In Northanger Abbey Chapter 18, not long before Catherine Morland finally gets to fulfill her fervent dream of seeing Northanger Abbey, we read the following description of Catherine’s encounter with her strangely jittery bff Isabella Thorpe at the Pump-Room in Bath:
“With a mind thus full of happiness, Catherine was hardly aware that two or three days had passed away, without her seeing Isabella for more than a few minutes together. She began first to be sensible of this, and to sigh for her conversation, as she walked along the pump–room one morning, by Mrs. Allen’s side, without anything to say or to hear; and scarcely had she felt a five minutes’ longing of friendship, before the object of it appeared, and inviting her to A SECRET CONFERENCE, led the way to a seat. “This is my favourite place,” said she as they sat down on a bench between the doors, which COMMANDED A TOLERABLE VIEW of everybody entering at either; “IT IS SO OUT OF THE WAY.”
Catherine, observing that Isabella’s eyes were continually bent towards one door or the other, as in eager expectation, and remembering how often she had been falsely accused of being ARCH, thought THE PRESENT A FINE OPPORTUNITY FOR BEING REALLY SO; and therefore gaily said, “Do not be uneasy, Isabella, James will soon be here.”
“Psha! My dear creature,” she replied, “do not think me such a simpleton as to be always wanting to CONFINE HIM TO MY ELBOW. It would be hideous to be always together; we should be THE JEST OF THE PLACE. And so you are going to Northanger! I am amazingly glad of it. It is one of the finest old places in England, I understand. I shall depend upon a most particular description of it.”
“You shall certainly have the best in my power to give. But WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR? Are your sisters coming?”
“I am not looking for anybody. One’s eyes must be somewhere, and you know what a foolish trick I have of fixing mine, when MY THOUGHTS ARE AN HUNDRED MILES OFF. I AM AMAZINGLY ABSENT; I believe I am THE MOST ABSENT CREATURE IN THE WORLD. Tilney says it is always the case with MINDS OF A CERTAIN STAMP.”
Some sharp elves, on first reading of the novel, and all other Janeites upon rereading, know the identity of the man whom the disingenuous Isabella is watching for so anxiously. Although Catherine assumes it must be James Morland, whom Catherine naively believes is Isabella’s beloved, we, alas, know better--it is, of course, that dashing heartbreaker in a scarlet military uniform, Captain Frederick Tilney, whom Isabella is sighing for—the same rake who will, we also know, not be long in coldly jilting Isabella after Catherine is already at the Abbey.
But is there any other soldier, whose identity is known to the reader, whom Jane Austen “archly” hints at in this passage, besides Frederick Tilney, whom Isabella is thinking of?
Of course you know from past experience that if I am asking this sort of question, this is really a quiz, and I do believe there is another such solider—and so I now invite you to go back and reread the above passage in Chapter 18, and this time pay particular attention to the words in ALL CAPS. Use your imagination, think about everything you know about Jane Austen, her life and times, keeping in mind in particular Jane Austen’s witty ticcy love of puns and veiled allusions, and I bet the answer will pop into the heads of some of you.
I will be back by 10 pm EST with the answer, unless someone guesses the answer first!
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