Catherine’s imagination takes over in Book 2 of “Northanger Abbey” and the reader sees Catherine, once again, fail to correctly assess the situation at hand.
After Henry’s made-up story (that echoes themes from gothic novels) about Northanger Abbey in the carriage, Catherine arrives at the estate expecting the same kind of mysteries and darkness described to her. Instead, the modern, renovated house disappoints her. But Catherine’s imagination is already filled with Henry’s story, on top of the countless gothic novels she has read, and seeing a house that does not reflect her mental image does not stop her from creating a dark secret the house does not necessarily have.
I think because Catherine is very innocent and naïve, she usually does not catch on to hints (like General Tilney hinting at marriage) or see through people’s manipulations (like Isabella’s un-incriminating explanation for accepting Frederick’s offer to dance). She is, however, very prone to connecting her real life to the dark, gothic novels she reads because she is so experienced and accustomed to those kinds of stories. This explains why Catherine becomes almost obsessed with finding a dark secret or hidden mystery in Northanger Abbey…and how she is able to land on the belief that General Tilney either killed his wife or is keeping her locked in the basement.
As the reader, I found it intriguing to witness Catherine slip further and further into her imagination, and to watch her make false connections from General Tilney’s behaviors to his late wife’s death. To Catherine, General Tilney’s poor temper, his daily walks, and even the church pew dedicated to Mrs. Tilney are all indications of a man with a guilty conscience. During her investigations, she never plays devil’s advocate for herself so she is blind to the idea that General Tilney is a man in pain, not a man weighed down by guilt.
The whole situation of Catherine’s suspicions as to what happened at Northanger Abbey showcases Catherine’s creative mind, but also reveals Catherine’s consuming passion for the gothic novel. Before arriving at Northanger Abbey with the Tilney’s, I felt like much of what Catherine encountered during her trip in Bath was new to her and in general, she acted as observer. At Northanger Abbey though, Catherine is placed in an element that is potentially extremely familiar to her – and we see her imagination work to make the mansion the chilling, spooky place she hoped it would be.