Literary crushes: Henry Tilney

An occasional series about falling in love with imaginary boys

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Northanger Abbey is THE BEST AUSTEN NOVEL BAR NONE. (I will hear none of your jibber jabber otherwise; they are all jolly but Northanger A is a HOOT).

There are all sorts of reasons why this is the case. It is packed with asides to the reader – oh hi, Jane Austen, are you talking to ME!? It parodies Gothic fiction, but does so fondly. It has a plucky heroine who is no less lovable for being completely ridiculous. It is funny and sweet and silly. 

And most of all, it has Henry.

Let’s ignore for now that Henry is 26 and Catherine is 17 and that that’s a bit squicky. We’ll call that a product of the parody, and so make our peace with it.

Why do we love Henry, then? 

Henry is sarcastic. When I was 18, my friend Greg drew a spider diagram of things that epitomised me. There were nine things on it; sarcastic was listed twice. So I have a lot of love for fellow sarky souls. It’s how we show affection, ok?

Yes, he’s patronising. Maybe he even has a tendency towards mansplaining. But Catherine, much as I love her, is quite, quite silly. I think we can give Henry some leeway. 

He falls in love with Catherine because she loves him first – let’s face it, there’s nothing more lovable than being loved.

He knows about muslins. He knows about dances. He knows about people. And he reads novels! 

He’s handsome, too, but that’s almost irrelevant. It’s his wit and his whimsy and his gentle teasing that makes him such a treat. 

Henry Tilney is the greatest Austen hero. He just is.

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