The General leaves for a week in London, telling his children to make sure Catherine’s time is spent happily. Catherine feels unconstrained in his absence, and has a wonderful time with Henry and Eleanor, but wonders if she might be overstaying her welcome. She wonders if the Tilneys are growing to love her as dearly as she is growing to love them. To learn whether she ought to go, she tells Eleanor that she must leave. Distressed, Eleanor says she hopes she will stay much longer, and Catherine is very happy to oblige. Catherine feels reassured about the Tilneys’ feelings for her after this invitation and Henry’s happy look at hearing that she will stay longer. She feels secure most of the time that Henry loves her.
For once Catherine speaks insincerely, but only to discover whether it is polite and proper for her to continue to stay at Northanger. She does not try to conceal that she was telling a white lie once Eleanor assures her that she wants her to stay. Catherine is learning to navigate social situations by assessing them for herself, instead of by asking outright what she ought to do. She is also beginning to believe her own impressions, in this case coming to believe that Henry loves her.
Henry is obliged to leave Northanger for a couple of nights, but with the General’s absence, Catherine and Eleanor still enjoy each other’s company a great deal. Late that evening, they hear a carriage speeding towards the house. Eleanor says it must be Frederick, and goes to welcome him. Catherine prepares herself to meet Captain Tilney and to give him a second chance. She is sure he will not mention Isabella Thorpe.
Earlier in her visit to Northanger, Catherine was preoccupied with Gothic fantasies and seemed unable to put herself in Eleanor’s shoes and be a truly attentive friend. Now Catherine is more capable of truly bonding with Eleanor, and is also prepared to try to see the good in Frederick.
Catherine hears a sound in the hallway and goes to the door to find Eleanor standing behind it. Eleanor is pale and agitated and struggles to speak. Catherine tries to comfort her, but Eleanor begs her to stop. Eleanor says she trusts that Catherine is too kind to blame her for having to deliver a terrible message so soon after they had agreed that Catherine should extend her visit at Northanger. She tells Catherine that it is the General who has returned. He has remembered a previous engagement for all of them to leave Northanger to pay a visit this coming Monday. Catherine tries to calm Eleanor, saying she does not need to leave until immediately before they do, and will be able to say goodbye to them all. In great distress, Eleanor tells Catherine she will not get to choose when she leaves: she must leave at seven the next morning and will be sent without a servant. Catherine is struck dumb by hearing this. Eleanor laments this terrible treatment of Catherine, but says that she has no control over what is done in the house.
The General has forced Eleanor to deliver the message to Catherine that he is expelling her from Northanger. Although the General is not a murderer, this is a double unkindness, both to Catherine and to the polite and gentle Eleanor, whom he has forced to do his will. Although he is no Gothic villain, expelling Catherine is a significant break with the customs and manners that Henry Tilney told Catherine she ought to consult when drawing her conclusions about people. In a world in which young, unmarried girls are supposed to be looked after by those around them, General Tilney is committing an abrupt breach of conduct that is difficult for Catherine and Eleanor to wrap their minds around.
Catherine asks if she has offended the General, and Eleanor says that she knows he has no reason to be offended, but he was very agitated when he came in. Eleanor does not know what has caused him to be so angry, but she knows that Catherine has given him no cause for offense. Catherine says she is very sorry if she has given him offense, but, of course, an engagement must be kept. She says that the way she is being sent away is of no importance. Eleanor says that it is of a great deal of importance for reasons of “comfort, appearance, propriety,” but Catherine insists it is not. Eleanor sees that Catherine would like to be left alone.
In another sign of maturity, Catherine realizes that she must conceal her reaction to spare Eleanor’s feelings. She is as outraged as Eleanor is by the General’s rude treatment of her, but although Eleanor sincerely bemoans this terrible treatment of Catherine, Catherine herself pretends to take it in stride. Catherine’s dignified reaction only underscores to Eleanor what a breach of manners and friendship she has been forced to be a part of.
Once left alone, Catherine bursts into tears. The General’s sudden incivility is hard to believe. She will not even be able to say goodbye to Henry. She thinks that, despite what Eleanor said, she must have somehow offended the General. Catherine spends a sleepless night, similar to her first night when she feared that Northanger was the scene of some frightening story, but much worse, because her anxieties are now based in reality.
Catherine now compares the dramatic, often unhappy events in a Gothic novel that she associated with Northanger when she first arrived with the actual experience of being painfully mistreated—and finds that true suffering is not as romantic as she imagined it. But Catherine now has the ability to judge the situation for itself and can clearly see that she is being insulted.
Eleanor comes to Catherine’s room in the morning, but brings no apology from the General. Eleanor silently tries to help Catherine get ready, but Catherine has already packed. At breakfast, Catherine tries to eat so that Eleanor will not feel so bad, but compares yesterday’s breakfast spent with Henry to the sad breakfast today, and can hardly swallow a bite. Eleanor begs Catherine to send her a letter under a false name once she is home safely. Catherine says she will not write to Eleanor, if Eleanor is not allowed to receive letters from her. Eleanor says she knows Catherine will change her mind once they are parted, and Catherine realizes how painful this is for Eleanor, forgets her pride, and promises to write.
Overcome by her own feelings, Catherine forgets what a difficult situation Eleanor has been placed in and how much she is suffering. Her first intuition is, as always, to do the proper thing: not to write to someone who is not permitted to receive her letters. But once she sees how much pain this will cause Eleanor, a loyal friend who feels heartbroken to be hurting her, Catherine realizes that there is something more important than propriety at stake. This is another nuance that the less mature Catherine might not have grasped.
Eleanor, a bit embarrassed, asks if Catherine has enough money for her journey home. Catherine had given no thought to this, but when she looks in her wallet she finds she does not have enough. Eleanor gives Catherine money for the journey, but they are both too upset by the thought of Catherine being sent away without the means to get home to speak anymore. They embrace, and Catherine pauses and asks that Eleanor say goodbye to “her absent friend.” She cannot bring herself to speak Henry’s name, but runs from the hall and jumps into the carriage, which immediately rides off.
Even if the General had assured himself that Catherine had enough money to get home, it would have been a breach of social rules to let a young, unmarried woman (of an upper or middle class, at least) travel on her own. The prospect of Catherine getting stranded on the road is an unthinkable one for both women. Catherine may not have money, but both she and Eleanor have behaved with kindness and dignity, while the General has shown himself to have no respect for custom or the responsibility he had taken on in inviting Catherine to his home.