Even as Admiral Croft and Anne discuss the possibility of Captain Wentworth coming to Bath, the captain is already on his way. One day, Anne happens to be on Milsom Street with Mr. Elliot, Elizabeth, and Mrs. Clay when it begins to rain. Mr. Elliot spots Lady Dalrymple’s carriage on the street and requests that she take home the three ladies of Camden Place. Since Miss Carteret is with Lady Dalrymple (and there are only four places in the carriage), it is decided that Anne will walk with Mr. Elliot. While they all await the lady’s carriage inside a confectioner’s, Captain Wentworth walks in with some acquaintances. After exchanging some vaguely embarrassed words, the captain offers to arrange a carriage for Anne. Anne declines politely, as Mr. Elliot will be walking her home.
After Anne and Mr. Elliot leave the confectioner’s, the ladies of Captain Wentworth’s party speculate as to a potential relationship between the two. But on the way back to Camden Place, all Anne can think about is Captain Wentworth. How long will he be in Bath? Will Lady Russell remember him? What will happen when she sees him?
The next morning, Anne and Lady Russell are in their carriage when they pass Captain Wentworth on the street. Anne is so occupied by Lady Russell’s gaze — which turns out to be examining a curtain rather than Captain Wentworth — that she does not know whether the captain sees them or not. After a few uneventful days, Anne finds herself looking forward to an evening party, where she will most likely see the captain: “If she could only have a few minutes conversation with him again, she fancied she should be satisfied” (119). In order to be able to attend the party, she cancels a tentative engagement with Mrs. Smith.
The Elliots and Mrs. Clay are the first to arrive at the party, followed by Captain Wentworth. Anne engages the captain in conversation almost immediately. After covering everyday topics, the two begin to discuss the events at Lyme and the marriage between Louisa and Captain Benwick. Captain Wentworth expresses his happiness for the couple but also observes “a disparity, too great a disparity” between them. While Louisa is an agreeable and understanding girl, she lacks Captain Benwick’s intelligence and sophistication. Equally troubling to Captain Wentworth, perhaps, is the fact that Captain Benwick seems to have recovered from the loss of Fanny Harville. He exclaims: “A man does not recover from such a devotion to the heart to such a woman!—He ought not—he does not” (121).
Perhaps because Captain Benwick’s story reminds Anne and Captain Wentworth of their own history, the conversation drifts back to Louisa’s accident. Anne remarks that pain can often form, in retrospect, its own form of pleasure. At this point, Lady Dalrymple enters the room with Miss Carteret and Anne is separated from Captain Wentworth. The party soon moves to the concert room, where Elizabeth and Anne both find themselves in a happy situation — Elizabeth, because she walks arm in arm with Miss Carteret, and Anne, because she realizes that Captain Wentworth must love her after all.
In her state of pleasant agitation, Anne takes great pleasure in the entertainment of the evening. During an intermission of the concert, Anne explains the meaning of an Italian song to Mr. Elliot. Anne’s knowledge of Italian prompts Mr. Elliot to praise her as both accomplished and modest. He goes on to note that her reputation precedes her: many years ago, he had already been charmed by a description of her by an acquaintance. Could it have been Captain Wentworth’s brother, the Edward Wentworth of Monkford?
Before Anne has much time to think over Mr. Elliot’s words, a different conversation catches her full attention. Immediately behind her, Lady Dalrymple and Sir Walter are discussing Captain Wentworth and his fine looks. Anne then catches the eye of Captain Wentworth, who is standing at a distance among some men. At this point, Anne wishes for nothing more than to leave Mr. Elliot’s side and to speak with Captain Wentworth. The captain, however, remains at a distance. When he comes to her at last, Anne finds him much more reserved than before. Although he warms up to her after a few minutes, Mr. Elliot, who asks Anne to translate some Italian for Miss Carteret, soon interrupts their conversation. After Anne finishes the translation, Captain Wentworth wishes her a hurried and reserved goodbye. Anne realizes that the captain must be jealous — of Mr. Elliot!
The next morning, Anne looks forward to visiting Mrs. Smith, particularly as it will most likely allow her to avoid Mr. Elliot. Although his attention flatters her, Anne can think only of Captain Wentworth at present. For the same reason, she cannot satisfy Mrs. Smith’s curiosity about various people who attended the concert last night. Mrs. Smith deduces that she must have been in good company. She remarks: “Your countenance perfectly informs me that you were in company last night with the person, whom you think the most agreeable in the world” (128). But how could Mrs. Smith know about Captain Wentworth? As it turns out, Mrs. Smith is thinking of Mr. Elliot.
