Anne returns home relieved to know the truth about Mr. Elliot. Her friendship with Mrs. Smith has, in a sense, paid off (although Anne would never think herself entitled to such a reward). Now she must consult Lady Russell about the matter as soon as possible. Upon reaching Camden Place, she is glad to find that Mr. Elliot has already left. Alas, Elizabeth has engaged him to return on the very same evening. As usual, Mrs. Clay pretends that she is pleased to expect “the very person whose presence must really be interfering with her prime object” (142). When Mr. Elliot returns, Anne finds his presence distressing. His fine manners and gentle smiles now seem fake, hypocritical, even odious.
The next morning, Mr. Elliot leaves Bath on a two-day trip. His absence from Camden Place comforts Anne, as the combination of Mr. Elliot and Mrs. Clay has become truly unbearable. On the same morning, Anne decides to visit Lady Russell and tell her Mrs. Smith’s story. Just after Elizabeth and Sir Walter give Anne their regards to Lady Russell, however, knocking is heard at the door. To Anne’s pleasant surprise, a servant announces the arrival of Mary and Charles Musgrove. Along with Mrs. Musgrove, Henrietta, and Captain Harville, they have taken a room at the White Hart. The Captain has come on business; Mrs. Musgrove has come to see some friends; Charles and Mary have simply tagged along; and Henrietta has come to look at wedding clothes for herself and her sister.
For a while, Charles updates Anne on life at Uppercross. It appears that Charles Hayter has increased his income fortuitously, leading to consent of marriage from both families. Although Mr. Musgrove wished that Charles Hayter had more money, he is otherwise happy with the match. While Mary has not changed her low opinion of Charles Hayter, Charles himself finds him a likeable and an altogether fair match for Henrietta. As for Louisa, she has calmed down considerably and now enjoys listening to Captain Benwick read her poetry. All in all, life at Uppercross seems filled with happiness.
The Musgroves’ visit, too, turns out well. Satisfied with the journey in Mrs. Musgrove’s carriage, Mary is in excellent spirits to admire the various fine points of Camden Place. Elizabeth feels that she should invite Mrs. Musgrove’s party to dinner but is too ashamed to have the “difference in style, the reduction of servants, which a dinner must betray, witnessed by those who had been always so inferior to the Elliots of Kellynch” (146). Fortunately, she finds the satisfactory alternative of inviting them to an evening party with the Dalrymples.
Since the Musgroves have come to Bath, Anne postpones her plans to visit Lady Russell. She instead goes to find Mrs. Musgrove and Henrietta at the White Hart, where she receives a hearty and warm welcome. After a flurry of morning activities at the hotel, Charles returns with the Captains Harville and Wentworth. Suddenly, Mary cries that she sees Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot outside the window. Anne responds that Mr. Elliot is not in bath — and feels the Captain’s eyes on her immediately. It appears that rumors of her and Mr. Elliot have spread beyond the confines of Bath society.
Meanwhile, Mary and Charles begin to argue about the following day’s evening activities. Whereas Charles has secured a box at the theater, Mary is appalled at the thought of missing the party at Camden Place — indeed, the chance to meet Dalrymples and Mr. Elliot. The party defers the judgment to Anne, who suggests that it may be best to postpone the play (although she personally wouldn’t mind missing the party). Anne then begins a conversation with Captain Wentworth that is cut short by Henrietta’s calling and, soon thereafter, the arrival of Sir Walter and Elizabeth. The two stay only long enough to exchange the proper formalities and to extend invitations for the next day’s evening party. Afterwards, Anne returns to Camden Place and contributes to the party preparations. Although Anne mentions to Mrs. Clay that she was seen with Mr. Elliot, Mrs. Clay does not give away the nature of their conversation.
The next morning, the inclement weather prevents Anne from arriving punctually for breakfast at the White Hart. Mary and Henrietta have gone out briefly but are to return soon. Shortly after Anne arrives, Captain Wentworth speaks to Captain Harville about writing a letter. Meanwhile, Mrs. Musgrove is giving Mrs. Croft the account of Henrietta’s engagement in some detail. The two women conclude that there is nothing so abominable as a long engagement for a young couple — and that Henrietta and Charles Hayter are correct to marry at present, even though their income remains somewhat small.
