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|Learning to read people---how is our Catherine faring? (Long)
Written by BarbaraB
(4/17/2012 6:37 p.m.)
Catherine arrives in Bath, an inexperienced country girl, amongst the hustle and bustle of a city society. Her artless honesty is refreshing and charming but that lack of experience makes her vulnerable to the likes of people like the Thorpes. If Catherine had exposed herself to more literature, history, maybe some readings in philosophy, etc., which have a foundation in realism, despite her country upbringing, it would have gone a long way toward making her more knowledgeable in the ways of the world. Instead she gorged herself on a steady diet of fantasy which has done nothing to help prepare her for life as it is really lived.
The first person she meets is Henry who begins a series of lessons that are ‘taught’ in witty, clever conversations that come up randomly as they talk and get to know each other. When Isabella comes on the scene, except for the previous evening with Henry who is now nowhere to be seen, Catherine has spent many boring hours listening to Mrs. Allen’s fun-filled conversations concerning fashion, her own in particular, and her unending sighs of their having no acquaintance. An older, worldly, self assured Isabella sets down in Bath, a whirlwind of personality, flattery and experience with her knowledge of balls and fashion and Bath, etc, and seems an open door to all the adventures Catherine has been longing for.
Isabella, takes control of Catherine, pretty much ‘demanding’ an instant friendship by having Catherine walk arm in arm with her around the Pump Room and then insisting on walking her to her door and giving an exaggerated handshake. (I believe a handshake would have been unusual on the first day of knowing someone at that time.) That night at the theater, Isabella claims much of Catherine’s leisure from across the way with her nods and smiles, determines their reading list, usurps Catherine’s individuality by wanting to wear the same dress (or tries to as I’m not sure they actually end of wearing the same dress), eventually reaching the point where she literally grabs hold her to physically restrain her.
When Eleanor arrives, besides being Henry’s sister, Catherine wants to get to know her, is attracted by her more appropriate and elegant self-assurance, seeing her as someone she would like to be friends with--- I think without knowing it she senses genuineness and someone as likable as her brother, Henry.
Though an innocent, Catherine is not completely without some tools of her own. She has her principles which are quite helpful and she has good instinct but usually lacks the self-assurance to use it. She pegs James Thorpe immediately which is not difficult since he is so blatant. This past Sunday, on a special 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace was referred to as an Equal Opportunity Offender. It was said with what I felt was fondness and came off as a compliment. I had put down my copy of NA to listen and the term seemed so apt for James Thorpe though it is meant, on my part, as no compliment. Family, friends, acquaintances are all victims of the James Thorpe Treatment.
While James is an easy call for Catherine, she has not had enough practice in reading people to realize that Isabella has a hidden agenda and conceals much beneath an exuberant, ‘let’s be friends‘ exterior with her apparent nod to decorum. I like the way Alistar Duckworth explains it: “...Isabella’s apparent observation of decorous standards is the hypocrite's recognition that it pays to simulate propriety. Aware that there are public norms of behavior, Isabella seeks to justify her conduct by seeming to observe them.”
Catherine’s instinct does recognize that Isabella isn’t quite what she should be at all times. For instance, when Isabella expresses a desire to have Catherine point out who Mr. Tilney is she says, “Point him out to me this instant...” (8) and in the next intake of breath turns to tease James about not listening in on their conversation and Catherine “could not avoid a little suspicion at the total suspension of all Isabella’s impatient desire to see Mr. Tilney.” (8) Another time when James tricks Catherine into riding in his carriage instead of waiting for the Tilneys, and on top of that the Blaize Castle trip is a bust, and she is hurt and upset after learning that the Tilneys had indeed called on her, “Catherine could almost have accused Isabella of being wanting in tenderness towards herself and her sorrows, so very little did they appear to dwell on her mind, and so very inadequate was the comfort she offered.” (11) Yet another time, when Isabella accuses Catherine of preferring to be BFF with the Tilney’s over her when Catherine will not go out in the carriage for the third time, “Catherine thought this reproach equally strange and unkind. Was it the part of a friend thus to expose her feelings to the notice of others? Isabella appeared to her ungenerous and selfish, regardless of everything but her own gratification.” (13) And even though Catherine allows her penchant for fantasy to carry her over the threshold into imagining that the General has done something ‘horrid’ to his wife, her instinct based on realistic observations of him is good one---she does not find him a likable, amiable man and I believe she senses something about him beyond that though I’m not sure she can be specific about it.
So to wind this up, I think Catherine is making good progress. She arrived in Bath with a foundation of good morals and principles to help her learn to avoid missteps. She eagerly soaks up Henry’s lessons. (She admires his verbal ability and knowledge, but is not intimidated and is able jump into the spirit of all conversations giving opinions, etc.) She tries to work things out through reflection and asks for guidance when she feels she needs it. These things serve her well as long as she doesn’t veer off the path of reality.
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