I am in the midst of chapter 9. A couple of things really stick out to me.
Catherine finally makes a friend in Bath, Isabella Thorpe, who is several years older than her. Isabella makes me think of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” It is so true. She is such a flirt, chasing after men, and manipulating every situation to her best advantage. We tend to have a “pie in the sky” idea of the ladies that lived in Jane Austen’s time, but we have proof, through her novels, that girls could be just as dumb and flirtatious and they can be now and men could be just as block-headed then as they can be now.
My example: Catherine and Isabella are in the pump-room wandering around when Isabella thinks that two men are staring at them. She thinks this is deplorable behavior. Presently, the two men leave and immediately Isabella wants to leave and, miraculously, in the same direction as the two men. Catherine agrees to leave.
“Only,” she (Catherine) added, “perhaps we may overtake the two young men.”
“Oh! Never mind that. If we make haste, we shall pass by them presently, and I am dying to show you my hat.”
“But if we only wait a few minutes, there will be no danger of our seeing them at all.”
“I shall not pay them any such compliment, I assure you. I have no notion of treating men with such respect. That is the way to spoil them.”
Catherine had nothing to oppose against such reasoning; and therefore, to show the independence of Miss Thorpe, and her resolution of humbling the sex, they set off immediately as fast as they could walk, in pursuit of the two young men.
In chapter 7 we meet Catherine’s brother and his friend Mr. Thorpe, who happens to be the brother of her new friend, Isabella. Every time I read this book, I cannot understand how Catherine lets herself get pushed around so much, so manipulated by Mr. Thorpe and Isabella. Their shallow idea of friendship just oozes through Jane Austen’s words; they view friendship as something that should benefit themselves and not something where you lay down your life for your friends (John 15:13). They are very self-centered in every interaction with Catherine and her brother.
“I think you must like Udolpho, if you were to read it; it is so very interesting.”
“Not I, faith! No, if I read any, it shall be Mrs. Radcliffe’s; her novels are amusing enough; they are worth reading; some fun and nature in them.”
“Udolpho was written by Mrs. Radcliffe,” said Catherine, with some hesitation, from the fear of mortifying him.
“These manners did not please Catherine; but he was James’s friend and Isabella’s brother; and her judgment was further bought off by Isabella’s assuring her, when they withdrew to see the new hat, that John thought her the most charming girl in the world, and by John’s engaging her before they parted to dance with him that evening.”
I wonder if Catherine comes from a place of great naivety and even sheltering. Her family is very simple and genuine. Having a big family of my own, I know that here, your daily interactions are all real. When you fight, when you make up, when you’re having fun, it’s all genuine. Often when you are interacting with “others” you have to put up a front and it seems like Catherine doesn’t know how to do that. She assumes the best of everyone, because that’s what she knows. When you live in a house where there are so many siblings, your life is filled with people that genuinely love you, and it’s easy to take that attitude to the rest of the world. You meet someone, they say they love you, and you have no reason to doubt them, because that’s the truth in your life. However, it’s quite plainly not the truth in Isabella’s life. Although it does seem like Isabella has several siblings, including Mr. Thorpe, their family dynamic is obviously vastly different from Catherine’s.