New chronology and further reading.
Edited with an introduction by Marilyn Butler.
No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would
have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the
character of her father and mother; her own person and disposition,
were all equally against her. Her father was a clergyman, without
being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though
his name was Richard—and he had never been handsome. He had a
considerable independence besides two good livings—and he was
not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters. Her mother
was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and, what
is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons
before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the
latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived
on—lived to have six children more—to see them growing up
around her, and to enjoy excellent health herself. A family of
ten children will be always called a fine family, where there are
heads and arms and legs enough for the number; but the Morlands
had little other right to the word, for they were in general very
plain, and Catherine, for many years of her life, as plain as any.
She had a thin awkward figure, a sallow skin without colour, dark
lank hair, and strong features;—so much for her person; —and not
less unpropitious for heroism seemed her mind. She was fond of
all boy's plays, and greatly preferred cricket not merely to dolls,
but to the more heroic enjoyments of infancy, nursing a dormouse,
feeding a canary-bird, or watering a rose-bush. Indeed she had no
taste for a garden; and if she gathered flowers at all, it was chiefly
for the pleasure of mischief—at least so it was conjectured from
her always preferring those which she was forbidden to take. —Such
were her propensities—her abilities were quite as extraordinary.
She never could learn or understand anything before she was taught;
and sometimes not even then, for she was often inattentive, and
occasionally stupid. Her mother was three months in teaching her
only to repeat the "Beggar's Petition"; and after all, her next
sister, Sally, could say it better than she did. Not that Catherine
was always stupid, —by no means; she learnt the fable of "The Hare
and Many Friends" as quickly as any girl in England. Her mother
wished her to learn music; and Catherine was sure she should like
it, for she was very fond of tinkling the keys of the old forlorn
spinner; so, at eight years old she began. She learnt a year,
and could not bear it; —and Mrs. Morland, who did not insist on her
daughters being accomplished in spite of incapacity or distaste,
allowed her to leave off. The day which dismissed the music-master
was one of the happiest of Catherine's life. Her taste for drawing
was not superior; though whenever she could obtain the outside of
a letter from her mother or seize upon any other odd piece of paper,
she did what she could in that way, by drawing houses and trees,
hens and chickens, all very much like one another. —Writing and
accounts she was taught by her father; French by her mother: her
proficiency in either was not remarkable, and she shirked her
lessons in both whenever she could. What a strange, unaccountable
character!—for with all these symptoms of profligacy at ten
years old, she had neither a bad heart nor a bad temper, was seldom
stubborn, scarcely ever quarrelsome, and very kind to the little
ones, with few interruptions of tyranny; she was moreover noisy
and wild, hated confinement and cleanliness, and loved nothing so
well in the world as rolling down the green slope at the back of
Such was Catherine Morland at ten. At fifteen, appearances were
mending; she began to curl her hair and long for balls; her complexion
improved, her features were softened by plumpness and colour, her
eyes gained more animation, and her figure more consequence. Her
love of dirt gave way to an inclination for finery, and she grew
clean as she grew smart; she had now the pleasure of sometimes
hearing her father and mother remark on her personal improvement.
"Catherine grows quite a good-looking girl—she is almost pretty
today," were words which caught her ears now and then; and how
welcome were the sounds! To look almost pretty is an acquisition
of higher delight to a girl who has been looking plain the first
fifteen years of her life than a beauty from her cradle can ever
Mrs. Morland was a very good woman, and wished to see her children
everything they ought to be; but her time was so much occupied in
lying-in and teaching the little ones, that her elder daughters
were inevitably left to shift for themselves; and it was not very
wonderful that Catherine, who had by nature nothing heroic about
her, should prefer cricket, baseball, riding on horseback, and
running about the country at the age of fourteen, to books—or
at least books of information—for, provided that nothing like
useful knowledge could be gained from them, provided they were
all story and no reflection, she had never any objection to books
at all. But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a
heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply
their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and
so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.
From Pope, she learnt to censure those who
"bear about the mockery of woe."
From Gray, that
"Many a flower is born to blush unseen,
"And waste its fragrance on the desert air."
From Thompson, that —
"It is a delightful task
"To teach the young idea how to shoot."
And from Shakespeare she gained a great store of information —
amongst the rest, that —
"Trifles light as air,
"Are, to the jealous, confirmation strong,
"As proofs of Holy Writ."
"The poor beetle, which we tread upon,
"In corporal sufferance feels a pang as great
"As when a giant dies."
And that a young woman in love always looks —
"like Patience on a monument
"Smiling at Grief."
So far her improvement was sufficient—and in many other points she
came on exceedingly well; for though she could not write sonnets,
she brought herself to read them; and though there seemed no
chance of her throwing a whole party into raptures by a prelude on
the pianoforte, of her own composition, she could listen to other
people's performance with very little fatigue. Her greatest
deficiency was in the pencil—she had no notion of drawing—not enough even to attempt a sketch of her lover's profile, that
she might be detected in the design. There she fell miserably
short of the true heroic height. At present she did not know her
own poverty, for she had no lover to portray. She had reached the
age of seventeen, without having seen one amiable youth who could
call forth her sensibility, without having inspired one real passion,
and without having excited even any admiration but what was very
moderate and very transient. This was strange indeed! But strange
things may be generally accounted for if their cause be fairly
searched out. There was not one lord in the neighbourhood; no—not even a baronet. There was not one family among their acquaintance
who had reared and supported a boy accidentally found at their door—not one young man whose origin was unknown. Her father had no
ward, and the squire of the parish no children.
But when a young lady is to be a heroine, the perverseness of forty
surrounding families cannot prevent her. Something must and will
happen to throw a hero in her way.
Mr. Allen, who owned the chief of the property about Fullerton,
the village in Wiltshire where the Morlands lived, was ordered to
Bath for the benefit of a gouty constitution—and his lady, a
good-humoured woman, fond of Miss Morland, and probably aware that
if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she
must seek them abroad, invited her to go with them. Mr. and Mrs.
Morland were all compliance, and Catherine all happiness.
‘These modern editions are to be strongly recommended for their scrupulous texts, informative notes and helpful introductions’
Brian Southam, the Jane Austen Society