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  • Writer's pictureHeather Moll

Why Eleanor Tilney?

I like writing regency romances about women and power, and how little power in this time period they typically had to affect change over their own situations. According to society's values at the time, Eleanor Tilney from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey is far above the man she loves in terms of wealth. She was perfectly willing to overlook this, but the problem is her domineering, money-obsessed father is not.

Catherine Morland, the heroine of Northanger Abbey, imagines herself as a gothic heroine having a grand adventure, but Eleanor's life actually fits that genre's mold far more Catherine's. Catherine's parents are incredibly sensible and loving, and none of them died tragically or mysteriously. Eleanor's mother is dead, and died while Eleanor was away from home, and her father is a tyrant who isolates and oppresses her.

At the end of Northanger Abbey, we learn that:

"The marriage of Eleanor Tilney, her removal from all the evils of such a home as Northanger had been made by Henry’s banishment, to the home of her choice and the man of her choice, is an event which I expect to give general satisfaction among all her acquaintance. My own joy on the occasion is very sincere. I know no one more entitled, by unpretending merit, or better prepared by habitual suffering, to receive and enjoy felicity."

The papers that Catherine is so sure are secret letters are actually laundry bills belonging to Eleanor's forbidden love, the future nameless viscount who is finally allowed to marry Eleanor and can remove her from the evils of Northanger. We're told he's worthy of her and has always loved her, but that's all Austen tells us.

I wanted to write a story that fit Austen's canon penultimate paragraphs, but also gave Eleanor a happy ever after that showed her taking some steps to free herself rather than just depend on a man to save her. Eleanor is virtuous, vulnerable, sensible and sensitive, and entirely dependent on the hateful General Tilney.

A character like Eleanor, who can remain hopeful and kind amid such cruelty, is worthy of her own story.

Eleanor isn't just a foil to Catherine's naivety but a character we see act with intelligence and kindness despite her dreadful situation. And I wanted to write about this real gothic heroine where she was still the canon victim Austen shows us, but where she also takes steps to assert herself and find that well-deserved happy ever after.

General Tilney may not have murdered his wife, but he has emotionally abused his daughter–all of his children, actually. Eleanor, by being a woman in 1798, is just the only one still entirely trapped. But even her brothers are afraid of the general. Eleanor has no one to rely on but herself.

Catherine imagines villains, robbers, and murder all around her, like she's Emily from Mysteries of Udolpho. But the real gothic heroine of Northanger Abbey suffers from neglect, isolation, and contempt. There may not be fainting, abductions, or shackles, but there is absolute control and abject loneliness. And after Henry is banished for choosing Catherine, Eleanor's life at Northanger is even worse. This is the catalyst for Loving Miss Tilney and for Eleanor to have decided she's born her father's mistreatment long enough, even if she has very little power to escape him.

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