Da Once and Future Man
By The High Priestess
You had me at "nonsense," Henry. You had me at "nonsense."
Although I am not much in the habit of revealing my deepest emotions on the Internet, I have a confession to make: I am a sucker for a guy who makes me laugh. And Henry Tilney makes me laugh. The greatcoat and the curricle and the hat that sits so well are just window dressing. If he wasn't intelligent and funny, he would be just another tall, dark, very close to handsome literary hero. But there's so much more to Henry, so much for the discerning reader to enjoy.
But the first time I read Northanger Abbey, and I can't quite remember if it was the last of Jane Austen's novels I read or the second-to-last, I saw immediately that Henry was a different kind of hero. He delighted me from his first conversation with Catherine at the Lower Rooms:
"Yes, I know exactly what you will say: Friday, went to the Lower Rooms; wore my sprigged muslin robe with blue trimmings -- plain black shoes -- appeared to much advantage; but was strangely harassed by a queer, half-witted man, who would make me dance with him, and distressed me by his nonsense."
This brought me up short. Not only was I thoroughly charmed, but I thought, This is a Jane Austen hero? No, I thought. He must be the villain. Only villains and semi-villains in Jane Austen can be this funny, this handsome, this charming. He's another Willoughby, another Wickham, another Elliot, another Churchill. But I knew that I liked this Henry Tilney character. I was, from that moment, a member of the Cult of Da Man.
Of course, I didn't quite understand that I was reading a parody of a Gothic novel. I had read tons of Gothic novels, especially by Victoria Holt; in fact, I collected the paperback editions of her books. I knew the formula: Handsome, charming, somewhat rakish man meets our heroine, flirts, is obviously interested; she is interested, too, but senses something not quite right; there are hints of trouble, usually from another man, an understanding, long-suffering type who might make a fine husband as well; eventually the rakish one is proven to be a good guy and the seemingly nice fellow either killed or revealed as the villain himself; hero and heroine marry and live happily ever after. There may or may not be a passionate kiss or two along the way. So while I read Northanger Abbey, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. There had to be something wrong with this Henry Tilney. He might be an adulterer, a gambler, or any sort of reprobate, but there had to be something about him that would banish him forever from the ranks of Austenian heroes. Catherine would mourn him, but she would realize that she was better off with the nice but not-so-exciting guy.
And then the end of the novel came, and it was not Henry who was the bad guy, but his father! And it was indeed Henry who was the honorable one, who loved Catherine, who would take her back to his lovely parsonage at Woodston, with the windows down to the floors and the friendly dogs, where they would live together in perfect happiness. And later, I realized that I had fallen for one of the oldest conventions of Gothic novels: the good guy who only seems villainous! And Henry never really seems villainous, or acts it in any way; it was only my, and Catherine's, tortured imaginations that made it so. I was Catherine. I had let my imagination, fueled by a few too many Victoria Holt novels, run away with me. But now I, like Catherine, could savor all the wonderful things about Henry, the things that set him apart from the Darcys and the Knightleys and the Wentworths, all wonderful literary heroes in their own right. And the more I studied Henry, the more delightful I found him. No wonder he became, for me, Da Man.
While in the process of discovering and discussing all the wonderful things about Da Man, I discovered that I was not alone. There were many other women who felt the same way, who felt that tingle of delight when they read his words, who sighed when they thought about him riding to Fullerton. And for my sisters of the Cult of Da Man, I have created this website where we might wallow in our adoration of Henry Tilney, Da Once and Future Man.
May we, like Catherine and Henry, all hasten together to perfect felicity.