Isabella and Catherine meet in the Pump-room and have a warm and affectionate conversation. Isabella says that she saw a beautiful hat in a shop window. She asks Catherine if she has continued to read the novel Udolpho, and Catherine tells her which part in the book she is reading. Catherine speculates enthusiastically about what will happen in the coming chapters, saying she is sure there will be a skeleton hidden behind the black veil. Isabella says that she has a list of other terrifying novels given to her by her friend Miss Andrews.
Catherine is avidly interested in the novel she is reading, The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, and is eager to learn what happens next and to read other similarly scary stories. Isabella, on the other hand, sees novels more as a fashionable topic of conversation, on par with the hat she saw in the window. She has a list of other fashionably frightening books given to her by a friend.
Isabella says that Miss Andrews is beautiful but men never appreciate her beauty, and adds that she sticks up for her friend by scolding them. Catherine is surprised that Isabella would scold men for not being attracted to someone. Isabella says that no one would ever slight Catherine, who is very attractive to men. Catherine is again surprised and blushes, but Isabella says that Catherine has the animation which Miss Andrews lacks. Isabella says that she saw a young man looking at Catherine as if he loved her the day before, but she knows that Catherine can only think of one man. Catherine says that Isabella should not encourage her to think about Mr. Tilney because he may never return. Isabella says she is sure Catherine would be miserable if she did not believe that Mr. Tilney would return, but Catherine responds that she cannot be miserable so long as she is reading Udolpho, and they resume talking about the book.
Catherine does not recognize Isabella’s flattery for what it is, but instead looks to the more-experienced Isabella as a source of wisdom. Isabella talks coyly about Catherine’s feelings for Mr. Tilney, but at this point, having only met the man once, Catherine honestly admits that she has not pledged her heart to him and is too caught up in her book to feel very sad at his absence. Catherine does not overstate how much she cares for Mr. Tilney for dramatic effect, in the way the fashionable Isabella thinks appropriate.
Isabella says she thinks it odd that Catherine has never read Udolpho before, but says that she assumes that Catherine's mother will not allow her to read novels. Catherine says that her mother likes novels, but that in the countryside, they rarely receive new books. Catherine mentions Sir Charles Grandison as a title her mother likes. Isabella says that she had heard that this was a terrible book.
Sir Charles Grandison (1754) was more than 40 years old by the time Northanger Abbey was written. Isabella’s disdain for this book is another sign that she is mainly interested in novels as a sign of her own fashionableness and worldliness.
Isabella asks Catherine what she will wear that evening, because she wants to dress exactly like Catherine, something which men sometimes notice. Catherine says she does not care if men will notice, and Isabella agrees that she never does anything to please men. Isabella asks what kind of complexion Catherine prefers in a man, then after Catherine responds Isabella notes that Catherine's description matches the description she gave of Mr. Tilney exactly. Isabella describes the complexion she prefers in a man, then says that Catherine must never comment on this if they meet someone with that complexion. Catherine promises that she never will. Isabella says she has said too much and they should drop the subject, which puzzles Catherine.
Even though Isabella clearly talks a great deal about male attention and how to get it, Catherine does not realize that Isabella actually seeks male attention, even when Isabella explicitly says that they may attract attention by dressing in the same way. Catherine also does not understand that Isabella expects her to try to guess the secret of whom Isabella loves. Catherine would be incapable of teasing Isabella about a crush, as the more experienced Isabella expects Catherine to.
Isabella says that she sees two young men staring at them and that they ought to move. After they move, she asks if the men are still looking at them. She suggests that they go to look at her new hat, and Catherine says that they may run into the two young men if they leave right then. Isabella says that she never changes her behavior to suit young men, and they set off to follow Isabella’s plan to see the hat, while actually walking quickly in pursuit of the two men.
Catherine does not notice that Isabella is courting male attention, which Isabella denies, despite the fact that they are actually following two young men out into the street. Catherine’s innocent obliviousness and Isabella’s barely concealed hypocrisy are both on absurd display to comic effect.