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by Jane Austen

Persuasion Chapter 23 Summary

  • Anne decides to put off bashing Mr. Elliot to Lady Russell for another day, since she’s more concerned with setting things right with Captain Wentworth.
  • She plans to spend the day with the Musgroves; when she arrives, Mrs. Croft, Captain Harville, and Captain Wentworth are all there already.
  • Rather than the calm day she had expected, she finds herself all worked up over Wentworth’s presence.
  • Wentworth sits down to write a letter as Mrs. Musgrove rattles on to Mrs. Croft about Henrietta’s engagement and upcoming marriage.
  • Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Croft both talk about how awful it is for a young couple to have to be engaged for a long time, and how much better it is for them to just get married and figure everything out after the wedding. This may not seem like the best advice, but both Anne and Wentworth feel the application to their own past and exchange an involuntary but meaningful glance.
  • Captain Harville gets Anne’s attention to tell her about his task for the day: getting a miniature portrait of Captain Benwick reset as a gift for his bride (that’s what Wentworth’s writing his letter about). Trouble is, the portrait was originally made for Harville’s sister Fanny, and Harville is rather sad that his sister has been forgotten so soon, though he doesn’t blame Benwick for going for the live girl over the dead one.
  • Harville says that his sister would not have found a new boyfriend so soon if Benwick had been the one to die, and Anne says that "any woman who truly loved" (23.18) would be the same.
  • Anne goes on to say that women in general do not forget as soon as men do, partly because they’re stuck at home with nothing to do but think and remember, while men can distract themselves with worldly adventures.
  • Harville says that Benwick hasn’t been having adventures at all, he’s been sitting around reading angst-ridden poetry, and Anne says the difference must be in man’s nature vs. woman’s.
  • Harville disagrees, saying that, as men’s bodies are stronger, men’s feelings must be stronger too.
  • Anne replies that strength is not the same thing as endurance, and that men’s stronger bodies don’t allow them to live any longer than women.
  • Their conversation is interrupted by a noise: Wentworth has dropped his pen, and Anne wonders if he’s been listening in.
  • Harville asks if Wentworth is done with his letter, and Wentworth replies that he needs a few more minutes to finish up.
  • Harville turns back to Anne to say that there’s no way to settle their disagreement one way or the other (apparently rock, paper, scissors hasn’t been invented yet), but that all of literature is on the side of men’s constancy and women’s fickleness.
  • Before Anne can reply, Harville answers for her by pointing out that all those books were written by men. Anne agrees that books can’t prove anything, since only men have had "the pen […] in their hands" (23.28), and thus literature shows only the male viewpoint.
  • Harville asks how then they could settle the question, and Anne says they can’t, since everyone is biased towards her or his own gender.
  • Harville wishes he could overcome those biases and make Anne understand what a man experiences when he leaves his family to go off to sea.
  • Anne answers that she’s not dissing men’s ability to be loyal and true, but just saying that a man can only do that "while the woman you love lives, and lives for you." She continues: "All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone" (23.32).
  • Their conversation is interrupted again, this time by Mrs. Croft leaving; Wentworth soon follows her, and Anne is disappointed that he doesn’t even look at her on his way out.
  • Soon, however, Wentworth returns, saying that he’s forgotten his gloves.
  • In picking them up he also pulls out a letter from under the scratch paper on the desk and looks at Anne "with eyes of glowing entreaty" (23.40).
  • Anne picks up the letter, and, hoping Mrs. Musgrove will stay busy enough for her to read it without distractions, opens it.
  • The letter, in short (though a summary can’t really do it justice): Wentworth still loves Anne, and awaits a signal from her as to whether she returns his love; if not, he’ll go out of her life forever.
  • Anne is understandably blown away by this, and when Charles, Mary, and Henrietta arrive ten minutes later, she can no longer keep up the appearance of calmness, so she decides to go home.
  • She really just wants some time to herself, and a chance to give Wentworth his signal (preferably with flashing neon lights and sirens, so it’ll be impossible to miss), but Charles insists on walking her home.
  • On the way they do run into Wentworth, and luckily Charles wants to go look at a gun, so he leaves Anne and Wentworth to amuse themselves.
  • Even before Anne says anything, Wentworth reads her emotions, and they go off happily, restrained only by the strict Regency disapproval of PDAs.
  • They go over the past, enjoying remembering their story now that they know it will have a happy ending.
  • Wentworth explains that he always loved Anne, he was just bitterly angry at her for dumping him, and that he never meant to marry Louisa, but got in over his head before he realized how seriously everyone was taking his relationship with her.
  • Once Louisa conveniently fell for Benwick, Wentworth decided to come to Bath to see if he still had a chance with Anne, taking comfort in his knowledge that she had previously turned down Charles Musgrove.
  • They go over their more recent history, and Wentworth talks about his jealousy of Mr. Elliot, and his fear that Anne would once more bow to pressure and marry her family’s chosen suitor.
  • Anne counters that a) she’s older and wiser now, and b) when she turned Wentworth down, she thought it was her duty to choose the safer option, and that marrying Mr. Elliot was neither the dutiful nor the safe thing to do.
  • Despite taking the scenic route, they finally arrive at the Elliot residence, and Wentworth leaves Anne there in a golden haze of happiness.
  • That evening at the party, nothing can dent Anne’s joy, especially since she’s able to steal a few semi-private moments of conversation with Wentworth.
  • During one of those conversations, Anne says that, while Lady Russell’s advice to her younger self was wrong, Anne’s following of that advice was not: it was not the act of persuasion itself, but what she was being persuaded to do that was the problem.
  • Wentworth says he still isn’t able to forgive Lady Russell, but he’s realizing that he himself can’t escape blame. He asks Anne if he had come back when he first made good at sea, would she have taken him back, and she replies, "hell yes!" (or the Austen equivalent).
  • Wentworth replies with the Austen equivalent of "d’oh!": if he had gotten over himself earlier, they could have sorted this whole mess out six years before, without taking a whole novel to do it.

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