At this point, Captain Harville beckons Anne over to a window. He shows her a portrait of Captain Benwick, which was originally made for Fanny Harville and is now being reset for Louisa. The captain notes sadly that his sister would not have forgotten Captain Benwick so soon. Anne responds that the same could be said for any woman who truly loved. The two continue to discuss the nature of attachment in men and women and how they differ. Whereas Captain Harville believes that men are capable of “riding out the heaviest weather” in their attachments, Anne asserts that women are capable of “loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone” (157).
After Captain Wentworth finishes his letter, he leaves with Captain Harville and Mrs. Croft. Only moments later, however, he reenters the room to retrieve his gloves. Without being noticed by Mrs. Musgrove, the captain “place[s] [a letter] before Anne with eyes of glowing entreaty” (157). While he was writing Captain Benwick’s letter, he had also been writing to Anne:
I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. . . Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. . . I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening, or never. (158)
Before Anne can recover fully from her overwhelming joy, Mary and Henrietta return to the room. They find that Anne (in a struggle to appear normal) appears quite ill, rousing general concern for her health. Charles Musgrove thus insists on walking back to Camden Place. Before they leave, Anne presses Mrs. Musgrove to assure Captain Harville and Captain Wentworth that they are both invited.
On Union Street, the two meet Captain Wentworth. The captain appears uncertain as to whether to join them — but a glowing look from Anne decides the matter. Charles Musgrove then suggests that the captain walk Anne back to Camden Place. Instead of returning home directly, the two walk towards a quieter road, where they exchange “those feelings and those promises which had once before seemed to secure every thing, but which had been followed by so many, many years of division and estrangement” (160). Gradually, a full picture of the events in the past months emerges: how Captain Wentworth found himself in a predicament when he attached himself to Louisa, how he was saved fortuitously by Captain Benwick, how he was jealous of Mr. Elliot. . . .
The evening ends most pleasantly for Anne — never had a commonplace party seemed so short. In brief intervals, she manages to speak with Captain Wentworth. Reflecting over the past, she has decided that she was correct to follow Lady Russell’s advice. Not that the advice was wrong—“it was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is god or bad only as the event decides” — but that she would have suffered in her conscience by continuing the engagement (164). The captain believes that he will be able to forgive Lady Russell over time. He also realizes, however, that his greatest enemy was not Lady Russell but himself: he was too proud to ask for Anne’s hand again. For his pride, they have lost six years.
“Who can be in doubt of what followed” (165)? With every advantage of maturity and an independent fortune, Anne and Captain Wentworth can now marry regardless of any opposition. And in reality they are met with little resistance. Both Sir Walter and Elizabeth accept the match without objection; Lady Russell requires some time to reevaluate her conceptions, but her love for Anne gives her understanding; and Mary is happy to see her sister marry (to a man richer than Captain Benwick or Charles Hayter!). Of course, the engagement destroys Mr. Elliot’s plan of domestic happiness. He soon leaves Bath and establishes Mrs. Clay “under his protection” in London — a turn of events that shock Sir Walter and Elizabeth deeply (167).
After Anne and Captain Wentworth marry, the captain manages to recover Mrs. Smith’s late husband’s property in the West Indies. It is a source of great happiness to Anne that the captain attaches himself to both Lady Russell and Mrs. Smith — her two true friends in the world. “Anne was tenderness itself, and she had the full worth of Captain Wentworth’s affection. . . She gloried in being a sailor’s wife, but she must pay the tax of quick alarm for belonging to a profession which is, if possible, more distinguished in its domestic virtues than in its national importance.” (168).
In the last chapters of the novel, the worlds of Kellynch, Uppercross, and even Lyme converge at Bath. At the Elliot reunion at Camden Place, all parties are satisfied because their vanities are satisfied: Mary has enjoyed the ride in Mrs. Musgrove’s large carriage, which in turn disposes her to praise the house and delight Sir Walter and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is also pleased with herself because she will be able to invite the Musgroves to a party with the Dalrymples. As usual, Mary and Charles get into an argument; as usual, their opinion is deferred to Anne.
