As the date of Lady Russell’s return approaches, Anne ponders how her move back to Kellynch Hall will affect her life. On the one hand, she will be closer to Captain Wentworth; but on the other hand, he spends so much time at Uppercross that she may be able to avoid seeing him as much. A greater cause of anxiety is the possible meeting of Lady Russell and Captain Wentworth, as the two do not like each other. Meanwhile, Captain Wentworth has just returned from a short absence of two days, during which he visited his old friend Captain Harville at Lyme. Since Captain Wentworth speaks so warmly of his friend and of Lyme, it is decided that the Cottage party and the Miss Musgroves will all accompany Captain Wentworth once again to Lyme.
The initial plan of making a day trip being revised into an overnight stay, the party sets out by carriage and arrives at Lyme in the early afternoon. After securing a room, the party promenades down to the sea. While the party contemplates the scenery, Captain Wentworth goes to meet Captain Benwick and returns with him, as well as with Captain and Mrs. Harville. Captain Benwick is particularly close to the Harvilles because he was formerly engaged to Captain Harville’s sister. The engagement had been prolonged until Captain Benwick won promotion and acquired fortune. Alas, Miss Harville did not live to know it, for she died while he was still at sea.
After making their way down to the Cobb (a stone breakwater around the harbor), the party visits the Harvilles and finds very small but charming quarters. Despite his lameness — or precisely because of his lameness — Captain Harville has put a significant effort into carpentering many “ingenious contrivances” to improve the lodging house. Seen together with all the rare artifacts that the captain has collected form his travels, the house appears to Anne as a “picture of repose and domestic happiness.” Indeed, the Harvilles are so unaffected and hospitable that, upon leaving, Louisa “burst forth into raptures of admiration and delight on the character of the navy — their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness” (66).
In the evening, Captain Harville comes to visit along with Captain Benwick. Although the captain is shy in manners, Anne finds that he is well versed in poetry. The two discuss various romantic poems passionately. At the end of the evening, Anne goes so far as to recommend him to read prose, which may help alleviate his grief for the loss of Miss Harville.
The next morning, Anne and Henrietta rise early and take a stroll by the sea before breakfast. Henrietta delivers a brief speech, first stating that the sea air is beneficial to one’s health. Her point is that it may also benefit Dr. Shirley, the rector of Uppercross. If Dr. Shirley were to move to Lyme, this would be favorable for Henrietta, since Charles Hayter would probably be granted permission to perform his duties at Uppercross. Anne listens patiently to Henrietta’s speech, “as ready to do good by entering into the feelings of a young lady as of a young man [Captain Benwick]” (69). She sympathizes with Henrietta, who in turn declares that she wished she could consult with the influential Lady Russell.
After Captain Wentworth and Louisa join Anne and Henrietta, they pass a gentleman who glances at Anne in exceeding admiration (though “completely in a gentlemanly manner”). The ocean wind has rejuvenated Anne’s looks, for even Captain Wentworth seems to “see something like Anne Elliot again” (70). As everyone returns to the inn and has their breakfast, a carriage is heard drawing away. It turns out to be the man from earlier. Upon inquiry at the inn, the party learns that the man’s name is also Elliot. By deduction, it is decided that the man is a cousin, indeed none other than Sir William Walter Elliot, heir presumptive to Kellynch. Although Mary encourages Anne to write about the event to Bath, Anne thinks silently that it would be better not to do so, as the name of Mr. Elliot still irritates Sir Elliot and Elizabeth.
When the captains Harville and Benwick join the party at the inn, Anne finds herself once more discussing romantic poetry with Captain Benwick (specifically, Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron). After a while, Captain Harville approaches her and declares that she has “done a good deed in making that poor fellow [Captain Benwick] talk so much” (72). Captain Harville goes on to explain that it was Captain Wentworth who, the previous summer, brought the tragic news to Captain Benwick and stayed with him for an entire week.
As the party approaches the Cobb, the ladies take the steps down to lower ground, but Louisa insists on being “jumped down” by Captain Wentworth (73). After she completes the jump successfully, she insists on repeating it once more — but this time, she jumps to early and falls to the ground, to be “taken up lifeless” (74). Amidst a general panic, Anne calls for a surgeon and suggests that Captain Benwick go instead of Captain Wentworth, as he is more familiar with the town. On the way back to the inn, the party meets the Harvilles, who take Louisa under their own care. When the surgeon arrives, he notes that Louisa has suffered severe contusions to the head, but deems her recovery by no means hopeless.
