The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen compiled by editors Edward Copeland and Juliet McMaster. 2003 (originally printed in 1997).
So I read this book I think about five years ago. There is a brief biography of Austen’s life: her as a writer; a work on Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility, and Pride & Prejudice; Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion; her short stories; the Austen letters; class-consciousness; economy of the culture; religion and politics; style in the novels; the significance of her juvenile works; and Austen cults/cultures.
I thought this book was…okay.
Some of the essays had some very interesting points
While others were boring or just rehashed old ideas that you already knew.
Now in this book’s defense it was published almost twenty years ago, so the ideas in were most likely new at the time. However, some of those writers are just so dusty. You don’t have to write about the past and make it so stifling.
The essay that I recall the most, was the one about Northanger Abbey. It was written by Rachel M. Brownstein and I hated it.
In her essay she writes about how Northanger Abbey is a parody of the romantic genre that was popular at the time. I was okay with that.
Northanger Abbey in a way is a rewrite of The Female Quixote or The Adventures of Arabella by Charlotte Lennox. In fact I agreed with a lot of what she said. How Austen made fun of the romantic tropes, actually quite snarkly. In fact she would have fit in today, on Youtube right next to Nostalgia Critic or something.
The part I didn’t like was when she started talking smack about Mr. Tilney.
In her essay she discusses how Mr. Tilney is the most “feminine” of the Austen heroes and that he is dominated by his father; never really making a move or taking any action toward Catherine; everything being done by General Tilney.
So as you can tell I had major issues with that.
So she concludes that he is “feminine” rather than “masculine” because he is interested in muslin (something only for a woman), is dominated by his father, and reads novels. I however, feel he is no less masculine than any other Austen man.
1)Interest in Muslin
So Catherine has just met Mr. Henry Tilney who is unlike any man she has met or read in books. Instead of being tall, dark, and brooding; he is jovial, saracastic, witty, hilarious, etc. No reserve for him.
They begin on the subject of muslin by Mrs. Allen who is speaking on her muslin dress and how she would hate for it to be torn. It is a favorite of hers and cost but nine shillings a yard. Henry shares that he would have guessed that as he is a great judge of muslin. He buys his own cravats and sometimes his sister’s gowns.
Now there are many ways to look at this:
1. Henry is a Down to Earth Man
So Henry Tilney is a middle son. He knows that like most middle children, he will not inherit much but instead has to make his own fortune.
Military is out as his older brother is in it already, (who wants to be compared to him?), and it doesn’t suit his temperament. He choose the church as a profession, and while he will live comfortably he won’t be a millionaire, unless he marries up. And until he finds this rich heiress to marry, he most likely won’t have servants doing the shopping for him, so he’ll probably have to go out and do it himself.
He knows his fabric, most likely because he is getting used to living within a means.
2. Henry is a Good Brother
Eleanor Tilney is the youngest of the Tilney clan. She is very reserved and quiet; due to her father General Tilney’s tyrannical ways. We know that the father emotionally abused the mother with his attitude and temperament, being a vampire of spirit, and it is easily concluded that he did the same with his daughter. Because of this, Eleanor doesn’t have many friends, the only one being her brother Henry, and then later Catherine.
The eldest Tilney, Captain Fredrick Tilney, is a lot like his father. He is no friend of Eleanor; leaving Henry to shoulder the big brother responsibilities and to be the protector of his sister. Like Mr. Darcy, there are probably a ton of different things he does for his sister, buying her clothing the least of it.
3. Henry is Being Sarcastic
We know that Mr. Tilney has a wicked sense of humor. He is sarcastic, funny, and likes going against society (not 100% but a mini rebellion).
Right before this exchange he and Catherine are discussing her time in Bath, with Mr. Tilney sassily and snarkily making fun of how society expects such bland converstion (much of how Elizabeth does when she and Darcy dance in Pride & Prejudice).
“[Mr. Tilney] I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether. I have been very negligent-but are you now at leisure to satisfy me in these particulars? If you are I will begin directly.’
[Catherine Moreland] ‘You need not give yourself that trouble sir.’
[Mr. Tilney] ‘No trouble I assure you, madam.’ Then forming his features in a set smile, and affectedly softening his voice, he added, with a simpering air, ‘Have you been long in Bath, madam?’
