Persuasion | Study Guide

Jane Austen

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Chapter 23

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Chapter 23 of Jane Austen's novel Persuasion.

Persuasion | Chapter 23 (Volume 2, Chapter 11) | Summary



Anne has promised to spend the next day with the Musgroves. When she arrives at the White Hart, Mrs. Musgrove, Mrs. Croft, Captain Harville, and Captain Wentworth are all there. While Wentworth and Harville labor over a letter, Anne overhears Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Croft's conversation. When Mrs. Croft expresses that long engagements are "unsafe and unwise," Anne and Wentworth lock eyes.

Harville asks Anne to join him. Upset about Captain Benwick's sudden engagement so soon after the death of Harville's sister, he wishes to engage Anne in a conversation about whose feelings are more steadfast: those of a man or a woman. Both defend their gender, arguing in a friendly debate. When Wentworth drops his pen Anne realizes he is listening closely. After an emotional speech delivered by Harville over the torment he suffers every time he says goodbye to his family, Anne admits men can experience constant feelings and then shares her perspective: "All the privilege," she claims for women, "is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone." At the conversation's end the two are closer.

Hurriedly, Wentworth exits without a farewell, stunning Anne. As she approaches the writing table, however, he returns. While grabbing his gloves, he leaves Anne a hastily written letter. In it he confesses his unchanged love for her. "I have loved none but you," he says and asks her to confirm her love with "[a] word" or "a look." Overwhelmed, Anne excuses herself. Before she makes her sudden exit, Anne worries Wentworth will interpret her absence negatively, and she makes Mrs. Musgrove promise to extend the party invitation to Harville and Wentworth again.

Mrs. Musgrove asks Charles Musgrove to escort her home. Outside, Wentworth joins them, and Charles leaves Anne in Wentworth's company. While walking through Bath, they discuss their past misunderstandings and present feelings and are reunited: "more exquisitely happy, perhaps, in their reunion, than when it had been first projected."

At the party the two talk briefly at every chance. When Anne defends her choice to end the engagement, Wentworth realizes he blames himself more than Lady Russell for their lost time.


Overheard conversations in this chapter drive the former lovers back into each other's arms. The first is Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Croft's conversation bemoaning the danger of lengthy engagements. The conversation raises tension because, had Anne not broken their engagement it would have been a long one; Wentworth lacked money, and Anne lacked the support of her family and friends.

Anne and Harville's debate over whose gender loves better is a pivotal scene. Again Anne takes initiative to control her fate. Previously Wentworth spoke briefly on the same subject at the concert. This speech serves as Anne's spirited response to Wentworth's beliefs about constancy and prompts Wentworth to write the letter confessing his love for her. Anne doesn't leave fate to take its course, however. She makes a point of ensuring that Wentworth will attend her family's party so she can give him the signs he has requested if she returns his love.

The last walk, a motif used throughout the novel to provide private reflection and conversation, appropriately belongs to Wentworth and Anne. During their long, intimate stroll to Camden Place they resolve their misunderstandings and affirm their devotion. Only one conflict remains: the contention between Lady Russell and Wentworth.

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