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How does Jane Austen present the contrasting characters of John Thorpe and Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey?

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Introduction

How does Jane Austen present the contrasting characters of John Thorpe and Henry Tilney? Present in every love story are two potential love interests for a heroine, Northanger Abbey being no exception. John Thorpe and Henry Tilney are these two men. Jane Austen presents the two men as contrasting characters both in their behaviour and values. The examination of these two characters is used by Austen to present to the reader good and bad social etiquette and more importantly to give her opinion on the attributes of a suitable marriage partner. Catherine's observation of the role models presented by John Thorpe and Henry Tilney is therefore used by Austen to educate and develop Catherine's character as well as forming the basis of her choice of suitor. The description of physical appearance shows from the start that Henry Tilney and John Thorpe are greatly contrasting characters. Austen describes Tilney as 'rather tall', 'quite handsome' and 'gentlemanlike'. This greatly contrasts with the appearance of Thorpe, who unlike Tilney is described as being 'middling height' and 'stout'. Henry Tilney therefore comes across as a distinguished looking man with good manners, whereas the description of John Thorpe implies a short overweight man who is plain, ungraceful and stubborn. ...read more.

Middle

However, Tilney's 'address was good' and he had a 'pleasing countenance.' This shows the difference between them both, Tilney coming out of it the better man. The fact that he is well educated yet not snobbish shows that he is a better suitor for Catherine than John Thorpe. Similarly their behaviour towards their siblings differs greatly. John Thorpe seems to use Isabella to get to Catherine. Their relationship is built on a dependency on the other. They use each other to get what they want, and team together to manipulate Catherine into doing things she doesn't want to do, for example when John is trying to take Catherine out by telling her lies 'Isabella corroborated' his points. John is rude towards Isabella, and she isn't very courteous towards him either, however, they are very similar in character. They both want money and in the end team together to get it. Henry Tilney, however, is very caring towards his sister Eleanor. They seem to be friends rather than siblings. When Catherine first sees them both Eleanor is 'leant on his arm' showing them to be close with each other. ...read more.

Conclusion

However when talking to Tilney 'it did not appear to her that life could supply any greater felicity.' She enjoys Henrys company which is a big difference to how she feels around Thorpe. Austen uses the word felicity to highlight Catherine's overall happiness and excitement to be talking to him let alone to just be near him. Also with Thorpe, after only a few acquaintances with him she is 'chiefly anxious to avoid his sight.' This emphasizes the brashness of his character. On the other hand after meeting Tilney, they 'parted on the lady's side at least, with a strong inclination for continuing the acquaintance.' She likes Tilney from the start. She likes his company and is eager to talk to someone like him. The fate of the different characters is determined by Austen's like or dislike of the particular character. She retains the characters that she herself favours, throughout the book, yet the characters she dislikes seem to have their story finished part way through. We hear no more about John Thorpe after he proposes to Catherine; his story ends a sad one. He has not won anything and has just been cut off without a proper ending. Tilney however, is a constant character throughout the book. He gets his happy ending with Catherine in the end. ...read more.

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