Based on rumors heard from Mrs. Rooke, Mrs. Smith speculates that Anne and Mr. Elliot are on intimate terms—indeed, that the two will soon marry. When Anne denies any truth in such speculations, Mrs. Smith attempts to convince her that Mr. Elliot is “safe.” She declares: “Mr. Elliot has sense to understand such a woman [as you]. . . You are safe in worldly matters, and safe in his character” (130). Her only request is that Anne let her know when they are married, as she has some business with Mr. Elliot. Finally, Anne manages to conveys to Mrs. Smith that there is a man other than Mr. Elliot in her life. This allows Mrs. Smith to speak her true opinion of Mr. Elliot — that he is “a man without heart or conscience; a designing, wary, cold-blooded being, who. . . for his own interest or ease, would be guilty of any cruelty, or any treachery, that could be perpetrated without risk of his general character” (132).
Mrs. Smith has known Mr. Elliot for a long time, as he was an intimate friend of her late husband Mr. Smith. At the time, Mr. Elliot did not have enough money to live like a proper gentleman. He thus spent a great deal of time with the Smiths, who treated him like a brother and often assisted him financially. When Mr. Elliot made the acquaintance of Sir Walter and Elizabeth, he realized that Sir Walter was “designing a match between the heir and the young lady” (133). Since he was determined to make his fortune through marriage — and valued money much more than honor — he declined invitations to visit Kellynch Hall. He subsequently purchased his independence through marriage to a wealthy woman who fell in love with him.
Mrs. Smith’s account does not shock Anne per se; she has heard or divined much about Mr. Elliot’s past. What does shock her, however, is a letter from Mr. Elliot to Mr. Smith that Mrs. Smith has kept. It speaks of the Sir Walter, Kellynch, and the Elliot name all highly disrespectfully, concluding:
I wish I had any name but Elliot. I am sick of it. The name of Walter I can drop, thank God! and I desire you will never insult me with my second W. again, meaning, for the rest of my life, to be only yours truly,
Wm. ELLIOT. (135)
The letter fully proves Mrs. Smith’s account of the past. But why, Anne wonders, does Mr. Elliot wish to make their acquaintance now?
According to Mrs. Smith’s sources, Mr. Elliot now truly wishes to marry Anne. But this does not account for the fact that Mr. Elliot established himself at Camden Place before Anne’s arrival. In fact, his original reason involved not Anne but Mrs. Clay. It had been rumored at Bath that Mrs. Clay meant to become Lady Elliot. It had also been said that “Miss Elliot [was] apparently blind to the danger” (137). Now, Mr. Elliot, who had already made a sufficient fortune, was no longer indifferent to the title that he presumed to inherit. Should Mrs. Clay become Lady Elliot and bear sons, of course, the title would no longer be his. Mr. Elliot had good reason, then, to reestablish his relationship with the Elliots and watch over Sir Walter. Thus Anne realizes that “Mr. Elliot is evidently a disingenuous, artificial, worldly man, who has never had any better principle to guide him than selfishness” (138).
Mrs. Smith’s has further grievances against Mr. Elliot. After Mr. Elliot acquired a fortune through marriage, he led Mr. Smith to spend money beyond his means. By the time Mr. Smith passed away, the Smiths were ruined. To aggravate the situation even further, Mr. Elliot refused to execute the will that was bestowed upon him by Mr. Smith. Reading over some letters from the time, Anne realizes that “it was a dreadful picture of ingratitude and inhumanity; and Anne felt at some moments, that no flagrant open crime could have been worse” (139). To this day, Mrs. Smith has been unable to recover some property of her husband’s in the West Indies that might rescue her from poverty — all due to Mr. Elliot’s inaction.
Finally, Anne expresses her surprise at the fact Mrs. Smith seemed to recommend Mr. Elliot initially. Mrs. Smith explains that she did not have the heart to speak the truth. She thought the marriage was certain. Indeed, Anne herself can imagine “that she might have been persuaded by Lady Russell” to marry Mr. Elliot (140! There remains no question that Lady Russell must know the full truth about Mr. Elliot.
