Learning to be an Austen Man


Photo courtesy of Muffet and Flickr CC

Photo courtesy of Muffet and Flickr CC

Dear Henry Tilney,  

Please consult Mr. Darcy on how to be a true Austen man.

Sincerely, all the women who read Northanger Abbey!    


Until this summer, I had not read Austen’s “Northanger Abbey.” I know, what true Janeite doesn’t binge read all of the novels, every year? One of the many perks of writing for Dark Jane Austen is that I have an official excuse to read her novels. While I love “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” and “Persuasion,” I really have very mixed feelings about Northanger. Yes, I understand that Austen did not polish this novel as she did some of her other works, that the title wasn’t her original, that a good revision would have made it better but a writer can’t really revise her work dead. But I really need to get this out in the open:

I did not like Northanger Abbey and it is ALL Henry Tilney’s fault!

I should probably also blame Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth here too because they are just as culpable. But I can’t deny that when I read an Austen novel I need the leading man, the guy gets the girl, to be likeable. Or in Mr. Darcy’s, he became a nicer guy. But even Darcy and Wentworth had something going for them that Tilney doesn’t–real presence in their respective novels.

In Northanger, we see more of  the Thorpe’s attachment and presence in the novel than we do Henry Tilney. Not that I am saying Catherine should have ended up with Thorpe because he really is a world class jackass, but he has an established presence during their time in Bath. His character feels more developed and rounded where as Tilney feels hollow and ghost-like.

And what Austen man would allow his girl to be treated in such a fashion as Henry Tilney did?

Let’s be clear again, a real Austen man would have fought to help keep his lady’s honor and reputation. What does Tilney do? Oh well, here’s the coach and you get to go by yourself. Tough luck but don’t worry it will work out in the end because someone may have reading the ending to avoid throwing the novel in an attempt to hit Henry Tilney on the head. Sure, he comes back for her, but it just wasn’t enough to redeem him as an Austen man.

What are your feelings regarding Henry Tilney? Like or dislike as an Austen man?

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  • Allison Petersen

    First, Northanger Abbey is my second favorite Austen novel behind Pride and Prejudice so you know I’m going to take exception with your view on it. Also, Tilney is my second favorite Austen hero behind Darcy. He’s open, smart, funny, self depricating and kind. No he’s not complicated, misunderstood or brooding like other Austen heros, but he’s just the type of person someone would actually fall in love with in real life. I also think you need to read the novel again, because Henry doesn’t just let his father send Catherine away. He HAS NO IDEA THAT IT IS HAPPENING!! He’s not there, so I’m not sure what you were expecting him to do about it. When he finds out what happened, he goes to Catherine and apologizes for his father and declares himself to her. Okay, I’ll stop there. I’m very protective of this novel so when someone denigrates it, my hackles are set up and I have to defend it. Sorry if I am impertinent 🙂

    • You’re in no way being impertinent by disagreeing with my opinion of Henry Tilney. In my estimation, Tilney is too absent from the Northanger scenes, particularly when Catherine is sent away, and perhaps, Tilney should have been more aware of his father’s nature and behavior towards Catherine. I would have liked Tilney’s character to be more fleshed out, but revisions are difficult when the author is dead.

  • I think in comparing Henry Tilney with other Austen men the thing that strikes me is that he is a lightly written character. For the most part he comes off as “the guy” that Catherine Morland is crushing on. He isn’t a bold character. He’s just “the guy.” He’s nice, a bit playful, and good looking, and he becomes sweet. It isn’t until General Tilney sends Catherine away that Henry is shaken up to become aware of his feelings towards Catherine, and even then we get to the part of the novel where Austen characteristically glosses over disclosures of emotion so Henry Tilney doesn’t get much deeper as a character.

  • I admit I’ve not read NA yet but from what I’ve seen of him in several movie versions is maybe he isn’t as fleshed out is because he’s to be a bit more mysterious even to the reader, since the gothic romances are what Catherine is so in to reading. Just throwing that out there…even though I haven’t read it!

    • That’s a good point. Much of what Catherine thinks of Henry is based on her fantasies and imaginings, and we are largely kept to her point of view.