Persuasion Summary and Analysis of Chapters 15-18

In Camden Place at Bath, Sir Walter has taken a dignified house. Although Anne dreads the months ahead that she must spend with Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Mrs. Clay, she is surprised pleasantly by a cordial welcome. Her father and sister are eager to show her their house, which has become an extremely popular place to visit in Bath. All around, people seek their acquaintance. The excellent spirits at Camden Place are also attributable to Mr. Elliot, who has been restored completely in the Elliots’ good grace. He has managed to “explain away all the appearance of neglect on his own side,” and even the fault of his former marriage has been extenuated by new information (91).

To Anne, the situation remains somewhat mystifying. Why has Mr. Elliot decided to reestablish his connection with the rest of the family, after all these years? Indeed, “in all probability he was already the richer of the two, and the Kellynch estate would as surely be his hereafter as the title” (92). Anne arrives at the conclusion, then, that he must be seeking Elizabeth’s companionship — an idea that both Elizabeth and Mrs. Clay seem to have already taken up. Although Anne mentions her sightings of him at Lyme, the others pay her little heed, for they are busy describing him themselves. For the whole evening, Mr. Elliot and his friends are discussed. (Of Mr. Elliot’s friends, there is one Colonel Wallis who supposedly has a very beautiful wife — a rare sight, Sir Walter declares, among the plain women of Bath.)

At the end of the evening, just as Sir Walter inquires about Mary, a knock is heard at the door. It turns out to be Mr. Elliot himself, stopping by after a dinner in Lansdown Crescent. Anne finds him just as good-looking as she did in Lyme. As he joins their dinner table conversation, it also becomes clear to her that he possesses a “sensible, discerning mind,” in addition to excellent manners (94). About an hour is spent in discussion, during which Mr. Elliot inquires about the events at Lyme. “Anne could not have supposed it possible that her first evening in Camden-place could have passed so well” (95)!

Although Anne is curious as to whether Mr. Elliot is in love with Elizabeth, she is seriously watchful as to whether Sir Walter has fallen in love with Mrs. Clay. The answer is not at all clear, as Sir Walter seems to appeal to Mrs. Clay’s sensibilities in earnest. He even speaks to Anne about Mrs. Clay’s “improved looks” (96). For her part, Mrs. Clay’s intentions of going away seem nothing more than a “decent pretense” (95). Although Anne resigns herself to the situation — thinking that at least “the evil of the marriage would be much diminished, if Elizabeth were also to marry”— Lady Russell is much more vexed by Mrs. Clay’s favorable position in Camden Place.

Lady Russell also differs from Anne in her opinion of Mr. Elliot. To be sure, she agrees with Anne that he has good understanding, opinions, sensibilities, etc. But she finds it natural that he wishes to restore good relations with Sir Walter, whereas Anne still believes that his ulterior motive is to approach Elizabeth. (In terms of valuing rank and connection, Lady Russell and Mr. Elliot appear quite similar.) Anne also finds it strange that Mr. Elliot has recovered so quickly from the death of his wife, which occurred seven months ago. In any case, she is glad to know him, as he is “without any question their pleasantest acquaintance in Bath” (97).

One morning, the Bath paper announces the arrival of Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Carteret, at Laura Place. Much to Anne’s dismay, they are cousins of the Elliots, so the Elliots are swept away by a desire to introduce themselves. Since there has been a lack of proper communications in recent years, the they agonize as to how to renew the connection “without any compromise on the side of the Elliots.” Finally, Sir Walter writes a “very fine letter of ample explanation, regret and entreaty” (98). The Elliots are introduced to Laura Place and consequently drop the phrase “our cousins, Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret” everywhere they go (99).

The whole ordeal makes Anne ashamed of her family, particularly as the two women of Laura Place have no “superiority of manner, accomplishment, or understanding.” These three adjectives, in Anne’s mind, form an idea of good company. Lady Russell and Mr. Elliot both believe, however, that Lady Dalrymple and Miss Carteret are nonetheless “an acquaintance worth having” (99). Mr. Elliot argues that it is wise to enjoy the advantages of one’s family connections as much as possible. If for no other reason, he concludes, it will distract Sir Walter’s attention from those “who are beneath him” — by which he means Mrs. Clay (100).

