The Lies of Conspicuous Consumption

What I found particularly interesting about Austen’s Northanger Abbey thus far is the connection that the narrator seems to be drawing between conspicuous consumption and falsehood.  The narrator basically admits this connection when she claims that Catherine “had not been brought up…to know how many idle assertions and impudent falsehoods the excess of vanity will lead” (46).   There are a few characters that are guilty of being conspicuous consumers on the one hand, and of contradicting themselves on the other.  None of these characters stand out more than Mr. Thorpe who constantly aggrandizes himself and blatantly contradicts himself.  Mr. Thorpe and Catherine (by coercion) agree, for instance, that “it was finally settled between them without any difficulty [pun intended], that his equipage was altogether the most complex of its kind in England, his carriage the neatest, his horse the best goer, and himself the best coachman” (45).  After admitting how great he is, he goes on to belittle the carriage of Catherine’s brother by claiming it was due to fall apart by the slightest touch: “you might shake it to pieces yourself with a touch” (45).  He then claims he would not ride in it “for fifty thousand pounds” (45).  When Catherine becomes extremely concerned for the lives of the people riding in the carriage, Mr. Thorpe contradicts himself by claiming it is “safe enough” and that he would “undertake for five pounds to drive it to York and back again, without losing a nail (46).  Not only does he contradict his previous statement that he would never drive it, but in the same sentence he builds himself up again by arguing that he wouldn’t even lose a nail. 

There are plenty of examples of expressing this point about Mr. Thorpe’s character, however I’d like to look at the other side of the coin as well: the connection between honesty and not being a conspicuous consumer.  Mr. Tilney stands out as a good example because his dealings with Catherine always seem straightforward and honest and he never flaunts his wealth through conspicuous consumption.  For example, Mr. Tilney, unlike Mr. Thorpe, reveals his thoughts regardless of whether they are accepted by Catherine.  Where Mr. Thorpe lies and manipulates to bring Catherine into agreement, as he does about seeing Mr. and Miss Tilney and about having time to see the castle, Mr. Tilney expresses his thoughts and feelings honestly and even openly disagrees with Catherine.  We see this, for instance, when Mr. Tilney compares dance with marriage (55). 


2 thoughts on “The Lies of Conspicuous Consumption

  1. I found the theme of falsehood to be completely relevant as well. It almost seems like many of the main characters, especially Isabella and John, portray very falsifying personalities that cause many problems. The main characters have many different characteristics and although Catherine seems “falsifying”, I find her to be incredibly knowledgable just very immature (most likely due to age). Your post is very similar to some of the thoughts that came to my mind while reading this. It’s almost like a soap opera.

  2. Catherine is definitely naive. She even admits it a few times. John Thorpe definitely takes advantage of her immaturity. Maybe she represents innocence in some way. John Thorpe would be a person destroying her innocence.

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