A traditional Gothic novel usually requires the roles of a hero and a villain. Northanger Abbey is Gothic in genre, but Jane Austen is also mocking the Gothic genre. It is possible that she doesn’t want a typical hero or villain. The dictionary defines a villain as: “A person guilty or capable of great wickedness, scoundrel; character in a play whose evil actions or motives are important in the plot. ” General Tilney’s wife died of an illness prior to the start of the novel, leaving the General a widower. General Tilney is a father of three, he has two sons and a daughter.
It is the eldest son, Frederick, who is most like the General. The other two children, Henry and Eleanor, are not really like their father at all. Frederick and the General both have naval status, they are alike in career pattern. They are also alike in personality. General Tilney is extremely self important, which means he has a high opinion of himself or is pompous. An example of this is when he finds out that Catherine is not an heiress. Jane Austen describes him as: “Enraged with almost everybody in the world but himself”.
The General is also shallow and hypocritical, which is shown when Eleanor makes a good marriage and Jane Austen tells us that “never had the General loved his daughter so well in all her hours of companionship, utility and patient endurance, as when he first hailed her ‘Your Ladyship! ‘ ” The General is also presented as a cruel and heartless man. This is shown best when he all but throws Catherine out with no money or servant to accompany her. He gives her a carriage which causes her to suffer the social indignity of returning home in a public vehicle which would have been inappropriate in the time in which the novel was set.
Also she did not even get a choice of the time she was to leave and Eleanor was forced to tell her that she had to leave, telling her that: “Tomorrow morning is fixed for your leaving us, and not even the hour is left to your choice; the very carriage is ordered, and will be here at seven o’clock, and no servant will be offered you. ” The General has limited judgement, which is shown by the ease with which he believes John Thorpe’s lies about Catherine being an heiress. General Tilney is a greedy man.
An example of this is his encouragement of a good relationship between Catherine and Henry whilst he believes Catherine is an heiress. When talking about the breakfast set, after mentioning that he had seen some more that he would have liked to buy, Jane Austen says of the General that: “He trusted, however, that an opportunity might ere long occur of selecting one- though not for himself”, suggesting that he hoped Catherine and Henry might get married and that she might provide it. He is shown to be selfish by his desire for his children to make good marriages for his own ends, regardless of their own happiness.
Looking at the negative personality traits above that are usually needed to make somebody a villain and the negative personality traits that the General possesses, it is easily seen that General Tilney is not a villain. General Tilney is only a villain in the eyes of Catherine who becomes convinced that the General had killed his wife who, in reality, had died of a serious illness. General Tilney doesn’t seriously affect the plot, as Catherine and Henry get together anyway, which a villain would.
Although General Tilney is not an endearing character and is selfish, self important, greedy, shallow and unkind, he is not evil and is not a villain. The dictionary defines a hero as “A man admired for achievements and noble qualities. Chief male character in a poem, play or story. ” A typical hero in a Gothic novel would be handsome, he would save the girl’s life and carry her off into the sunset. He would also display other heroic qualities such as being incredibly strong and brave.. Jane Austen makes it clear that Henry Tilney is none of these things. He is described in the introduction as “less dashing and handsome than his brother” and no mystery attaches to his birth”. Henry could be described as an anti-hero.
However Henry is the complete contrast to his father. Henry has a subtle manner and is quite witty. Henry’s wit is sometimes unexpected and bizarre, for example his knowledge of muslin: “But then you know madam that muslin always turns to some account or other” Henry has a whole conversation on muslins with Mrs Allen and Catherine almost calls him strange because of this. In the novel, Henry is often a source of humour, especially in his teasing Catherine about her Gothic fantasies, which he did a lot on their journey to Northanger Abbey.
Henry teasingly asks Catherine “And are you prepared to encounter all the horrors that a building such as “what one reads about” may produce? -Have you a stout heart? -Nerves fit for sliding panels and tapestry? ” He has strong principles and integrity. If somebody has integrity they are a man or woman of their word. Henry shows his integrity in his relationship with Catherine “he feels himself bound as much in honour as in affection to Miss Morland”. Even though his father forbade it, Henry returned to Catherine in Fullerton, so he is quite romantic. Henry takes his professional duties, in Woodston, seriously the engagements of his curate at Woodston obliging him to leave them. Henry’s personality has mainly good qualities. However it does contradict itself in that he is unusual, for example he says “I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours. ”
This means that he has no patience for men who don’t understand women, which would have been unusual at the time. He is shown as ordinary, when he visited Catherine in Fullerton, he sat, “most civilly answering all Mrs Morland’s common remarks about the weather and roads. But heroes are extraordinary and that, Henry is not. Henry is not a hero, he is too odd and domesticated to be a conventional hero. For example, Henry says to Catherine when he knows that she will be visiting him at Woodston, “I must go and prepare a meal for you to be sure. ” This shows that he is domesticated, as most men in those times would not have thought about the cooking. But, Henry is the closest thing to a hero in the novel. Henry could, however, be mistaken for a hero because of his romantic side and his returning to Catherine.