Investigating Catherine Moreland

This is an investigative journal from the world of Northanger Abbey, designed by Julia Rumfield, a student at Texas A&M University.


Critical Introduction

For my final project, I wanted to create an investigative file on Catherine Morland. The premise of this project is that Henry Tilney, curious as he was of Miss Morland, hired a Private Investigator in Bath to research Catherine. The file follows Catherine from the day following her and Mr. Tilney’s introduction to around the time the General starts to accept Catherine- which is about five to six weeks into Catherine’s stay at Bath with the Allen’s. This file will come in handy for Mr. Tilney when, out of anger, John Thorpe tells the General that Catherine is poor. He will need all the help he can get in order to change is father’s mind and eventually get permission to marry Cathine. The main research questions for this investigation were “Who is Catherine Morland, does she have pure intentions, and what is her true history?”. For my PI, Obediah Whitworth, to answer these questions for Mr. Tilney, he needed to put together a paper trail and case file for Miss Morland. That being said, Mr. Tilney is the intended audience for this creative project – or any lover of Austen who enjoys fan-fiction.

I was inspired to create an investigative file that concludes Catherine’s heroineism, after reading just a few chapters of Northanger Abbey. I was also inspired by my interest in investigative television series such as Scandal and Sherlock and thought it might be interesting to merge the two worlds. Additionally, Austen’s creation of Henry Tilney as a somewhat ambiguous character, led me to question how I could explore Tilney’s character in relation to his interactions with Catherine. After a brief introduction of Tilney, he leaves Bath for about a week’s time, and his time away is scarcely mentioned in the novel. There is also a brief explanation about how he managed to calm his father and get Catherine back after her reputation is slandered. What I have done is create a scenario in which Tilney, cautious of ill-intended women and fearful of displeasing his father, hires a Private Investigator to follow the movements of his new love interests to help him decide if she is worth his affections. Mr. Tilney hires the Private Investigator, Obediah Whitworth, the very day that he meets Miss Morland. Later in the novel, Catherine’s origin and worth is thrown into question by an angry Mr. Thorpe which very nearly jeopardizes her engagement with Henry Tilney. Though the investigation ends while Catherine is still in Bath, the findings of the Private Investigative file help Henry to prove her worth to his father before he The notebook I have created contains daily notes made on the actions of characters which helps the PI to track his investigation. I have also created several forms of “evidence” such as letters of correspondence as well as other 18th century style documents.

I chose to use the name Obediah Whitworth as the alias for my Private Investigator for a few reasons. I started with researching popular British names during the 18th Century and came across Obediah (Connecticut State Library). This name stuck out against Christopher and Robert, and I thought it was a mysterious and serious name, perfect for a Private Investigator. Next, I researched historic English surnames and figured Whitworth was a neat play on words, because his wits are worth something to Mr. Tilney. …get it? (Tripod). Anyways, I chose to use a male alias because- well the investigation is supposed to have taken place in the 18th Century and I don’t think that one needs explaining. While some of the features in my file may not be exactly one-hundred percent historically accurate, I did my best to create a private investigator file, that is representative of something that could have happened in Austen’s “Northanger-Abbey-Universe”. For example, I’m fully aware that a “Mr. Whitworth” would not have been able to snap photos of Catherine using a Nikon 1 J1 Digital camera, but just bear with me here.

The contents of the file include letters from Mr. Tilney to Mr. Whitworth, an intercepted letter from Catherine to her mother, photographic representation of Catherine, a copy of Catherine’s circulating library card, evidence of Mr. Whitworth’s studies, a Final Investigative report which includes the verdict, and several other pieces of “evidence”- all of which I have recreated using research of 18th century documents as well as textual evidence. Each of these documents work to prove how the PI would have been privy to some information necessary to reach a final verdict on Catherine.

On creating letters of correspondence, I attempted some degree of historical accuracy. I tried to use phrases and diction that would have been popular in Austen’s time. For this I turned to several online forums such as,’s Lesson Materials on Eighteenth-Century Letter Writing and the Acculturated website to help provide some common themes of my letters. From these, and other websites, I found that pronouns such as sister and brother needed to be capitalized at all times and there was a common theme of praising God. These small details were taken into account to try my best attempt at recreations of 18th century letter writing skills.  There was a large percentage of time that was devoted to writing and re-writing letters, it was very difficult to try and adopt 18th century diction. Additionally, I aged and formatted the letters, and used wax seals on some documents, to add to the overall aesthetic of my project.

In addition to researching writing techniques, I did a bit of research on Circulating Libraries. I thought this would be an interesting avenue for Mr. Whitworth to gain access to Catherine’s reading list. I found different certificates of authenticity from 18th century libraries and did some reading about how they kept up with records, this helped to inspire my recreation of a certificate as well as letters of correspondence between Mr. Whitworth and several librarians. Through these letters, Mr. Whitworth is able to track down Catherine’s reading list from Wiltshire. He is then able to gain assess to what influencers she may have had- leading up to her interaction with the Udolpho novel. This is an important aspect to my project because Northanger Abbey is Austen’s commentary on Gothic novels as well as novel reading. I wanted to use the circulating library of Wiltshire, though not mentioned in Northanger Abbey, to give my PI a chance to weigh in on whether or not reading Udolpho damages Catherine’s viability for heroinism. He determines that while it is a novel of indecent content, it does not seem to have combatted her primary education.

The notebook that I created catalogues Mr. Whitworth’s daily assessment of Miss Morland and those who she comes into contact with. This is the vessel for the evidence, findings, and assessment. In order to create this compilation of notes, I followed along with the book and took note of any physical movement that Catherine did and anyone who she came into contact with. Along with recording her movements, I wrote an interpretation of Catherine’s visual appearance or actions as to how it related with her emotions and intentions. Austen’s narrator increasingly favors Catherine’s point of view as the novel progresses, so it was just a matter of tracking Catherine through close reading in order to form an assessment of her character.

My own take away from this novel was that Catherine, as unconventional as she is, does make for a true heroine. Catherine does quite a bit of maturing during her stay at Bath, as well as with the Tilneys, that lends itself to her development into a more traditional heroine. It is my opinion that the novel is a coming of age story that follows the metamorphosis of a naïve child into that of a technically-true heroine. As the study of Mr. Whitworth suggests, there is nothing so wrong with her character, intentions, or history that should suggest she not be suitable to marry Henry Tilney. In fact, Henry does quite a bit to aid in her maturity as he works to shape her young mind into the understanding that life is separate from fantastical novels. As Mr. Whitworth’s research and conclusion suggest, Catherine Tilney a heroine of true intention and has every right to marry Mr. Tilney.



Works Cited

  1. “A Listing of Some Nicknames Used in the 18th & 19th Centuries.” Connecticut State Library,

  2. Austen, Jane, et al. Northanger Abbey; Lady Susan; The Watsons; Sanditon. Oxford University Press, 2008.

  3. Austin, Frances. “Heaving This Importunity:” Historical Sociolinguistics and Sociohistorical Linguistics, Feb. 2004,
  4. “A-Z Family Surnames from England.”,
  5. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “How to Speak and Write Eighteenth-Century Style.” Lesson Materials. 2011.
  6. “How to Write a Letter, 18th-Century Style.” Acculturated,
  7. Jermantowicz, Jennifer. “Northanger Abbey Horrid Novel Reading List.” Jennifer Jermantowicz – Writer and Artist, 27 Sept. 2013,
  8. Murden, Sarah. “The Circulating Library.” All Things Georgian, 9 Oct. 2017,
  9. “NORTHANGER ABBEY.” Gutenberg,


Copyright 2018 Julia Rumfield

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