The Thorpe Conspiracy Theory? - (long)
Posted by Carolyn B on January 05, 1998 at 19:14:04:
Okay, I think there aren't any spoilers in this now.....
Here's a question that cropped up when I was reading the intro to the NA Penguin Classics edition (1995) by former Cambridge Professor Marilyn Butler:
Did Isabella and John Thorpe actively conspire to secure the affections of James and Catherine Morland? The book does not state it outright (though readers can find plenty of clues to form a conspiracy theory). The movie seems to imply that John was pushing Isabella.
Butler suggests that Isabella could be seen as the grand conspirator. I have always felt that while Isabella was after James, she was a bit too self-centered to be really actively trying to arrange a match between her brother and Catherine at the beginning, and certainly not on the scale of planning suggested below. What do you think?
Marilyn Butler writes:
"But the plot of Northanger Abbey resembles the plot of Emma; each is a detective story without a detective. A reader going back over the clues can build up a case against Isabella which is blacker than anything quite said of her.
"Is it only events that seem to conspire against the innocent heroine? For many years Isabella, eldest of the fatherless Thorpe children, must have been hearing the name of one of her mother's few prosperous friends, Mrs. Allen of Fullerton. It is surely no coincidence that when John Thorpe meets at Oxford a fellow student, James Morland, who comes from Fullerton, he is encouraged to bring him home that very Christmas vacation. During his week with the Thorpes at Putney, James is easily fascinated by Isabella. Soon she has got him to talk about his family, and the Allens, and his sister Catherine's imminent visit to Bath with the Allens."
This suggestion I find a bit of a stretch, since Mrs. Thorpe and Mrs. Allen "had been contented to know nothing of each other for the past fifteen years" (chapter 4) And the Allens don't go to Bath until February, according to Butler's footnote on the text. Did James actually know at Christmas?
"Isabella's first stratagem is to lead a family party. . . to Bath. Otherwise John and James would not be arriving in Bath to see Isabella - rather than Catherine, as Catherine supposes. Isabella has her own engagement in mind from the outset, and presumably John's, or he would not be cooperating; but the eventually disposable fortune of the childless Allens may well be a target she has in view for herself and James, even if John Thorpe believes it is coming to him. She takes care to walk home with Catherine on the day of their meeting, and in the 'eight or nine days' before the arrival of John and James she is in the company of Catherine and Mrs. Allen each day.
"Harder than her mother and more purposeful than John, Isabella is, according to this reading, the conspirator who at Bath controls the threads of the plot. Soon she fills the timetable of her whole circle. Her effective management of Catherine not only forces Catherine constantly into John's company, . . . but interrupts Catherine's friendship with the Tilneys. The latter return to Bath the same day as John and James reach it, and during the next few days Henry finds his efforts to make contact with Catherine frustrated. It is in the full knowledge of Catherine's confessed interest in Henry that the Thorpes entangle her in a web of engagements: Isabella emerges in this interpretation as a female Iago . . ., who comes close to wrecking Catherine's happiness as well as her brother's."
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