Throughout the first half of Northanger Abbey, I found that the part of the novel that best represented textual sociality was when Catherine goes on a walk with Mr. and Miss Tilney. During the walk (pages 72-75), Catherine and Mr. Tilney discuss his opinion on novels. It appears that unlike Mr. Thorpe, Mr. Tilney finds novels totally acceptable. Furthermore, he even enjoys them and has even read Catherine’s new favorite book, The Mysteries of Udolpho. After Mr. Tilney spends some time making fun of Catherine’s grammar, she states that she does not enjoy reading history books. Catherine is surprised to find that Miss Tilney enjoys them, and questions why anyone would even bother to write one. After discussing the difficulty of learning to read, Catherine proceeds to agree with everything Mr. Tilney says.
While discussing these texts, a few different relationships are being formed. Catherine is attempting to form a friendship with Miss Tilney. It almost appears as if she is trying to impress her (and Mr. Tilney) by having enough knowledge of literature to dislike certain genres. Miss Tilney argues that she is “fond of history-and [is] very well contented to take the false with the true” (74). Catherine merely shows surprise that she likes it, and that there are “so many instances within [her] small circle of friends” of history-lovers (75). Here, Catherine shows herself to be a bit uneducated. It is unclear whether this episode helps her succeed in making better friends with Miss Tilney.
Catherine is also trying to form a romantic relationship with Mr. Tilney. She bonds with him over a shared love of novels, of a certain type. She is also surprised when he tells her he reads novels, as “they are not clever enough for [him]-gentlemen read better books” (72). After he tells her that only the stupid cannot take pleasure in a novel, she immediately agrees with him on this and on all other counts. If any kind of a relationship does form, it will be one in which he is the dominant party.
Since Mr. Tilney controls the conversation, and frequently talks down to Catherine (although not necessarily in a mean way), it seems that there are no rules for him. He teases both his sister and Catherine equally, and it seems that it is completely acceptable. The relationship between Mr. Tilney and his sister seems to have more egalitarian rules. For instance, she is allowed to tell him that he is “very impertinent” and he will take it (73). The same rules, however, do not apply to Catherine. She is allowed to cry out at his teasing, but not to put him in his place. When he makes fun of her use of the word “nice”, she can say, “it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?” (74). She can question him, but she must still submit to his teasing.
The relationship between Catherine and Mr. Tilney certainly seems to be gendered. She is clearly a subordinate, and he has no qualms about pointing this out. Later in the walk he states: “I have no patience with such of my sex as disdain to let themselves sometimes down to the comprehension of yours” (77). Although he claims he has a high opinion of women, it is clear that he does not. He claims “nature has given them so much, that they never find it necessary to use more than half” (79). Furthermore, Jane Austen herself clearly outlines the gendered relationship. She states, “a good-looking girl, with an affectionate heart and a very ignorant mind, cannot fail of attracting a clever young man” (76). Since they are moving towards the formation of a romantic relationship, it is understandable that it is gendered. The power in the relationship, however, is completely skewed towards Mr. Tilney. Through her narration, Jane Austen shows that she is against this.