Catherine is too upset to pay any attention to the journey at first. She travels the same road she had ten days before on her way to Woodston. She remembers how the General had seemed so much to want her engagement to Henry and wonders what she could have done. She is sure Henry did not tell his father about her suspicions that he was a murderer. She is most concerned, however, about how Henry will take the news of her having been turned out of Northanger. She alternately thinks that he will calmly accept his father’s will and that he will be upset and angry on her behalf. After passing Woodston, she is too consumed by her thoughts to notice the journey, especially since she is not eager to arrive home under such odd circumstances, which will likely prejudice her family against the entire Tilney family.
Alone and without anyone to offer her guidance, Catherine must rely on her own judgments to try to make sense of what has happened and what will happen. The General has shown that he can like someone and change his mind very quickly and for no reason. Catherine now wonders whether Henry will be the same, or if he will be loyal to her where his father was not. Despite being kicked out of Northanger, Catherine is still loyal to Henry and worries about the impression her abrupt arrival will make on her parents, whom she still hopes will eventually accept Henry as a son-in-law.
Catherine meets with no trouble on her eleven-hour journey. She is looked after by those around her because of her youth, good manners, and ability to pay well. Most heroines return from journeys in grand style, the Narrator says, with many servants and an elegant carriage, which prompt authors to describe them in minute detail. But there is nothing much to say about a heroine in a post-chaise carriage.
Although Catherine acts the part of a respectable gentlewoman, her arrival home contrasts to those of heroines in sentimental novels. These heroines have usually married someone much richer than they are, and ride home to be congratulated by everyone they know.
Catherine’s entire large family is thrilled to see her when she arrives at Fullerton, which soothes her more than she thought anything could. Over tea, Catherine explains why she has returned so suddenly, and although the Morlands are not easily insulted, they think General Tilney’s treatment of their daughter is ungentlemanly. The family cannot understand his behavior, but Mrs. Morland says that it is not worth understanding. She says Catherine has always been absentminded, so hopefully she learned something from the experience of having to get home by herself.
The Morlands are not wealthy, but they do see abiding by a certain code of conduct as essential. The General may be wealthy, but no true “gentleman” would treat a young woman the way he did. Mrs. Morland treats Catherine like a child who needs to learn lessons, not realizing how much her daughter has grown and changed over the eleven weeks since she left Fullerton.
Mrs. Morland sends Catherine to bed early, but her daughter still looks pale and unhappy in the morning. It never occurs to her parents to wonder about Catherine’s heart—and, the Narrator notes, this is quite unusual in the parents of a seventeen-year-old just returning from her first trip away from home.
Catherine is the Morlands’ oldest daughter, and they have not realized just how grown up she is. Mrs. Morland does not understand the range of experiences Catherine has been exposed to in Bath and at Northanger.
Catherine sits down to write to Eleanor. She is now fully aware of how hard this situation was for Eleanor and is eager to do as Eleanor asked and write. She puzzles over how to strike the right tone in her letter. She wishes to show kindness to Eleanor, but to be honest, while also writing a letter she would not be embarrassed for Henry to read. In the end, she decides to write a very brief note, expressing gratitude and affection and repaying the money Eleanor lent her.
The discretion Catherine exercises in writing this letter shows how much she has grown as a judge of people and situations. She asks for no advice, but figures out on her own how to conduct herself with politeness, kindness, and dignity, while also leaving out any mention of the terrible experience the General put her and Eleanor through.
After hearing Catherine’s story of her time in Bath and with the Tilneys, Mrs. Morland says it has been a strange acquaintance, with such quick intimacy and such a quick end to the relationship. She says Catherine was also mistaken about Isabella’s character. She says she hopes that the next friends Catherine makes “will be better worth keeping.” Catherine blushes and defends Eleanor. Mrs. Morland calmly predicts that, if what she says is true, they will surely meet again in a few years. This is not comforting to Catherine, who thinks that Henry Tilney will likely forget her in a few years, although she will never forget him.
Mrs. Morland thinks that Catherine was an equally bad judge of the Tilneys’ and Thorpes’ characters. Catherine still feels strong loyalty to the Tilneys, although she does not mention that she is in love with Henry. Mrs. Morland, again showing herself to be rather clueless, provides cold comfort when she says they will meet in a few years, since this would mean that Henry had acquiesced to his father’s wish that he be utterly separated from Catherine.
Mrs. Morland and Catherine call on Mrs. Allen, and Mrs. Morland tells Catherine that she feels sorry for James, but he will likely be a wiser man after this early disappointment. Catherine reflects on the last time, less than three months before, when she walked this path, filled with excitement for her trip to Bath. She feels herself to be a different human being now.
Mrs. Morland expresses the hope that James will learn from his experience with Isabella, but is completely unaware of how much Catherine has learned from her own experiences in Bath and at Northanger.
The Allens are surprised and happy to see her and very appalled by General Tilney’s treatment of Catherine. Mrs. Morland says they are happy to have Catherine back and glad to know that she can look after herself on a long journey. Mr. Allen expresses anger with the General, and then Mrs. Allen repeats several times the same phrases her husband has used, before turning the topic back to her clothing and the happiness of their having met the Thorpes when they had no acquaintances. Mrs. Allen also talks about how agreeable Mr. Tilney was, to which Catherine cannot reply.
Mr. Allen feels partially responsible for having entrusted Catherine’s care to General Tilney, and is very angry at his outrageous treatment of her. Mrs. Allen, on the other hand, has learned nothing from her experiences in Bath. She is still glad to have met the Thorpes, even after Isabella’s engagement with James has been broken, and praises Mr. Tilney without any concern for how this may now make Catherine feel.
On the way home, Mrs. Morland tells Catherine how unimportant it is that she has lost the friendship of the Tilneys, when she has the esteem of the Allens. This sensible argument has little effect on Catherine’s feelings. Catherine feels her entire happiness rests with the Tilneys. She silently thinks that Henry must by this time have heard about what happened to her.
The argument that Catherine does not need the Tilneys when she has the Allens reflects Mrs. Morland’s own innocence. In fact, Catherine needs the loyalty of those she loves and respects, not of those, like Mrs. Allen, who are incapable of real judgment or empathy.