Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey

Northanger Abbey Volume 2, Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Catherine watches Isabella’s behavior over the next few days. Isabella gives just as much attention to Captain Tilney as to James when they are all in public together. Catherine resents this behavior, although she thinks Isabella is unaware of the suffering she is causing James. Catherine also pities Captain Tilney, whom she believes must be unaware of Isabella’s engagement and bound to be disappointed when he learns of it. She hints to Isabella that her behavior is causing pain, but Isabella does not react to her hints. Catherine is dismayed to learn that Captain Tilney will not accompany his family when they leave Bath.
The tables have turned. Catherine, who was unable to understand Isabella’s hints about her feelings for James, now tries to hint to Isabella that she is hurting James and leading Captain Tilney on. Catherine is too innocent and sincere to recognize Isabella for a hypocrite and a manipulator, who is ignoring her hints on purpose because she hopes to marry Captain Tilney instead of James.
Themes
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
Catherine speaks to Henry Tilney and asks him to tell Captain Tilney that Isabella is engaged to James. Henry says that his brother knows of the engagement, and then tries to change the subject. Catherine persists, saying he should advise his brother to leave Bath, because he is only making the inevitable sorrow of losing Isabella to James more painful for himself by staying. Henry says that his brother knows what he is doing, but Catherine counters that he could not know that he is hurting James. Henry says that “no man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.” Catherine is embarrassed for Isabella.
Catherine is still thought of and treated like a child by her parents, and she has not yet ceased to expect that people ought to be told what is right and what is wrong. Catherine cannot conceive of Frederick’s behavior as anything but a sign of love, not realizing that he may be hypocritically leading Isabella on and just pretending to love her. Henry tries to gently suggest to Catherine that Isabella, James, and Frederick are all adults, and must be responsible for their own behavior.
Themes
Sincerity and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
Catherine agrees that Isabella’s behavior has been bad, but insists that Isabella loves James very much. Henry will not explain explicitly what he thinks his brother’s aims are, only saying that he “is a lively, and perhaps sometime a thoughtless young man.” Catherine persists, asking if perhaps General Tilney should intercede to force Captain Tilney to leave. Henry comments that she is perhaps pressing too far, noting that James could not possibly want Isabella’s love if it is only his when no one else is nearby. Henry says that perhaps Isabella’s flirtation with Frederick is well-understood by James and fits into their relationship’s dynamic. His final comfort to Catherine is to say that his brother will likely leave Bath only a few days after him, and Isabella and James may laugh over the episode together after that. Catherine finally allows herself to be comforted.
Henry hints but doesn’t state explicitly that Frederick is merely flirting with Isabella and does not mean anything by it. This kind of relationship is utterly unfamiliar to Catherine. Henry explains that a healthy relationship can tolerate flirtation, if the man and woman understand one another’s intentions and actions. Isabella and James’s loyalty to one another should supersede the casual flirtation Isabella is having with Frederick, or their love is not real. Catherine cannot imagine that Isabella and James have a dysfunctional relationship, and assumes that the flirtation must be acceptable within the context of their relationship as Henry suggests.
Themes
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
Catherine is also comforted by her last meeting with Isabella before she leaves. Isabella seems to express more affection towards Catherine than she does towards James, but Catherine thinks of what Henry Tilney said, and decides that perhaps this is just how James and Isabella’s relationship operates.
Catherine does not realize that Isabella wishes to maintain their relationship because she hopes that she too, as well as Catherine, will marry into the Tilney family. Instead, Catherine lets herself be comforted by what Henry Tilney said about how a relationship should work.
Themes
Experience and Innocence Theme Icon
Loyalty and Love Theme Icon
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