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Persuasion | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapter 21

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 21 of Jane Austen's novel Persuasion.

Persuasion | Chapter 21 (Volume 2, Chapter 9) | Summary



Anne visits Mrs. Smith to avoid the attentions of William Elliot. Her friend insists, from looking at Anne, that she must have had a "pleasant evening" at the concert. Thinking of Captain Wentworth, Anne blushes. When Mrs. Smith asks about William Elliot, Anne is shocked to discover her friend and her cousin are old acquaintances. Mrs. Smith asks for Anne's help in securing a favor from him, clearly presuming that they are engaged or nearly engaged. When Anne promises to approach her "cousin," emphasizing clearly that she has only a family relationship with him, Mrs. Smith appears confused.

Frustrated, Anne insists she will never marry William Elliot and demands, "I should like to know why you imagine I am." Mrs. Smith confesses she heard the gossip from Nurse Rooke, who cares for both Mrs. Wallis and herself. Mrs. Smith has heard that William Elliot originally went to Bath with the desire to prevent Mrs. Clay from ensnaring Sir Walter. He developed a second motive, however, as he genuinely admires Anne and wishes to marry her.

Mrs. Smith then feels free to tell Anne her history with William Elliot. A friend of her late husband, he encouraged Mr. Smith to spend beyond his income. Elliot was the executor of Mr. Smith's will but coldheartedly refused to act, creating significant difficulties for Mrs. Smith. This is why she wants Anne to intercede for her.

Anne's friend also shares an old letter from him in which he speaks poorly of Sir Walter and Elizabeth Elliot. Anne thanks her for the information and resolves to confide in Lady Russell.


The initial tension in the chapter derives from the misunderstanding between Mrs. Smith and Anne. While Anne thinks Mrs. Smith is speaking about what has passed between her and Wentworth at the concert, Mrs. Smith has William Elliot in mind.

Mrs. Smith's revelations further the theme of upward mobility. While goodhearted Anne, seeking love in marriage, questions William Elliot's motivation of marrying for money, Mrs. Smith defends him. She says, "When one lives in the world, a man or woman's marrying for money is too common" to incriminate their character. Anne's innocence displays her high ideals for the institution of marriage, ideals shared by only a handful of other characters in the novel.

The chapter affirms Anne's suspicions about why her cousin has made a late effort to reconnect with her family. Readers also see Anne slowly becoming more open about her thoughts and feelings, with herself as well as others.

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