Catherine expected to have a lovely time at dinner with the Tilneys, but afterwards she is surprised to admit to herself that she did not have a nice time. She feels less well-acquainted with Henry and Eleanor at the end of her visit than she did before. She feels that it is impossible that General Tilney’s behavior was the reason for this discomfort, as he must be “perfectly agreeable, and altogether a very charming man,” since he is “tall and handsome, and Henry’s father.”
Once again Catherine runs up against her own limitations as a judge of character. Although she has begun to trust some of her own judgments when it comes to the Thorpes, she is far from being self-confident enough to hazard an unfavorable impression of General Tilney.
When Catherine tells Isabella about her time at the Tilneys’, Isabella chalks their behavior up to pride, saying that Miss Tilney was insolent to Catherine and Mr. Tilney had ignored her. Catherine denies these characterizations of the visit, but Isabella says that Henry Tilney is unworthy of Catherine, and adds that she and her brother would never treat Catherine so badly. Catherine says General Tilney was civil to her and tried very hard to make her happy. Isabella says that John respects General Tilney and that she trusts John’s judgment. Isabella says she does not want to go to the ball that evening, because she can only think of James, and will not dance no matter how insistently she is asked.
Isabella is now trying to turn Catherine against the Tilneys so that Catherine will be more likely to consider John as a match, but Catherine does not notice Isabella’s agenda, even though Isabella has never said anything negative about the Tilneys before. In fact, Isabella’s judgment of the Tilneys will turn out to be false: while the General has a great deal of pride, both Henry and Eleanor are truly a gentleman and gentlewoman, who believe in the importance of good manners over money.
Catherine does not let Isabella’s assessment influence her, and she is happy to be asked to dance by Henry and warmly greeted by Eleanor that night at a ball. Also at the ball is Henry Tilney’s older brother Captain Tilney, who has just arrived in Bath. Catherine thinks that some might find him more handsome than Henry, but she finds him less well-mannered, especially when she hears him mocking Henry for wanting to dance. From this it can be predicted, the Narrator interjects, that Henry Tilney will not have a rival for Catherine’s affections in his brother, which would have led to a dramatic split between the brothers. Catherine dances with Henry Tilney and finds him irresistible, which makes her irresistible to him.
Unlike in sentimental novels in which two brothers might be likely to fight for the heroine, Catherine finds the handsomer, but less gentlemanly older brother less attractive. This may be because she has already formed an attachment to Henry and will remain loyal, but it is also because she prizes good manners and genuine kindness. Catherine’s lack of interest also shows how unconcerned she is with money, as the older brother would be likely to be much more wealthy than the younger.
Captain Tilney asks Henry to ask Catherine if she thinks Isabella would object to dancing with him. Catherine says she is sure Isabella does not want to dance, but Captain Tilney is sure not to mind this as she overheard him saying he hates dancing. She assumes that he was trying to be kind to Isabella, who is sitting without a partner. Henry says that Catherine does not try hard to understand other people’s motives—she does not consider how a person of a certain age, feelings, or habits is likely to behave in a particular situation, but only considers how she herself would act in that situation. Catherine does not understand what he means, and he says that the fact that she believed that his brother wanted to dance with Isabella out of good-naturedness alone shows him that she herself has more good-nature than anyone else. Catherine is confused and blushes, but recognizes he has said something meaningful. She forgets to speak or listen as she puzzles over what Henry has said.
Catherine, who has worried in the past about looking like she could not find anyone to dance with, imagines that Captain Tilney sees Isabella sitting down and feels empathy for a girl without a partner. This assumption fails to take into consideration that Captain Tilney is a dashing young man and Isabella is a beautiful, flirtatious young woman. In addressing Catherine’s misunderstanding, Henry says something that for the first time shows he may be growing to love Catherine. Instead of seeing her failure of the imagination as a failure to perceive things as they are, he sees her as inexperienced, but also fundamentally good and loving.
Catherine is very shocked to see Isabella dance with Captain Tilney. Henry Tilney observes her surprise but says that he is not surprised at all. Afterwards, Isabella says that she denied Captain Tilney’s requests to dance for as long as she could, but eventually gave in. She says the whole room must have looked at them dancing, because he is so “smart,” or good-looking and well-dressed. When Catherine agrees that he is very handsome, Isabella says that he is not her type at all, but is very conceited, and so she cut him down to size as she always does.
Throughout their friendship, Catherine has failed to notice that Isabella is extremely interested in men. Even though Isabella has been pursuing James, she has never ceased to talk about other men and how to attract their attention, although she often hypocritically says that she does not crave this attention. Now that Isabella and James are engaged, Catherine may begin to finally notice her friend’s wandering eye.
When Catherine and Isabella next meet, they discuss the letter from James explaining what he and Isabella will receive from his family upon their marriage. They will receive a living of four hundred pounds a year, and an estate of equal value as his inheritance, which is a generous provision considering that he has nine brothers and sisters. They will also need to wait two or three years before marrying. Catherine can tell from James’s letter that he is satisfied and pleased with this news, and, understanding little about such matters herself, is pleased and satisfied herself.
Mr. Morland’s provision would allow James and Isabella to live in the country with servants and perhaps an inexpensive carriage. They would have a lifestyle similar to the comfortable but unostentatious one that Catherine grew up with, but would not be able to afford trips to fashionable cities like Bath and London. Isabella brings no fortune to the marriage at all, so James and Catherine do not expect her to be disappointed by this provision.
Catherine congratulates Isabella warmly. Isabella and Mrs. Thorpe praise Mr. Morland’s generosity, saying that although four hundred pounds a year is hardly enough to live on, he may give them more money later. Isabella says she only worries that she is hurting James, because she needs nothing herself. Mrs. Thorpe says that perhaps if Isabella had more money, Mr. Morland would have given them more. Isabella says she is sure Mr. Morland is very generous, but after all everyone has a right to choose what they do with their money. Catherine is hurt by these insinuations and says that she is sure her father gave as much as he could afford to. Isabella and Mrs. Thorpe say Isabella cares nothing for money—the only thing that bothers her is the long wait to be married. Catherine tries to be reassured that the long engagement is the source of Isabella’s unhappiness.
Mrs. Thorpe may have assumed the Morlands were wealthy based on what she knew about the Allens, and has not yet realized that the provision Mr. Morland promises to make the newlyweds is quite generous as a proportion of the Morlands’ fortune. The Thorpes then hope to learn something about Mr. Morland’s true wealth from Catherine—but when Catherine becomes offended, they instantly pretend that it is the long engagement preventing Isabella from being with the man she loves which bothers her.