While Sir Walter and Elizabeth occupy themselves with Laura Place, Anne renews an old friendship with one Mrs. Smith, a woman three years her senior. Anne remembers Mrs. Smith fondly from her school days, when the latter’s friendship sustained her through homesickness and misery. Anne had heard that Mrs. Smith married soon after school. As it turns out, however, the man spent his money extravagantly and “left his affairs dreadfully involved” at death (101). Even worse, Mrs. Smith’s legs were crippled by rheumatic fever. On account of her legs, then, she has come to stay near the hot springs at Bath.

Despite the tremendous suffering that she has experienced, Mrs. Smith remains cheerful, sensible, and agreeable. “There had been a time,” Mrs. Smith tells Anne, “when her spirits had nearly failed” (102). In such a difficult time, however, her fortunes did not abandon her. Her landlady at Bath proved to be a charitable soul. In addition, the landlady’s sister was able to nurse Mrs. Smith and provide her with good companionship. Mrs. Smith reserves high praise for this nurse Rooke. A "shrewd, intelligent, sensible woman" who has a gift for observing human nature, Mrs. Rooke provides Mrs. Smith not only with gossip, but also with “something that makes one know one’s species better” (102-103). To the bedridden Mrs. Smith, such conversation offers great pleasure. Far from caviling at such pleasure, Anne sympathizes with Mrs. Smith and suggests that it must offer many noble lessons in humanity.

One afternoon, Sir Walter, Elizabeth, and Mrs. Clay return from Laura Place with an invitation from Lady Dalrymple to return the same evening. Since Anne already has an engagement with Mrs. Smith, she attempts to excuse herself. As the details of her friendship with Mrs. Smith emerge, Sir Walter and Elizabeth express their strong disapproval. It is unworthy of an Elliot, they believe, to be visiting a widow with little money and no title in Westgate Buildings. During this conversation, Mrs. Clay leaves the room silently. Anne leaves it to Sir Walter himself to recall that Mrs. Clay is not so different from Mrs. Smith.

Meanwhile, Lady Russell becomes increasingly convinced that Mr. Elliot intends to win Anne over — and that he would deserve her. The match would also mean that Anne would fill her mother’s place as mistress of Kellynch Hall. This last idea excites Anne as much as it does Lady Russell. Despite Lady Russell’s enthusiasm, however, Anne remains vaguely distrustful of Mr. Elliot. He is too at once too polished and too private. How can one know for certain that he has shed his morally suspicious ways of the past? Besides, Anne values openness and warmth above all — and in Mr. Elliot, “there was never any burst of feeling, any warmth of indignation or delight, at the evil or good of others” (106).

In the beginning of February, a month after Anne arrives in Bath, she receives from Mary a letter that is thicker than usual. The first part of the letter describes the quotidian events at Uppercross and mentions that Louisa will be returning home. The second part contains surprising news: Louisa and Captain Benwick have fallen in love, the captain has asked Mr. Musgrove for Louisa’s hand, and Mr. Musgrove has given his consent! In Anne, who deduces immediately how Louisa and Captain Benwick grew so fond of each other, the news incites a wonderful sense of joy. Captain Wentworth is now “unshackled and free” (111)!

Meanwhile, the Crofts have arrived at Bath and have taken a house on Gay Street. From Lady Russell’s carriage, Anne often sees the Crofts walking together, exchanging hearty greeting with friends. One day, however, she happens to walk alone and finds Admiral Croft also alone, contemplating a painting through a shop window. Admiral Croft says that he has something to tell Anne. As they walk together, the admiral explains to her that Captain Wentworth is not the least upset about Louisa’s marriage to Captain Benwick. On the contrary, he “very handsomely hopes that they will be happy together.” Anne does not understand very well what exactly the Admiral is attempting to convey to her. But the Admiral concludes by saying that he will try to have Captain Wentworth come to Bath, so that he can “begin all over again with somebody else” — “Do not you think, Miss Elliot, we had better try to get him to Bath” (115)?


