intentions. Are these men aware of what they are doing?
Thorpe is so lost in his narrative, and himself, that he doesn’t seem to notice or maybe he doesn’t care. Tilney on the other hand appears to have good intentions but comes across as condescending. Regardless of their intentions, their actions can be seen as a reflection of society. A reflection of the differences in the education of men and women, and how they are taught to conduct themselves. Women are taught to be submissive, men are taught to take control. So, can we blame them for their behavior? They are after all a product of society.