As Captain Wentworth arrives in Bath, the narrative begins to build up tension steadily between Captain Wentworth and Anne. When the two meet at the confectioner’s, his manner suggests a change in the way he thinks of her: “He was more obviously struck and confused by the sight of her, than she had ever observed before; he looked quite red.” He not only appears flustered, but also acts with an unusual self-consciousness: “He spoke to her, and then turned away. The character of his manner was embarrassment.” As we learn of Captain Wentworth’s manner, we also learn of Anne’s feelings: “It was agitation, pain, pleasure, a something between delight and misery” (116). Who can doubt that this “something between delight and misery” is love? As the critic and poet Anne Carson tells us in her study on eros, “simultaneous pleasure and pain” have defined love since antiquity (Carson 63).
Still, the reader in support of Captain Wentworth and Anne cannot yet relax. We do not know what Captain Wentworth really thinks or feels, or whether Anne betrays her emotional excitement as he does his. Moreover, Elizabeth refuses to recognize the captain. Although Anne usually pays little heed to Elizabeth, “she had the pain of seeing her sister turn away with unalterable coldness”—a coldness that played a part in the untimely end of her relationship with Captain Wentworth seven years ago (117). Finally, there is Mr. Elliot. When Mr. Elliot leaves the confectionary with Anne, the ladies in Captain Wentworth’s company speculate about an intimacy forming between the two. On what thoughts and emotions such speculation incites in the captain, the narrative remains tantalizingly silent. The effect is the reverse of dramatic irony: the captain knows something important that we desperately wish to know.
The above tensions surrounding Anne and Captain Wentworth culminate in the scene of Lady Dalrymple’s concert. Regarding Captain Benwick’s recent attachment to Louisa, Captain Wentworth voices his surprise and disapproval. He declares that a man who was truly devoted to a “very superior creature” like Fanny Harville should not be able to recover so quickly from a loss so quickly (121). The implications of such a comment are at once delightful and agitating to both Anne and Captain Wentworth himself. How long should it take for a man to recover from the loss of a truly loved one—a year, five years, or perhaps more than seven years? With so many telltale signs accumulating, Anne finally dares to believe that the captain “must love her” (123). The present tense of the phrase is telling. Part of Anne’s charm is her underlying belief, encouraged by the captain’s talk of long-term attachment, that love is continuous. It is not that he still loves her; either he loves her or he doesn’t. As the narrative builds up to its climax, however, the story must take a final turn before arriving at its conclusion.
When Mrs. Smith learns that Anne does not intend to marry Mr. Elliot, she drops her pretense of praise and reveals his true nature: “Oh! He is black at heart, hollow and black” (132). She proceeds to make her case against Mr. Elliot — how she and her husband were so generous to Mr. Elliot, and how Mr. Elliot consequently ruined them. In essence, Mr. Elliot becomes the antagonist over whom Captain Wentworth must triumph. Now, even though Anne raises the possibility that Lady Russell might have persuaded her to marry Mr. Elliot, it is clear that she neither likes nor really trusts him. Mrs. Smith’s account, therefore, does not have a significant influence on the plot. It must then serve another purpose in the novel.
Susan Morgan interprets Mrs. Smith’s account as Austen’s satire on the conventions of romance. She writes: “Mrs. Smith’s revelation, like Mr. Elliot’s wicked character, is a conscious fictional cliché” (Morgan 89). Many parts of her account appear deliberate and stylized. When explaining Mr. Elliot’s character, for example, Mrs. Smith feels compelled to produce a precious “small inlaid box” as proof of her account (134). As Morgan observes, “she offers Anne the kind of knowledge which can be put in a box, with its trust in ‘objectivity’ overlaid by stylized emotions, as if truth were outside our perception of it” (Morgan 90). The ironic disjunction between subjective and objective perspectives lies at the heart of sentimentalism, which Austen ridicules in many of her novels. Indeed, Mrs. Smith’s box recalls that of her fictional relative, Harriet Smith, in Emma. Harriet Smith’s box of “Most precious treasures” contains a pencil stub and a bit of court plaster as souvenirs of a man she loved.
Unlike Harriet Smith, however, Mrs. Smith is no comic character. While Austen may be satirizing a romantic convention, the circumstances under which Mrs. Smith’s account emerges also present a moral problem. As Anne notes, it is surprising that Mrs. Smith recommends Mr. Elliot initially, given her knowledge of Mr. Elliot’s past. On the one hand, Mrs. Smith seems to justify herself sufficiently: she believed that Anne and Mr. Elliot were truly in love with each other and did not wish to ruin their relationship. On the other hand, Mrs. Smith could not speak against Mr. Elliot if she was to have any hope of recovering her property with Anne’s help. As it turns out, her course of action has no effect on Anne’s life. Judging a decision based on its consequences, however, is a problem that the novel returns to in its final chapters.