That night at the theater, Isabella sits between Catherine and James. She tells the latter that she will not talk to him all night because she must catch up with Catherine. She compliments Catherine on her hair and says that she will attract all the men. Her brother is already in love with Catherine, she says, and Mr. Tilney has proved he loves her by having come back to Bath. She asks if Mr. Tilney is in the theater, but he is not, which Isabella bemoans. She says that she and James had talked that morning about how sick they are becoming of Bath and that they discovered that their taste in all things is identical. Had Catherine been there, Isabella says, she is sure she would have made some pointed remark about their being meant to be together. Catherine says she would never make such an improper remark, and Isabella spends the rest of the evening talking to James.
Isabella has been playing up her friendship with Catherine to attract James, saying that she has a million things to say to Catherine. Really, Isabella wants Catherine to help her to develop her relationship with James by making coy remarks about their flirtation. Catherine, of course, has noticed nothing out of the ordinary in her friend’s relationship with her brother, because she has seemingly never watched a romance develop in person before. When Isabella says that Catherine would have made a pointed remark, Catherine denies that she would have acted so inappropriately, not realizing that Isabella wants her to behave this way.
The next morning, Catherine is determined to meet Miss Tilney in the Pump-room. She walks apart from the others with Isabella and James, but begins to feel that this is not very much fun, since they do not include her in their whispered conversation. Although they occasionally appeal to her to support them in their disputes, she does not know the topic and cannot weigh in.
Despite feeling slightly excluded, Catherine still fails to recognize that Isabella and James are courting one another. Meanwhile, James begins to use the same flirtatious technique as Isabella, appealing to Catherine for her opinion, essentially to use her as a prop.
Catherine finally sees Miss Tilney and goes to speak with her. Although their conversation is very common, they both speak with uncommon sincerity. Catherine talks about how well Mr. Tilney dances, explains why she could not dance with him at the ball, and asks about the lady with whom he danced. They part, saying they hope to see each other at the ball the next night. From this conversation, Miss Tilney has a sense of Catherine’s feelings, but Catherine has no sense of having given it.
The other side of Catherine’s inability to sense romance developing right in front of her is an inability to be discreet with her own romantic feelings. She does not realize how much she is giving away by expressing her interest in Mr. Tilney so sincerely. However, while Miss Tilney is more savvy, she also speaks sincerely to Catherine, showing that this is a quality of Catherine’s she shares.
Catherine goes home very happy and begins to plan what she will wear the next night. The Narrator states that this consideration is very frivolous, as Catherine had once been told by a great aunt—it would have been a message better delivered by one of the opposite sex. When women dress well, the Narrator explains, it only gives themselves pleasure, but it is not uncommon for women to imagine that men will be attracted to them because of their clothing.
Part of being a gentlewoman, Austen suggests, is to dress elegantly. This involves wearing clean, up-to-date styles, without slavishly following all the current fads or wearing flashy clothing that is obviously meant to draw attention to one’s wealth or beauty.
At the ball, Catherine tries to avoid John Thorpe, whom she fears will ask her to dance again, making it impossible for her to accept Mr. Tilney’s offer if he asks her. Isabella says that, despite how improper it may seem, she is going to dance with James again and that Catherine and John should come to find them on the dance floor. Catherine is giving up hope of dancing with Mr. Tilney, but at that very moment, he asks her to dance. As they walk to the dance floor, Catherine is stopped by John Thorpe, who objects to her dancing with Tilney, saying that she had agreed to dance with him. Catherine responds that she wonders why he thinks so, because he never asked her. He insists that he had asked her, then, asking about her companion, rambles on about horses that he could arrange for Mr. Tilney to buy, until the jostle of the ball separates John from Catherine.
Catherine has gained enough experience to realize that John Thorpe may be an obstacle to her spending the ball getting to know the Tilneys better. Although she has avoided him, John acts as though Catherine committed to dance with him. As part of his rudeness and entitled behavior, John often forgets (whether on purpose or by accident hardly matters) to go through the polite ritual of inviting and being accepted. His lack of real romantic interest in Catherine is revealed when he does not see Mr. Tilney as a true rival, but immediately reverts to his favorite topic: the buying and selling of horses.
Once John is gone, Mr. Tilney says he nearly got quite angry at John for interrupting them on the way to the dance floor. He says that a dance is like a marriage—the partners are committed to only look after each other’s happiness. Catherine says that marriage is very different, because you must go and live together. Mr. Tilney asks if he can have no assurance that Catherine will not be distracted again. Catherine replies that she knows no one at the ball, though if John speaks to her, she must talk to him, as he is a friend of her brothers. Mr. Tilney asks if that is the only security he can expect. She says that it is very good security, because if she knows no one, no one can speak to her, and then adds that she does not want to talk to anyone else. This, he says, is security worth having.
Catherine’s innocence and sincerity are on full display here. She does not realize that Mr. Tilney is flirting with her or drawing her attention to the importance of loyalty in courtship and love. She only recognizes the facts of the matter: that she does not know anyone else in the ballroom besides John Thorpe. Unlike the coy Isabella Thorpe, who acts as if James is distracting her from other people, Catherine sincerely and unambiguously says that she does not want to talk to anyone else. But she says this almost as an afterthought, without realizing how boldly she is thereby revealing her feelings.
Mr. Tilney asks Catherine if she is enjoying Bath as much as she was when he first met her. She says she does not think she shall get sick of it, to which he replies that everyone commonly says that they are bored by Bath after they have run out of money to stay there. Catherine notes that Bath is very entertaining compared to life in the countryside. When Mr. Tilney asks if she does not like the countryside, she says she has always lived in the country and been very happy, but also that if all her family were in Bath she would be perfectly content. Mr. Tilney says that no one would ever tire of Bath if they brought such a fresh perspective to it.
Mr. Tilney’s worldliness is in stark contrast to Catherine’s innocence, but we begin to see that he finds the sincere enjoyment she expresses about life in Bath to be refreshing. He has heard many hypocritical people say they are tired of Bath, when really they have just run out of money to stay longer. Catherine, on the other hand, finds pleasure in meeting new people, while also staying deeply loyal to the closest people to her: her family back in Fullerton.
As they dance, Catherine sees a handsome older man looking at her, and who then whispers to Mr. Tilney. She worries that there is something odd in her appearance drawing his attention. Mr. Tilney, however, explains that this man is his father. Catherine gasps, and then watches General Tilney admiringly.
Ever sensitive to the possibility that she is unwittingly breaking some rule of propriety that she does not know about, Catherine assumes that the General is looking at her disapprovingly.
Before leaving that night, Catherine chats with Miss Tilney and they agree to take a country walk together with Mr. Tilney the next day, if it does not rain. The Tilneys are to call for Catherine at noon. And although Catherine saw little of Isabella for the rest of the evening, her joy at that evening’s events is not diminished by having been unable to share them with Isabella.
The Tilneys are becoming more important to Catherine than the Thorpes. Although Catherine has yet to consciously admit this, she has begun to see through Isabella’s hypocritical declarations of caring for her and to instinctively rely less on Isabella.