Isabella Thorpe, called Belle by family members, is a character in Northanger Abbey. Isabella is the eldest daughter of Mrs. Thorpe and the late Mr. Thorpe.


Stay in BathEdit

New friendshipEdit

She met Catherine Morland in Bath. She reminded Isabella of James Morland, Catherine's brother.[2] Isabella's brother was a friend of James's at school, and the Thorpes had him for Christmas the year before.

Isabella and Catherine became fast friends, and moved through the stages of friendship quite quickly during both their stays in the city. They called each other by their Christian names, dispensing with usual formality, walked hand in hand, and were not to be divided while dancing. They even shared a mutual love of the Gothic novel, specifically novels by Ann Radcliffe. Isabella was overjoyed to learn that James Morland was in town, and began to spend as much time with him as possible, with the goal of marrying him, as she believed that James was heir to a larger fortune than he was—but none of the Morlands ever deceived them about this. She pushed Catherine towards her brother, John Thorpe, a vain man who swore almost every sentence.[3] Isabella made it her goal to snag James, as she believed him to be wealthier than he was, or the heir to much more wealth than he was. She even ruined Catherine's plans to go to the pump-room to talk with Eleanor Tilney when she pushed her to accompany them on a carriage ride.[4]


James finally proposed to her presumably after she, James, her brother, and Maria Thorpe, went on a carriage excursion. Catherine was a bit shocked to learn about their love, but was happy for her brother and good friend. She chalked up a lot of Isabella's praises of her brother to love as opposed to what was actually true, as she didn't think him that handsome and knew him to be only moderately wealthy at best. The couple only had to receive consent from James's father, and Isabella waited nervously for Mr. Morland's consent in the mail, and celebrated with her mother and brother because they believed she snagged a very wealthy young gentleman. Mr. Morland finally sent his consent, although without particulars, but Isabella did not need those so readily and was quite pleased with herself. This didn't really sway Catherine's judgment of them at all.[5]

Viper in the bosomEdit

Once her engagement with James was final, Isabella and John then did everything they could to drive a wedge between Catherine and the Tilney family, namely Henry and Eleanor, so that Catherine would accept John's suit, and get more of the fortune that the Thorpes believes the Morlands possessed. When Catherine expressed dismay at how cold Henry and Eleanor were when she visited the family for tea, Isabella said very dramatically that their distance had all to do with haughtiness and pride in order to dissuade Catherine from continuing her acquaintance with the Tilneys.[6] She continued to try to show her devotion to James Morland by telling Catherine that in no certain terms would be be dancing with anyone but her fiancé. She later proved herself a liar when she danced with Frederick Tilney, the handsome brother of Henry Tilney, much to Catherine's surprise. She later said that Frederick had pushed and pushed until she relented, which was not the case.[6]

Isabella's happiness with her engagement waned considerably when Mr. Morland's next letter came to lay out the particulars. James would only receive £400[7] a year for his marriage, because the Morland family truly was not extremely wealthy, and there were also nine other children to take into account. Isabella immediately asked for a 2 to 3 year engagement—longer than the usual engagement—in order to look for better offers.[6]

Frederick TilneyEdit

Isabella found a "better offer" quite quickly in the handsome army captain Frederick Tilney, the elder brother of Mr. Henry Tilney and the heir of Northanger Abbey.[8] When Catherine was invited to stay at Northanger by General Tilney and Eleanor, Isabella told Catherine that she must tell her everything about the estate, as she would like "particular description" about it—which hinted that she wished to snag Captain Tilney as a husband, and turn her sights away from James Morland.[9] Catherine, being very trusting of Isabella at this point in their acquaintance, did not pick up on this, despite the fact that Isabella had danced with Tilney multiple times even though she said she would not dance with any man besides her fiancé, and that Isabella seemed to be looking for someone despite knowing that James would not attend the gathering. Isabella also informed Catherine of John Thorpe's romantic interest in her, and accused her gently of knowing she was encouraging her brother. Catherine, all shocked, responded that she had no idea. Isabella continued to accuse her subtly of leading her brother on and having designs on him.[9]

Isabella was clearly jealous of Catherine going to Northanger, but she put on quite a convincing act about being heartfelt. She promised to write Catherine quite a bit. She ended up not writing at all.[10]

Isabella continued to engage in flirtation with Frederick Tilney, hoping that he would come to love her enough to ask to marry her. Isabella was likely caught with Tilney[11] to make James Morland break off the marriage and send a missive to Catherine telling his sister what transpired. They parted with mutual consent, and Isabella hoped that Frederick would ask to marry her.[12]

Attempt at reconciliationEdit

"I rejoice to say that the young man whom, of all others, I particularly abhor, has left Bath. You will know, from this description, that I mean Captain Tilney, who, as you may remember, was amazingly disposed to follow and tease me, before you went away. Afterwards he got worse, and became quite my shadow."
—Isabella's account of events.[src]

When it became clear that Captain Tilney had no interest in making an offer for Isabella, she attempted to reconcile her relationship with the Morland family by going to Catherine first, as Catherine had always been easy to manipulate. She blamed her straying affections on Frederick, mostly, and asked for Catherine to put in a good word for her to James Morland.[13]

Character traitsEdit

"So much for Isabella and for all our intimacy! She must think me an idiot, or she could not have written so; but perhaps this has served to make her character better known to me than mine is to her. I see what she has been about. She is a vain coquette, and her tricks have not answered. I do not believe she had ever any regard either for James or for me, and I wish I had never known her."
—Catherine talking about Isabella's deceit and her attempt at reconciliation.[src]

Isabella is described as a beauty. She is very interested in men with light hair and light eyes, as opposed to Catherine, who is interested in the tall, dark, and handsome type. She is very manipulative and self-serving, and has a passive aggressive streak that she uses to make Catherine do what she wants.

She always made sure to display affection to Catherine while in front of James Morland, in order to show and highlight their friendship. She is the proverbial "viper in the bosom", as she seeks to elevate herself and her family at the expense of her "friend's" happiness.


Isabella is the classic archetype of the viper in the bosom, and gets her comeuppance at the end of the story. She is one of the main antagonists of the book, although Catherine gets it into her head that General Tilney is the main one.

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. Chapter 31; Mentioned as having no fortune to her name when Eleanor Tilney asks about Isabella's connections.
  2. Northanger Abbey, Chapter 4
  3. Chapter 7
  4. Chapter 9
  5. Chapter 15
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Chapter 16
  7. Equivalent of around 27,000 USD as of April, 2017; not large enough a sum for Isabella
  8. Mentioned to be the eldest son in Chapter 20. It is likely that the estate is entailed, which would make Captain Tilney the heir to Northanger.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Chapter 18
  10. Chapter 24
  11. To be fair to Isabella, it would not have taken having sex with Tilney for people to have this reaction. A woman need only to be caught alone with a man without a chaperone for her to be "ruined".
  12. Chapter 25
  13. Chapter 27
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.