Most would think that the heroine of a novel is strong and courageous. However, in the novel Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, this is not the case. The heroine in this novel is more like a damsel in distress, someone who is confused and entangled in many life problems. Eleanor Tilney’s characteristics of vulnerability and dependence classify her as the real gothic heroine. A heroine illustrated as powerless seems to be contradicting, but is used on purpose. Austen uses satire to portray Eleanor Tilney with the title of a heroine, but is actually weak and dependent to further satirize what it means to be a hero.
Austen creates Eleanor to use histories as a structure to live her life, while in contrast, Catherine is created to use novels as a way to free herself. Eleanor uses male histories as guidelines on how to live her life. The histories Eleanor reads makes her, “trust history – male history – more, and therefore trusts herself less. She enjoys the “inventions” of male historians, but lacks the imagination and initiative to invent herself a better history” (Fuller 102). She trusts the histories more than she trusts herself and getting caught up in the past, holds her back from creating a new life of her own.
Austen creates Eleanor to be a follower to satirize the role of heroines in novels. Eleanor is a dependent women, shown to have no power over her life, which is very unhero like. However, Catherine uses novels as inspiration to live a free life: “Catherine’s prescient critique of a women’s absence from history arises from her reading Radcliffe,’ and her ‘devotion to Radcliffe… leads to a revision of the ( male-authored historical past… and thereby leaves open the possibility of a different future. Catherine is free to imagine and invent, and therefore free to act” (Fuller 102).
The novels Catherine reads enable her to act how she wants. To label a dependent woman with the title of a heroine and contrast them with an independent, freeminded woman, is seemingly ironic. Austen’s use of satire questions what it means to be a hero. Secondly, Eleanor’s escape from one man to another man proposes that she is dependent on men to make her happy, when Catherine is involved with men out of love. Eleanor is always around male figures and lives her life in fear with her dad: “Miss Tilney gently hinted her fear of being late; and in half a minute they ran down stairs together, in an alarm not wholly unfounded… (Austen 158).
She is afraid to disobey her father because she is scared of what he will do to her. She has no say and is dictated to by her father. In order to escape this brutal relationship, Eleanor marries: “The marriage of Eleanor Tilney, her removal from all the evils of such a home as Northanger had been made by Henry’s banishment, to the home of her choice and the man of her choice, is an event which I expect to give general satisfaction among all her acquaintance” (Austen 236).
Even though Eleanor is escaping her father’s abusiveness, she is running right into the arms of another man. This portrays her to be dependent on men because she needs a man in order to escape another. However, Catherine doesn’t have this issue and chooses to marry because of true love: “To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced that the general’s unjust interference… (Austen 237). Catherine marries Henry out of love and is happy doing so. She doesn’t need a man in order to survive. Independence allows Catherine to give advice to Henry and be an active role in the relationship: “Her courage to do not only what she “knows to be right” but what she knows to defy his father for the first time in his life in order to follow “honour” and “affection” (274). Her teachings are as great as his” (Fuller 103).
Catherine helps Henry stand up against his father, so he can follow his heart. Since Catherine knows what she wants, she can help Henry achieve what he wants. Eleanor’s susceptibility to being overpowered by men is shown here, in contrast to Catherine, who can choose her path in life. The role of the heroine in the novel is closely analyzed when looking at the behavior of Eleanor Tilney and her foil, Catherine Morland. They both are women dealing with the same problems.
Those problems being, finding their path in life, and power dynamic in relationships. Eleanor struggles to set up a life of her own, and is found to be inferior to men. Characteristics likes these de her as unhero like and Catherine’s free life portrays her as a hero. However, Fuller states that Eleanor is the real hero. By making fun of a hero, Austen may suggest that heros and heroines really don’t exist, and what they do on the outside doesn’t reflect what they do on the inside.