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|The Irritating John Thorpe
Written by Mark C
(4/6/2003 11:22 p.m.)
in consequence of the missive, GR: John Thorpe - GRRRRR!!, penned by Cheryl
That's un understatment, to be sure! The antics of John Thorpe were enough to nearly make me exclaim aloud while reading, most especially when he returns with the news that he has postponed Catherine's engagement with the Tillneys. What an interfering....
When the party arrived to take Catherine on their aborted day trip toward Clifton, it first seemed as if it was a situation where most of the usual gang had decided they wanted to do something, and came to cajole Catherine into going along too. They talked as if it were a foregone conclusion that Catherine would do whatever that group was going to do; that they could sweep in with a plan fully hatched and Catherine would simply go along as a matter of course. I'm not sure if they expected some resistance or not, but the lies John Thorpe hatched, while clearly boorish behavior, also struck me as not much more than the friendly nagging young people will do to get a reluctant friend to go with them on some scheme or another. In short, it was behavior I wouldn't encourage, but not anything so unusual.
And then they passed the Tillneys just a short distance from Catherine's lodgings. John's refusal to stop does strike me as rather selfish and self-centered. He's got the person he wants to go for a drive with in his carriage, and he isn't going to let anything, even her distress get in the way. It was here that I began to wonder at his motive, but I'll get to that below.
Next we come to the point were James Morland pulls his carriage up to say that they had better go back, since they started so late. John Thorpe virtually explodes at the suggestion. Why? Is it just that he has a hot temper? Is it just that he isn't getting his way? Or is there something else? He behavior is quite shocking.
Then there is the incident Sunday afternoon on the Crescent. "No" was just not an acceptable answer. Anything must be done in order to get Catherine to come with them the next day. Simple persuasion didn't work. Isabella's emotional display in an attempt to force acquiescence didn't work. Statements of an impossibility of delay didn't work. So Thorpe goes off and lies Catherine's way out of her engagement, so as to force no alternative but for Catherine to ride out with them the next day. It is, indeed, easy to hear the horror in Catherine's voice upon the news: "You have not!" The lack of any sense of common curtsey, honor, and good moral sense on the part of John Thorpe is amazing. He has gone from a bothersome annoyance to a truly despicable character.
But I wonder if we center too much here on just John Thorpe. What of the role of Isabella? She most certainly participates in the attempts to persuade and cajole Catherine into doing what she and John (and James) are planning. Is she following John's lead or is John following hers? Certainly her complicity should not escape notice.
And what of the motivation here? We end up with many possible reasons. There is the utter self-centeredness of John Thorpe (and Isabella for that matter). They appear to be primarily interested in their own pleasure. Can we ascribe their behavior only to selfishness and bad manners? I'm not at all sure we can. Thorpe is certainly interested in money. He asks probing questions about the Allens and James. James is unable to afford to keep a horse, yet John has one and puts up some bluster at James not having one. I suspect that he is very much over spending at the moment in order to impress. Are the Thorpes both looking for some money to marry? It seems as much to me, at least at this point.
It appears a good amount of effort is put in to keep Catherine away from the Tillneys. Could these attempts to basically kidnap Catherine be about keeping her away from them? But, if that is the case, why are they so determined to do so? Seeking their own pleasure doesn't seem to fully explain it, although it is part of the package. Could it be just a rivalry for Catherine's attention and affection (and even her perceived present or future money)? Quite possible, but I find that a bit unsatisfying as well. There seems to be more. Is Thorpe afraid that if Catherine becomes aquatinted with some descent folk, that she will discover what Thorpe really is? It also seems to me that there is some real dislike for the Tillneys on the part of John Thorpe, at least.
I'm quite interested in seeing how this plays out (this is my first time through Northanger Abbey). I might be out in left field on some of this, but we shall see.
BTW, I found this reading to have even more humor than the previous one, some of it rather understated. One of my favorites is a simple observation when Catherine returns from the aborted outing with the Thorpes and her brother in chapter 9:
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