Mrs. Allen and Catherine settle into a routine, but no matter how much Mrs. Allen wishes she knew anyone, she knows no one. One day in the Lower Rooms, one of Bath’s two main ballrooms, Catherine is introduced by the ballroom’s master of the ceremonies to a twenty-four or twenty-five-year-old man named Mr. Tilney, with whom she dances. After dancing, Mr. Tilney and Catherine sit and talk, and she finds that he is both a good conversationalist, gentlemanlike, and “very near” handsome.
Catherine is finally introduced to someone via an established channel for meeting a partner, through the master of the ceremonies. This man’s role was to assess visitors’ social status and introducing them to people they might get along with. Catherine is very pleased with her introduction to someone so “gentlemanlike.” The master of the ceremonies may have believed her to be wealthier than she is due to her connection to the Allens.
Mr. Tilney parodies the usual small talk of strangers who become acquainted in Bath, asking Catherine about the minute details of her activities there. Catherine has never heard someone speak in this manner and, although she finds him funny, she is unsure whether it would be rude to laugh. Mr. Tilney continues, saying Catherine surely keeps a journal, because it is by keeping journals that ladies write much more charming letters than men write. Catherine doubts that women write better letters than men, and it turns out that Mr. Tilney was joking: he believes men and women equally capable of excellence in everything “of which taste is the foundation.”
In the first conversation between Catherine and Henry Tilney, it is immediately made clear that one is innocent and the other experienced. The experienced Mr. Tilney’s jokes, however, show that he is not jaded and hypocritical just because he knows the world so much better than Catherine does. Instead, he gently mocks the conventions of small talk in Bath and letter writing by ladies, which he sees as affectations assumed by people hypocritically trying to fit in.
Mrs. Allen interrupts their conversation by asking Catherine to help fix a pin in her sleeve. Mr. Tilney engages Mrs. Allen in a detailed conversation about fabrics, saying that he sometimes buys them for his sister. Mrs. Allen is very impressed by his expertise and talks to him about clothing until dancing begins. Catherine wonders if perhaps Mr. Tilney draws too much pleasure from making fun of others’ weaknesses, but still agrees to dance with him again. He asks her what she is thinking about, but she blushes and does not say.
Here, as Mr. Tilney engages the foolish Mrs. Allen on her favorite topic, Catherine begins to wonder if he is being cruel. After all, Mrs. Allen’s obsession with clothing seems to Catherine a harmless weakness, which should be humored but not encouraged. She does not yet realize that the worldly Henry Tilney often takes a minute interest in many topics and can even derive pleasure from a talk of this kind with Mrs. Allen.
Catherine goes home, hoping to meet Mr. Tinley again and continue the acquaintance. Although it might be inappropriate for a lady to fall in love before a gentleman does, the Narrator says it “cannot be ascertained” whether Catherine dreamt about Mr. Tilney even before he had ever dreamt of her, which would probably be improper. Mr. Allen makes inquiries about Mr. Tilney and learns he is a clergyman from a respectable family.
The narrator suggests that Catherine, going against conventions (particularly in novels) for women of the time, may be developing feelings for Mr. Tilney before he has let her know that he is interested in her. More practically, Mr. Allen establishes that Mr. Tilney is respectable and an appropriate acquaintance for Catherine.