Fictional letters

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Letters from Northanger Abbey

Letter 1 - This is a fictional letter from Miss Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey, to the heroine of Rebecca

My dear friend (may I thus address you?),

We are, I believe, in similar circumstances. Having received your letter, I must confess that I know more about you than what you have written, therefore I will not scruple to give you what advyce I can. Fear not to admit to yourself any suspicions you may have. I sometimes start at the boldness of my own surmises, and sometimes hope or fear that I have gone too far; but they are supported by such appearances as made their dismissal impossible. The General has done everything possible to prevent me from looking over the house; and one room in particular, has he forbidden me. I must wait for an opportunity to unravel this mystery alone. – But more about me another time.

Consider those instances: 1st, on your first day there, at the walk, and he did not go after you. Was it not the favourite walk of the late mistress his wife? Ought it not, to endear it to her husband? Yet he would not enter it. He certainly had been an unkind husband. He does not love her walk: – could he therefore have loved her? Do you not feel persuaded of her unhappiness in marriage? 2nd, when the housekeeper told you about the picture of the late mistress, that he did not care for it! – a portrait – very like – of a departed wife, not valued by the husband! – He must have been dreadfully cruel to her! 3rd, does he not avoid her room? It is no wonder that he should shrink from the sight of such objects as that room must contain; a room in all probability never entered by him since the dreadful scene had passed, which released his suffering wife, and left him to the stings of conscience. 4th, does he not walk about a room? with the air and attitude of a Montoni? What could more plainly speak the gloomy workings of a mind not wholly dead to every sense of humanity, in its fearful review of past scenes of guilt? Unhappy man! Does not your blood run cold with those horrid suggestions which naturally sprang? Could it be possible? – And yet how many were the examples to justify even the blackest suspicions!

I will now caution you from my own experiences. 1st, be not alarmed by the number of servants there. Here I am at an Abbey, yet how inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as I have read about – from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pairs of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all, had often amazed Mrs Allen; and, when I see what is necessary here, I began to be amazed myself. 2nd, for privacy, do not hurry away to your own room after breakfast – the housemaids would be busy in there. 3rd, you, perhaps, are not so lucky as I am to find a fire ready lit, and will have to wait shivering in the cold till all the family are in bed, as so many poor girls have been obliged to do, and then to have a faithful old servant frightening you by going in with a faggot! And 4th, have you an ancient housekeeper like Dorothee? and does she give you reason to suppose that the place you inhabit is undoubtedly haunted? Beware and take care! Another thing I want to warn you about, Mr Allen has once told my that for young women to be driven about the country by men to whom they are not even related is objectionable, that it is not right, and has an odd appearance. I hope you are being careful about that. I am writing to explain to you the indecorum of which you must be as insensible as I myself was, because you have no mother to advyse you, and I mean it kindly. Yours ever,

Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Gloucestershire, England

PS You are so like the heroines one reads about: you’ve lost both parents; you have a lovely name; and you are living in a strangely mysterious house! If need be, we may perhaps each escape from our dangerous place of abode and arrive at the same chateau. There we would be freinds; and there our heroes may find us; and we would all be happy ever after. What think you? RSVP, by return of post if possible, and tell me more about yourself. I’m so very interested to know how events unfold for you. Oh! I forgot to ask you – are there many doors that were neither opened nor explained to you? To what might not those doors lead? I have read too much not to be perfectly aware of the ease with which a waxen figure might be introduced, and a supposititious funeral carried on. Yours, &c.

Letter II - from the same to the same, a few days later

Dear Madam,

Forgive me my last letter to you. I should not have encouraged in you those flights of fancy. Please, do not now take that letter seriously. If you ever did, it is my fault. I have no right to advyse you, but I must warn you about my error.

The visions of romance were over. I am completely awakened. Mr Tilney’s address, short as it had been, had more thoroughly opened my eyes to the extravagance of my late fancies than all their several disappointments have done. (I enclose for you a copy of his letter.) Most grievously am I humbled. Most bitterly do I cry. It was not only with myself that I am sunk – but with Mr Tilney. My folly, which now seems even criminal, was all exposed to him, and he must despise me for ever. The liberty which my imagination have dared to take with the character of his father, could he ever forgive it? The absurdity of my curiosity and my fears, could they ever be forgotten? I hate myself more than I can express.

Charming as are all Mrs Radcliffe’s works, and charming even as are the works of all her imitators, it is not in them perhaps that human nature, at least in the midland counties of England, is to be looked for. Of the Alps and the Pyrenees, with their pine forests and their vices, they might give a faithful delineation; and Italy, Switzerland, and the South of France, might be as fruitful in horrors as they were there represented. I dare not doubt beyond my own country, and even that, if hard pressed, would yield the northern and western extremities. But in the central part of England there is surely some security for the existence even of a wife not beloved, in the laws of the land, and the manners of the age. Murder is not tolerated, servants are not slaves, and neither poison nor sleeping potions to be procured, like rhubarb, from every druggist. Among the Alps and the Pyrenees, perhaps, there are no mixed characters. There, such as are not as spotless as an angel, might have the dispositions of a fiend. But in England it is not so; among the English, I believe, in our hearts and habits, there is a general though unequal mixture of good and bad. Upon this conviction, I would not be surprized if even in Henry and Eleanor Tilney, some slight imperfection might hereafter appear; and upon this conviction, I need not fear to acknowledge some actual specks in the character of their father, who, though cleared from the grossly injurious suspicions which I must ever blush to have entertained, I do believe, upon serious consideration, to be not perfectly amiable.

Oh! madam. I do hope you would learn from this, and not make the same mistake I have made. And I hope we may still be friends. I have just lost a friend in Isabella Thorpe. I have found out she is a vain coquette. I do not believe she had ever any regard either for James or for me, and I wish I had never known her. Yours ever,

Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey, Gloucestershire, England

Letter III - from Rev Mr Henry Tilney to Miss Catherine Morland

Dear Miss Morland,

And from these circumstances, you infer perhaps the probability of some negligence – some – or it may be – of something still less pardonable.

If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to –, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you – Does our education prepare us for such atrocities? Do our laws connive at them? Could they be perpetrated without being known, in a country like this, where social and literary intercourse is on such a footing; where every man is surrounded by a neighbourhood of voluntary spies, and where roads and newspapers lay every thing open? What ideas have you been admitting?

Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey, Gloucestershire, England