‘About a week, sir. ‘ replied Catherine, trying not to laugh.
‘Really!’ [said Mr. Tilney] with affected astonishment.
‘Why should you be surprised. sir?’ [asked Catherine]
‘Why, indeed!’ said he, in his natural tone. ‘But some emotion must appear to be raised by your reply, and surprise is more easily assumed…
This teasing continues for a while, with Catherine trying her best to withold her laughter.
So we know that Mr. Tilney is a kidder. He likes to joke around, and he likes to be sassy; it is easy to believe that his remarks on muslin are all just one big joke. That he knows nothing about muslin, but is just being sarcastic again.
Maybe he decides to play along with what Mrs. Allen is saying as he is in a silly/sarcastic mood, trying to make Catherine laugh once again. We know he likes to tease, and make fun of other’s foibles (eccentricities) so it is easy to conclude that.
Well, whether he knows his muslin, is a good brother, or just making fun. Mrs. Allen believes he knows his stuff, and that is good enough for me.
2) Dominated by His Father
How do I describe General Tilney?
He pretended to be sweet, charming, and kind to win the heart of a wealthy woman, but later revealed his true colors. He was tyrannical and his way always the right one or else. He held all the power and expected his children to bow to his will or find themselves with nothing.
How is this less than other Austen characters? Mr. Darcy isn’t dominated by a person, per say, but by society. He knows himself to be attracted to Elizabeth, but feels he cannot marry her as she isn’t in his class, nor does he want to be chained to her family. He does all he can to not want to be with her, but ultimately succumbs.
Edward Ferrars is just as dominated by the head of his family, although in this case it is his mother. Just like in the Tilney clan, you must do what she says or risk losing it all. Edward’s mother wants him to follow a more elite career, while Edward wants to be a minister. He almost gives into his mother’s wishes; but luckily stays true to who he is.
And this was something that happened a lot back then. With inheritance being the key to living comfortably, and rich relatives holding the power, more often than not people always had to bend to their will.
3) Reading Novels
So in the 18th century there was what historians call the “reading revolution”. With the printing press improvements that occured then and in the early 19th century, books could be printed more easily and cheaply. Reading and owning books became a huge phenomenon as almost everyone had the ability to purchase them.
Everything from science, to books we now call classics, novels, romance, history, to cheap thrills, etc. Such romances like The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk were popular, but thought to be purposely explicit and exploiting, “women’s cheap novels” but read by all.
So while it would be unusual for Mr. Tilney to admit to reading them, it is not unusual for him to actually read them as most men do. But this admittance goes with his character as we have already seen that Tilney doesn’t feel the need to be reserved but is more open in his demeanor.
Besides as this is still a romance, whether parody or remake, and as Catherine is an avid book reader, her hero has to be as much a reader as her. After all, there is nothing sexier then meeting a man who loves to read.
4) Never Makes a Move or Takes any Action Toward Catherine
Did you not read the end of the book? Yes, Mr. Tilney does not invite Catherine to his house, his dad does as he is trying to hook them up, but what about that final scene? You know the one where he goes after Catherine and asks her to marry him risking everything for her?
He is gone from the family home when Catherine was given the boot. When he returns and finds out what happened, he could have just let it go. Or he could have gone and apologized to Catherine, returning home and continuing the search for a wealthy bride. But does he do that? NO! He goes after her, having more balls than Mr. Darcy and Edward Ferrars.
He not only goes to her house and humbles himself in front of her and her family, but is willing to throw his entire fortune away for her, not even knowing if she feels the same way about him. She could tell him no and then he would end up with nothing, having turned on his father.
Mr. Darcy never went to Elizabeth in such a way, begging her forgiveness. He worked on himself and helped the family, by saving Lydia, but never threw himself at Elizabeth’s feet. Edward comes to Elinor to share his feelings, but he never apologizes for leading her on while engaged or tried to apologize for his behavior, (except for that one time he was interrupted by Lucy before he could say anything). Only Mr. Tilney throws all caution to the wind, and gives up everything for the woman he loves.
Mr. Tilney…what else can I say about you?
You are definitely hero material
For more on Mr. Tilney, go to God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
For more on Northanger Abbey, go to Waiter, There’s Some Disney in My Jane Austen
For more on Jane Austen, go to Jane, Jane, Jane: A Jane Austen Biography