Why has Mr. Elliot made such an effort to be reconciled with Sir Walter and Elizabeth? From her perspective, his newfound efforts appear strange and irrational. She realizes, of course, that her second-hand perspective may be misguided: “all that sounded extravagant or irrational in the progress of the reconciliation might have no origin but in the language of the relators” (92). Nonetheless, Anne intuits that he must want something from the Elliots of Camden Place—something more than simply being on good terms with them, as Lady Russell believes. As it turns out, Anne’s intuition is correct fundamentally, but she misunderstands Mr. Elliot’s ulterior motives. The unraveling of Mr. Elliot’s true motives carries the novel’s plot to its end.

Meanwhile, Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honorable Miss Carteret arrive in Bath. The Dalrymples are peers and thus rank clearly above the Elliots in society. The ensuing debate at Camden Place encapsulates the fine rules of the game in upper class society: how to make a proper self-introduction with compromising one’s dignity? For Sir Walter and Elizabeth, the all-important dignity, like honor, only exists through the conception of others — that is, how other see them. Their primary purpose in life is to be regarded highly by others (we recall that they chose Bath instead of London precisely so that they may be more “important”). When they are finally acquainted with the Dalrymples, therefore, the calling cards of the Viscountess and her daughter are displayed prominently at Camden Place. No matter that the Dalrymples are boring and unremarkable people; they are peers, and it is an honor to be related to them. The cards serve as a symbols of honor.

Anne, who values people for who they are, finds her father and sister’s fortune seeking with the Dalrymples shameful. Whereas Lady Russell maintains that the Dalrymples are “an acquaintance worth having,” Anne sees no merit in associating with people who would not be tolerated if not for their title (99). And yet, a sense of pride in family and class is not altogether absent from Anne. With regards to Mrs. Clay, she agrees with Mr. Elliot that a degrading and “evil” marriage for Sir Walter must be avoided at all costs (96). To be sure, Mrs. Clay is not a particularly worthy or fine woman to begin with. But even for Anne, pride of family is not so easily separated from the prejudice that accompanies it.

Prejudice amid the upper class contributes no small part to Mrs. Smith’s misery. A woman formerly of fashionable society, her fall into poverty has forced her into the lowly Westgate Buildings where no one of any consequence visits her. No one except Anne, of course, who remembers her personal debt to Mrs. Smith. Just as she did with Captain Benwick, Anne exerts herself in her gentle way and engages Mrs. Smith in much-appreciated conversation. The critic Susan Morgan writes that “one measure of Anne’s power to attach present and past and maintain the continuities of her life is her willingness to visit Mrs. Smith” (Morgan 98). Unlike the rest of society, Anne is willing to look beyond present conditions and cherish the past. Her reacquaintance with Mrs. Smith after twelve years prefigures the restoration of another, more important friendship and love.

The news of Captain Benwick’s engagement to Louisa encourages Anne’s hopes of regaining Captain Wentworth’s love. But how did the two “minds most dissimilar” become so attached to one another? Anne believes that the answer lies in their unique and vulnerable situation: “Louisa, just recovering from an illness, had been in an interesting sate, and Captain Benwick was not inconsolable” (110). So happy is Anne about Captain Wentworth’s being “unshackled and free” that her thoughts carry an uncharacteristic tinge of justification for an imperfect match:

She saw no reason against their being happy. Louisa had fine naval fervour to begin with, and they would soon grow more alike. He would gain cheerfulness, and she would learn to be an enthusiast for Scott and Lord Byron; nay, that was probably learn already; of course they had fallen in love over poetry. (111)

We recall that at Lyme, Anne warned Captain Benwick about the powerful effects of poetry, which one “ought to taste. . . but sparingly” (68). Poetry overcomes the senses — its effects are not sensible. Is it really so fortunate, then, that Louisa and Captain Benwick have “fallen in love over poetry” — and that each will mold the other’s character to “grow more alike”?

When Admiral Croft arrives at Bath, he tells Anne that Captain Wentworth rejoices in the engagement between Captain Benwick and Louisa. The admiral states that he has something to tell Anne, but does not elaborate in explicit terms. Instead, he states that “Poor Frederick. . . must begin all over with somebody else” (115). The Admiral’s tone is both subtle and suggestive. He remarks, for example, that “Here are pretty girls enough, I am sure”—not a very gallant comment in the presence of Anne, unless of course he refers to Anne herself by "pretty girls". . . . At least in the reader’s eyes, if not in Anne’s as well, Admiral Croft’s speech seems to foreshadow a happy ending.