Given Louisa’s condition, it is deemed best for her to remain in Mrs. Harville’s care. In the meantime, Uppercross must be notified of the situation. Although it is first decided that Anne will remain at Lyme while Mary, Henrietta, and Captain Wentworth return to Uppercross, Mary’s jealousy results in her being switched with Anne. During the return home, Captain Wentworth devotes himself to comforting Henrietta. As they arrive at Uppercross, the captain consults Anne’s opinion on how to proceed, bringing her secret but great satisfaction. After the news is divulged to the parents, the captain returns to Lyme.
The next morning, Charles returns home with news: Louisa’s condition is stable, though a quick recovery cannot be expected, and Mrs. Harville has proven herself an excellent nurse. On the same day, various arrangements are made with Anne’s help. Anne also persuades the Musgroves to leave for Lyme on the following morning. Finally left alone at in the Great House, awaiting Lady Russell’s carriage to bring her back to Kellynch, Anne contemplates her sojourn at Uppercross. She has grown fond of Uppercross, to the extent that even as Lady Russell brings her news of the Elliots, she finds her thoughts wandering back to Lyme.
After three or four days, Anne receives word from Lyme that Louisa’s condition is improving. At this point, Lady Russell proposes that they pay Mrs. Croft a visit at Kellynch Hall. Although Lady Russell is displeased with the Crofts’ living in Kellynch Hall, Anne holds the Crofts in such high esteem that “she could not but in conscience feel. . . that Kellynch-hall had passed into better hands than its owners’” (82). The Crofts receive Lady Russell and Anne warmly. After discussing the accident at Lyme, the Crofts assure the two ladies that little has been changed at Kellynch Hall (except an improvement to the laundry door and the removal of some mirrors from Sir Elliot’s room). At the end of the visit, the Crofts announce that they will be away for a few weeks to visit relatives. And “so ended all danger to Anne of meeting Captain Wentworth at Kellynch-Hall” (85).
At Lyme, Louisa has improved to the point that she can sit up, but she still cannot return to Uppercross. Charles and Mary have spent a considerable time at Lyme, where Mary has found the change of locale agreeable. Since Mrs. Harville has been busy nursing Louisa, Mrs. Musgrove has taken it upon herself to oversee the Harville children. As for Captain Benwick, it appears that he has become a “heart-broken” man after Anne’s departure — a subject of some jealousy on Mary’s part. After some discussion of the captain’s character, the topic turns to Mr. Elliot. Lady Russell declares that she has no desire to see the man, considering his cold attitude towards Sir Elliot.
As Christmas approaches, Uppercross finds its former liveliness restored. Apart from Henrietta, all of the family has returned home. In addition, Mrs. Musgrove has brought over the Harville children again. After visiting Uppercross, Lady Russell and Anne drive to Bath, where it appears that Mr. Elliot has been calling repeatedly on Sir Elliot. Unlike Anne, Lady Russell does not enjoy the “bustles of Uppercross” and is eager to regain the quiet of Bath (89). As for Anne, “she felt that she would rather see Mr. Elliot again than not, which was more than she could say for many other persons at Bath” (90).
The poetic mode of narration from the excursion to Winthrop continues when Musgroves and Anne visit Lyme with Captain Wentworth. The narrator evokes not only poetry but a sense of history in the description of Lyme’s environs:
Pinny, with its green chasms between romantic rocks, where the scattered forest trees and orchards of luxuriant growth declare that many a generation must have passed away since the first partial falling of the cliff prepared the ground for such a state. (64)
The length and degree of exaggeration in such descriptions mark Lyme as a special setting, entirely different from Kellynch, Uppercross, and Bath. Removed from civilization to a more primal environment, the mood seems appropriate for an extraordinary event to occur. As it turns out, the events at Lyme serve as an important turning point in the novel.
