Catherine Morland, the protagonist of Northanger Abbey, is often regarded as Austen’s least appealing heroine, considered not just naïve but unintelligent. An examination of Catherine’s behavior through the lens of evolutionary theory, however, reveals her to be an astute sexual and social strategizer who ends up marrying the most eligible man in the novel. Not only is Catherine (unlike her older and supposedly more savvy friend Isabella) effective in identifying a man who is a good prospect for a husband and in convincing him that she will make a good wife. Her very obtuseness and seeming inability to read the minds of others can be regarded as assets in her goal of improving her circumstances through hypergamy (or “marrying up”). Austen’s insight into the dynamics of what Darwin would term sexual selection are clearly on display in her earliest completed novel.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 465-482
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.