As she dresses for dinner that night, Catherine feels completely disillusioned. She knows that she has embarrassed herself in front of Henry. She thinks he must despise her for her absurd curiosity and the terrible crime she suspected his father of committing. She thought he had liked her before, but now he must not. But when Henry comes down to dinner, he is kinder to her than ever before, recognizing that she needs consolation in her embarrassment. She is glad to see that he may forgive her.
Catherine has never had an experience like this before and she does not know if what she has done is unforgiveable. Henry realizes that Catherine is very young and has a great deal to learn, but that she has only the best intentions. He realizes how embarrassed she is and seeks to make her feel better, hoping that she will grow from the experience.
Catherine realizes that she had been looking for something dramatic when she came to Northanger. She sees that, although the novels she reads are very entertaining, they do not always reflect human nature, at least not the human nature of those of her class in the central part of England. She thinks terrible plots may happen in Italy and France, but that in England people are neither villains nor angels. Even Henry and Eleanor, she reflects, may have imperfections, and certainly the General, even if he is not a murderer, is not perfect. She resolves to forgive herself for her folly, which she is helped to do by Henry, who never mentions what happened. Catherine is again perfectly happy whenever Henry is around, although she still looks at the chest in her room with a bit of unease.
Happy to be forgiven, Catherine eagerly tries to learn from her experience. She resolves to learn to be sensitive to the norms of her society when coming to conclusions and to judge people’s character as she sees it. Reflections like these are completely new for Catherine, but her mind has been opened and she is determined to prove herself to have a “teachable disposition,” as Henry has said she does. The chest reminds her of the mistake she made in placing too much trust in novels, while her trust in Henry is strengthened.
Catherine soon begins to be anxious to hear from Isabella about Bath. She finds Isabella’s silence extremely strange because Isabella had promised to write, and she always keeps her promises. On the tenth morning, however, she receives a letter from James. James writes that his engagement with Isabella is over, and that she should leave Northanger before Captain Tilney arrives and announces his engagement to Isabella, as this would put Catherine in an uncomfortable position. James writes that whenever he tried to talk to Isabella, she denied that her feelings towards him had changed. He still does not understand why she toyed with him, because he feels sure that she did not need to lead him on in order to get a proposal from Tilney. James still feels he will never meet another woman like Isabella.
James is another innocent from the Morland family. He still does not seem to realize that Isabella was interested in him for his money, and so was disappointed in the amount of money Mr. Morland had promised them. He assumes, just as Catherine did in Bath, that Frederick Tilney really loves Isabella and will marry her. James seems not yet to have learned from the experience that he never should have trusted in Isabella’s love, especially not once she started to flirt with Frederick Tilney in front of him.
Catherine gasps in astonishment while reading, and both Henry and Eleanor are concerned about what kind of news she has received. She cries over breakfast, then runs off. After half an hour, Catherine feels that she can talk to Henry and Eleanor, but she does not plan to tell them what has happened.
Catherine is now realizing that she misjudged another situation: the character of Isabella. But, guided only by her brother’s sense of the situation, she still does not know what to make of it.
Catherine joins Henry and Eleanor, then sits in silence, unsure what to say. Eleanor asks if her family at Fullerton is all well, and she says that they are, but that she will never wish for a letter again. Her brother James is so unhappy, she says, to which Henry replies that it must be a comfort to him to have such a loving sister. After a pause, Catherine says that she must ask that they let her know if their brother is coming to Northanger, because she must avoid meeting him. Eleanor is very surprised. Henry guesses that this has something to do with Isabella. Catherine pours out the entire truth: Isabella has abandoned her brother and will marry theirs. She cannot believe such fickleness is possible. Henry says he is terribly sorry for her brother, but he is still convinced that his brother is unlikely to marry Isabella.
Catherine is uncertain how to handle this awkward situation. She does not want to deliver the news to Henry and Eleanor that their brother has been the cause of her brother’s unhappiness—but Henry once again understands Catherine’s meaning when she does not speak explicitly. The truth about Isabella’s character is slowly beginning to dawn on Catherine, but at first she believes that Isabella loved James and then stopped loving him. She does not yet realize that Isabella may have never loved James at all, but merely led the Morlands to believe she did.
Catherine lets both brother and sister read James’s letter. Henry is very surprised, but says that, if it is true, he will not envy Frederick’s situation “either as a lover or a son.” Eleanor asks Catherine about Isabella’s background and fortune. Catherine says that Isabella has no fortune, but that this will not matter to General Tilney, who has told her he cares for money only to promote his children’s happiness. Eleanor finds it inconceivable that Frederick would marry a girl who had broken an engagement voluntarily taken with another man, but Henry thinks Isabella is too smart to have let James go before she had a proposal from Frederick.
Catherine is confused to hear that General Tilney cares deeply for money, because he has always said he did not. She has not yet learned that she cannot always trust others to speak sincerely about their own feelings. Eleanor and Henry are sure that their father would never accept a girl like Isabella, both because of her lack of fortune and because of the circumstances under which she met Frederick, which involved breaking her promise to another man in a display of immodest behavior unbefitting a gentlewoman.
Henry sarcastically says that Eleanor should prepare for a sister-in-law who is “open, candid, artless, guileless, with affections strong but simple, forming no pretensions, and knowing no disguise.” Eleanor smiles and says she would welcome such a sister-in-law, but Catherine does not notice this hint.
Henry’s sarcastic description of Isabella is actually a description of Catherine, but Catherine is too focused on Isabella and Frederick and too literal-minded to pick up on Eleanor’s suggestion that she would like to have Catherine as a sister-in-law.
Catherine says that perhaps Isabella will be loyal to Frederick. Henry says she will certainly be loyal unless she meets a baronet. Catherine concedes that Isabella gave signs of being a social climber. She remembers when Isabella seemed disappointed about how much money Mr. Morland would give her and James.
Catherine is once again learning from Henry to consult her own perceptions. Once he suggests that money might motivate Isabella, Catherine immediately recalls her own impression that Isabella had truly been disappointed not by the long engagement, but by the marriage provision.
Catherine says she has never been so deceived by anyone in her life. She worries about how James will recover from this loss. Henry asks her if she herself feels that she has lost a very dear friend and the only person she can trust. Catherine replies that she does not feel this way. In fact, Catherine’s spirits lift after talking to Henry and Eleanor, even though she had never meant to tell them what James’s letter contained.
Although Catherine herself hardly realizes it, she now feels like she has placed her loyalty with much better friends. She had noticed Isabella’s inconsistency and unkindness, but had not been able to form a judgment about what it meant until now. It is a relief to her to be rid of this false friend.