While social life continues its usual and perpetual cycle, a significant event has brought Henrietta to Bath: she has come to shop for wedding dresses. The engagement between Henrietta and Charles Hayter — whose parents have finally consented to their marriage — has special importance to Anne. Indeed, the couples’ situation parallels that of her own with regards to Captain Wentworth seven years ago: although Charles Hayter is a respectable man, he has neither family nor fortune to his name. Despite a recent increase, his income remains modest. And yet, Mrs. Croft and Mrs. Musgrove both conclude that marriage is the correct course of action. They thus affirm a position opposite to that of Lady Russell’s seven years ago. Implicitly, or indirectly, they affirm that Anne was mistaken to break off her engagement with Captain Wentworth.
Meanwhile, Captain Harville shows Anne the portrait of Captain Benwick, once made for Fanny Harville and now being reset for Louisa. Although many months have passed since Fanny Harville’s death, Captain Harville finds that Captain Benwick has forgotten her too soon—she, for one, would have remembered him for longer. This opinion seems to reflect the general consensus among those familiar with the situation. The novel’s moral atmosphere is such that long-term mourning is respected and remembrance is cherished. With his appreciation for romantic poetry and its celebration of anguish, Captain Benwick appeared to conform to such an atmosphere. Perhaps, as Anne suggests in Lyme, he has been reading too much poetry.
Anne’s discussion with Captain Harville leads to her longest and most fateful dialogue in the novel. Anne’s essential argument is that women love longer par excellence by circumstance rather than by nature. For men—and particularly naval men—life is full of perils toils: "‘Neither time, nor health, nor life, to be called your own. It would be too hard indeed’ (with a faltering voice) ‘if woman’s feelings were to be added to all this’” (155). For women, on the other hand, life does not have so much action in store. Loving longer, in Anne’s opinion, can be called a dubious honor: “All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone” (157). The pertinence to her comments to her own life is clear.
Although the dialogue occurs spontaneously, stemming from a discussion of Captain Benwick, one wonders whether Captain Harville has not set up the situation subtly. The narrative, at least, suggests a sense of staging through parenthetical indications of voice: in the above quotation, Anne speaks “(with a faltering voice).” This narrative device, which calls attention to itself because it is rarely used in the novel, works like a stage direction. In the audience, of course, sits Captain Wentworth, who is riveted by the debate. The critic John Wiltshire observes that “Anne and Wentworth change their typical narrative positions—she speaking, he hanging on her words, she narrating (if indirectly) her deepest experience of life. . . Anne’s speeches combine the authorizing procedures of rational debate with the authenticity of (indirect) confession” (Wiltshire 197). Indeed, Anne’s dialogue with Captain Harville has the effect of a staged dialogue but benefits from the authenticity that its form provides.
The final chapter of the novel opens:
Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they ever so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other’s ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be truth. (165)
The statement is somewhat hyperbolic in its description of imprudent couples, but suggests that the narrator upholds the “truth” that such couples do marry. The narrator embraces precisely the “bad morality.” As the critic Robert Hopkins notes, “All the weight of the narrative—the Crofts, Captain and Mrs. Harville, Captain Benwick and his deceased fiancée—argues in favor of Anne and Wentworth marrying earlier. Given a choice between prudential morality and the truth of love, Persuasion argues for love” (Hopkins 272). And finally, love shall triumph for Anne and Captain Wentworth.
Anne’s own take on the manner, however, remains curiously equivocal. She believes that, despite her suffering, she “was perfectly right in being misguided by Lady Russell.” But Anne does not mean simply that she was correct to follow Lady Russell’s good intentions and prudential morality. She explains in a contemplative tone: “I am not saying that she did not err in her advice. It was, perhaps, one of those cases in which advice is good or bad only as the event decides” (164). As Hopkins notes, Anne’s thoughts reflect what has been in the twentieth century called consequentialism. Proponents of consequentialism believe that an action’s consequence form a basis for valid moral judgment of the same action. But if Anne’s decision seven years ago turned out to be “bad,” what would have been a “good” consequence? If Captain Wentworth had died at sea? Let us recall Anne’s original persuasion about her engagement to Captain Wentworth: “She was persuaded that under every disadvantage of disapprobation at home. . . she should yet have been a happier woman in maintaining the engagement, than she had been in the sacrifice of it” (20). Whether such a persuasion conflicts with Anne’s final judgment of the matter is a question that the novel leaves for the reader to decide.