The Harvilles are characters in many ways synecdochical to the environment in which they live. Not only do they inspire admiration with their “bewitching degree of hospitality,” but their actions are entirely natural, friendly, and unassuming. As polar opposites to the likes of Sir Walter and Elizabeth, they pay no heed to the “usual style of give-and-take invitations, and dinners of formality and display.” They are so likeable that Anne almost falls into a depression when she realizes that she has no friends like the Harvilles. The narrator makes an additional point of extending the Harvilles’ personal charm into a generalization: Louisa admires not only their character, but also “the character of the navy” (66). Indeed, all of the naval officers and their wives are described as open and warm spirited—all except the melancholic and quiet Captain Benwick.
Anne’s interaction with Captain Benwick emphasizes one of her greatest strengths of character: gentleness. As Stuart M. Tave observes, “while Wentworth and Harville lead the talk on one side of the room,” Anne, “by her mildness and gentleness, encourages Benwick to talk and has her good effect on him” (Tave 32). Captain Benwick’s situation parallels her own from seven years ago, insofar as he has a lost a loved one. Anne thus makes an effort to be of “real use” and finds herself “well repaid [for] the first trouble of exertion” (67). For once, her word carries some weight.
As the two discuss the romantic poetry of Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott, it becomes clear that Captain Benwick appreciates the particularly tragic poems because he identifies with them: “he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imagined a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, and looked so entirely as if he meant to be understood” (67). Aristotle writes, in the Poetics, that the goal of tragedy is catharsis—a release, purging, and purification. In Captain Benwick’s case, tragedy seems to have the opposite effect of intensifying his misery. Anne thus recommends that he take poetry in moderation and recommends him “a larger allowance of prose in his daily study” that includes the “strongest examples of moral and religious endurances” (68). As with the earlier scene of the autumnal walk to Winthrop, we learn that Anne appreciates poetry in part as a means to an end.
Reading, however, is not necessarily the only means by which Anne endured her separation from Captain Wentworth. When Louisa suffers her fateful fall at the Cobb, Anne demonstrates an admirable inner strength. It is she who has the presence of mind to call for a surgeon immediately; it is she who points out that Captain Benwick should go rather than Captain Wentworth. And just as she exerted herself with Captain Benwick on the previous evening, so too does she devote herself to the consideration of others: “Anne, attending with all the strength and zeal, and thought, which instinct supplied, to Henrietta, still tried, at intervals, to suggest comfort to the others, tried to quite Mary, to animate Charles, to assuage the feelings of Captain Wentworth” (75). It is ironic that the gentlest of the party should also be the most reassuring. But where truly important matters are concerned, her words carry a great deal of weight. Thus at the end of the day, Anne appears to have regained the respect of Captain Wentworth. When they return to Uppercross, he appeals to her for advice on how to proceed—and “the remembrance of the appeal remained a pleasure to her” (79).
In Louisa’s fall at the Cobb, incidentally, the critic Cheryl Ann Weissman notices a striking doubleness. When Anne first anticipates a meeting with Captain Wentworth, Mary’s son Charles falls and injures himself. Now, Louisa’s fall marks another turning point in the novel. Weissman writes: “The symmetry is as significant as it similarity; as the child’s fall heralds a courteous and cold reacquaintanceship, Louisa’s precipitates Wentworth’s recognition of love and his return to Anne” (Weissman 309). Another example of doubleness follows immediately after Louisa falls: when Henrietta faints after Louisa falls, passersby enjoy the sight of “a dead young lady, nay two dead young ladies, for it proved twice as fine as the first report (75). Weissman suggests that such examples, along with the doubling of names that occurs throughout the novel, creates a “cadence of poetic refrain.” The refrain in turn suggests that “implicit in the novel’s premise is a doubleness of time, for Persuasion is constructed like a palimpsest, an overlay through which we must decipher an original” (Weissman 310).
The parallelism in the scenes at Lyme, in particular, do invoke a strong sense of returning to the “original” story of Anne and Captain Wentworth. This return occurs as a function of Louisa's fall discussed above, but also in a physical manner. By the beach, the sea winds rejuvenate Anne’s complexion: “She was looking remarkably well. . . having the bloom and freshness of youth restored by the fine wind.” The tone is approving; Anne Elliot, who lost her bloom early, has regained it. Just as Mr. Elliot passes by and notices her prettiness, so too does Captain Wentworth “see something like Anne Elliot again” (70).