At the risk of subjecting you – my lovely readers – to another ‘fangirl’ style gush (see Holden Caulfield & George) I have to admit the reason for my envying Austen’s Northanger Abbey heroine, is basically because she gets to make out with Henry Tilney.
Mr. Tilney may well be my new favourite Austen hunk. He’s a bit more fun than Mr. Darcy, and doesn’t come with any of the incest-adjacent awkwardness of Edmund Bertram or Mr. Knightly. He’s understood to be discreetly handsome, very intelligent, and a lover of books – both novels and history. So if you’re anything like me (see: low self esteem & probable future librarian) your loins must quiver at the thought.
Of course as with any Austen man there is some criticism surrounding Tilney’s treatment of women in the text. Admittedly he’s a bit of a jerk towards Catherine by subtly poking fun at her naivity. But even when he picks at the semantics of her word choice I cannot help but forgive him. After all, Catherine is devastatingly immature in a lot of ways and Henry is really only being flirtatious. I think my weakness here is because my favourite Austen characters are always the ones who playfully undermine others through quick wit and wordplay – a la Mr. Bennet.
Come shall I make you understand each other, or leave you to puzzle out an explanation as you can? No, I will be noble. I will prove myself a man no less by the generosity of my soul, than the clearness of my head. I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours. Perhaps the abilities of women are neither sound nor acute, neither vigorous nor keen. Perhaps they may want observation, discernment, judgment, fire, genius, and wit.
Can’t you just see the cheeky gin on his face? Perhaps not? But I choose to believe his speech is full of jest and endearment rather than arrogance, because he’s still the perfect gentleman where it counts. He’s considerate and attentive when Catherine receives bad news from her brother, he forgives her when she lets her imagination get the better of her, and his love for his sister seems to breed a respect for women in general – at least as much as the context permits. Plus he redeems himself in the end (spoilers) through the most romantic of gestures – going against his father’s wishes to seek our heroine’s hand.
Of course Catherine’s success in marriage isn’t the only reason I wish I was more like her. She also has a family who compensate for lack of money with unconditional love, a wild imagination that can add intrigue to the dullest of situations, and an admirable sense of independence considering her age. The only real criticism I have is that her tomboy side could have been played up. But instead of placing the blame on Catherine here I’ll implicate the age and the author. Perhaps Austen was unaware of the ground to be forged here.