Thursday, April 29, 2010

Character Connection - Henry Tilney

This is a very interesting meme from the Introverted Reader, where the goal is to spotlight one character of interest every week.

My character for this week is Henry Tilney, the leading man in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. While Mr. Knightley from Emma has always been my favorite Austen hero, he is followed very closely by Henry Tilney, and, depending on my mood, I sometimes would rather have Mr. Tilney as a friend and companion over Mr. Knightley.

Henry Tilney is in his mid-twenties and described as "rather tall, had a pleasing countenance, a very intelligent and lively eye, and, if not quite handsome, was very near it." He is witty, clever and can be quite sarcastic. One thing he is not is a typical romantic hero - he not only is not quite handsome, but he also reads gothic novels and knows his muslin. Now can you imagine Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Colonel Brandon, or Mr. Knightley discussing the Mysteries of Udolpho or a good bargain on a yard of muslin?

This may be one of the reasons that many Austen fans find Tilney not to be as swoonworthy as the other gentlemen listed above. Another, in my opinion, is that while these other heroes fall madly in love with their heroines and struggle with jealousy and repressed passion, we do not see Henry go through this whole spectrum of intense emotions. It was Catherine Morland who first fell in love with Tilney though he soon reciprocated her feelings wholeheartedly. So secure is Tilney of Catherine's feelings that he barely displays a hint of jealousy at the sight of the odious John Thorpe, and never really has to repress any passion on his part.

All this, however, does not make Tilney any less of a hero than Austen's other men. He is a good brother, devoted to his sister Eleanor, genuinely fond of Catherine and is able to see through her naive and artless behavior and recognize the goodness within. He is aware of the failings of his father the general and his brother the rake, and is able to confront and stand up to his father when necessary. It must be kept in perspective that while Henry Tilney may not have been a good match for Elizabeth Bennet or Anne Elliott, he was perfect for Catherine Morland.

One aspect of Henry Tilney that makes him particularly attractive to me is his sharp wit, and wry humor. After reading Tilney's speech on the usage of the word "nice", who can but think twice before using this word?

"..and this is a nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk, and you are two very nice young ladies. Oh! it is a very nice word indeed! - it does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy, or refinement; - people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word."

Henry Tilney has sometimes been referred to as cruel for his teasing of Catherine Morland and his sharp remarks. While it is true that we do not really get to understand his true nature as well as we do with other Austen men, I prefer to rely on Eleanor Tilney's high opinion of and regard for her brother, as she is shown to be a very sensible person. Tilney is sensible, caring, and sensitive to the strengths and weaknesses of Catherine. I think I just may choose him over Mr. Darcy and Captain Wentworth as a suitor - again, only Mr. Knightley will give him a run for his money!

And last but not least, I cannot but be impressed by JJ Feild's performance as Henry Tilney in the 2006 version of Northanger Abbey. He is all I imagined Henry to be!


  1. sounds like a nice man ;-)
    Seriously: haven't read the book and as I'm not much of an Austen fan I don't think I will, but the character does sound ok.

  2. Not quite handsome...somehow that makes him more attractive than a guy who is visually perfect.
    But having said that my favourite hero is Mr Darcy closely followed by Mr Knightley.

  3. +JMJ+

    Argh! Sully has already left the comment I wanted to say! =P

    Book Mole, I have to agree with you about Mr. Tilney, though my own favourite Austen hero is Captain Wentworth. Mr. Tilney is indeed very "nice" (!)--and the fact that he's nothing like a Gothic hero (which Mr. Darcy might be, in a pinch) is certainly part of his appeal!

    From a critical perspective, I also think it's very cute to have a hero like him in a book that sends up the conventions of the Gothic form!

  4. I love, love, love Jane Austen novels! I think this mix of traits in Mr Tilney makes him very attractive. Although my favourite Austen character will (banal!!!) Mr. Darcy :)

  5. Yay for a post about Tilney! Northanger Abbey is one of Austen's sadly underrated books that I enjoy very much. Tilney is quite the character and you're totally right about him being a fun companion :D

    I loved J.J.Feilds' portrayal of Tilney. I wouldn't pick him over Darcy, but I sure do think he's fun :)

  6. Lovely post about Henry Tilney! He is very unlike Austen's other heroes. I like his teasing very much.

  7. Mr. Tilney is very "nice" but not my favorite Austen suitor by any means, as that title still belongs to Mr. Darcy. Although, he is still a great leading man and have always enjoyed how different he was from the author's other male characters. Nice choice!

  8. Wentworth is by far my favorite of Austen's leading men, but I see your point about Tilney. What I liked about him was that he had patience with Catherine's silliness, he helped her see her own silliness, and then he helped her grow past it. A good leading man should really bring out the best in his lady.

  9. Sullivan McPig - nice comment :-)

    Becky - The not handsome but clever part is attractive to me too, though I guess, handsome and clever like Mr. Darcy sounds even better!

    Enbrethiliel - It is the gothic part that makes Northanger Abbey so appealing to me, and you are right, Tilney was the perfect hero for that book! I like Wentworth too - he wrote the best love letter in literature!

    Daria - I am a huge Austen fan too, I read and re-read Austen over and over again. And Mr. Darcy is certainly extremely popular, more so because of Colin Firth.

    Kals - I completely agree with you - Northanger Abbey is way underrated. It is a very clever work, and in a way Tilney's character is partly responsible for it being underrated. A more romantic hero may have helped the book be more popular. JJ Feild was so great (and cute)!

    Meredith - thanks for stopping by! I like Tilney's teasing very much too, ts what makes him so endearing. He was never cruel though, just fun.

    WHitney - I agree, Tilney is so different from all the other Austen men, but he fits that book so well!

    Jen - You have put it very well, Catherine and Tilney are perfect for each other. I can't imagine Catherine with Darcy or Brandon or the other men!

  10. Happy Friday!

    There is an award for you at my blog;

  11. Found you via the blog-hop. J.J. Feild's portrayal of Mr. Tilney is fantastic! I haven't re-read Northanger Abbey since seeing the adaptation, but I'd like to at some point.

    - Christy

  12. I could not agree more! While I have to admit I've so far only read Pride&Prejudice, Emma and Northanger Abbey, and watched the movie version of Sense&Sensibility, Mr. Tilney and Mr. Knightley are tied for first place for me. Both have some kind of good-humoured sarcasm to them (the so called Snark Knight) that counters their respective heroines very well. Sure, Elizabeth Bennet would not be so thrilled, but that's a different story.
    For myself, I'd probably pick Mr. Tilney over Mr. Knightley, though because he is younger.