It’s a truth universally acknowledged that one silly list about Jane Austen’s books must lead to another (see my last grading the marriages of Pride and Prejudice) so I’ve gone through and analyzed the characters of Northanger Abbey from a different angle. Whether or not they are all really the incurable assholes they seem to be.
What are my determining factors? Besides pure capriciousness, I looked at whether they hurt any of the characters in the book and whether they were considered assholes in their own time. Then I slapped some good old twenty-first century judgment into the mix. What do you think? Do the characters who populate this gothic satire deserve the title?
Isabella is one of the worst types of people: one who pretends to love and dote on you but is really just using your connections to improve her own position. She remains firmly unrepentant until the end, trying to backpedal on her rejection of Catherine’s brother when she discovers that a less-than-rich husband is better than no husband at all. The fact that Catherine decides never to speak to her again? Perfect. Verdict: Selfish Asshole
Isabella’s brother is even worse than she is, which I wouldn’t have thought possible, but his selfishness has a sinister element. In addition to bragging about himself constantly and trying to marry Catherine because he thinks she’s wealthy, John is willing to lie to anybody to get his way and laughs about kidnapping. Seriously. The dude lies to Catherine and then essentially kidnaps her by refusing to let her out of his carriage when she’s pleading for him to stop. Then he laughs at her distress. If he appeared several hundred years later in The Hunger Games, he’d fit right in as a gleeful head gamemaker. Verdict: Complete Asshole
Her innocence and naiveté might be occasionally grating, but really, she’s just a genuinely nice person. There is the one instance where she suspects General Tilney of having murdered his wife, but honestly those suspicions are not entirely off the mark considering the grand douchiness of General Tilney. Verdict: Not an Asshole
Catherine’s brother might mean well, but he falls in with the self-absorbed crowd. When he wants to marry Isabella, he’s willing to completely ignore his sister in favor of her friend and lie to her just so he has the chance to take Isabella on a carriage ride. He gains some points back for writing to Catherine after Isabella dumps him, and it seems like he’s learned his lesson. So maybe he’ll be a little less self-involved in the future. Verdict: Only Sort of an Asshole
He’s handsome, charming, and rich, and he’s way more friendly than Darcy ever tries to be. Henry also makes a couple of interesting comments about men and women being generally equal, but then he does go on to lecture Catherine at every opportunity about the shit he knows and she doesn’t. Maybe he’s a product of his time, but I still give him a finger wag for talking down to her. You’re not the hottest shit in the world, Henry. Verdict: Asshole on a Rotating Basis
Again, General Tilney would earn the biggest asshole title in the book if it wasn’t for John Thorpe’s habit of kidnapping people. But turning out a girl with no notice and without any money for her to get to her home 30 miles away? I mean, he’s still a pretty big dick. General Tilney is polite to Catherine based on the assumption of her wealth, and aside from his distasteful gold digging, he also seems to be overbearing enough that his children are afraid to speak out in his presence. He’s one of the first helicopter parents. Awful. Verdict: Total Asshole
Mrs. Allen is an asshole in the sense that vaguely wealthy people who only have to worry about their dresses are kind of assholes. She does have a tendency to take on her husband’s opinion no matter what, which is irritating, but probably says more about how marriages honestly worked in the 1800s. She is at least genuinely fond of Catherine and tries her best. So, not someone you’d want to talk at a party, but not the worst. Verdict: Mostly Not an Asshole
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