After Captain Wentworth arrives at Kellynch, Mr. Musgrove pays him a visit and invites him to dine at Uppercross. Several days later, on the night that the captain returns Mr. Musgrove's visit, Charles, Mary, and Anne also engage to dine at the Great House. As it turns out, however, they are unable to attend due to a last-minute injury of Mary's eldest son. He takes a bad fall and dislocates his collarbone, resulting in a great ordeal at the Cottage. Only after Charles' return and the apothecary's arrival does the situation begin to calm down.
After dinner, the Musgroves from the Great House arrive at the Cottage to inquire about the injured child. After Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove leave, the young Miss. Musgroves stay behind to report their delightful impressions of Captain Wentworth's visit — "how infinitely more agreeable they though him than any individual among their male acquaintance, who had been at all a favourite before" (36). In fact, the captain is once again engaged to dine at Uppercross on the next day.
Although it is first assumed that the "cottage party" must remain home to look after the child, Charles expresses a desire to meet Captain Wentworth. Indeed, seeing that the child’s condition does not require his immediate presence, Charles announces his resolve to dine at the Great House. At first, Mary complains of his “unfeeling” nature to Anne. But when prompted by Anne, Mary herself decides to join Charles for dinner. Anne is content to remain at home — where she will be useful — and besides, remains ambivalent about seeing Captain Wentworth.
The next morning, Captain Wentworth stops by the Cottage on his way to go hunting with Charles. The surprise visit delights Mary but catches Anne off-guard — how is she to act around him, to react to him? The captain sets off with Charles after brief greetings, but his presence has stirred up memories and passions in Anne: “Alas! with all her reasonings, she found, that to retentive feelings eight years may be little more than nothing” (40). Later, she hears from Mary that the captain found her “so altered he should not have known [her] again” (41). This mortifies Anne, particularly since she finds him as attractive as before. Having made his fortune, the captain intends to marry — ideally, a woman with “a strong mind, with sweetness of manner” (42).
From their first meeting (or re-meeting) forth, Anne and Captain Wentworth are constantly found within the same circle. Despite their past, they say little to each other beyond what “the commonest civility required” (42). Since the party at Uppercross has little knowledge of naval matters, the captain is often found explaining the details of life at sea. The young Miss Musgroves, in particular, listen to him very intently, reminding Anne of her younger self. One day, as captain recounts his adventures on his first ship, the Asp — and how he almost died at sea — Mrs. Musgrove is reminded of her deceased son Richard. She announces her regrets that Richard ever left Captain Wentworth. Although the captain “had probably been at some pains to get rid of him,” he suppresses his self-amusement and “showed the kindest consideration for all that was real and unabsurd in the parent’s feelings” (45).
The ensuing part of the evening is spent in discussion. Captain Wentworth is of the opinion that women should not be allowed on board ships — or at least his own ship — “from feeling how impossible it is, with all one’s efforts, and all one’s sacrifices, to make accommodations on board, such as women ought to have” (46). His sister disagrees, stating that she has found the best accommodations on men-of-war. While the captain maintains his position, Admiral Croft suggests that his ideas will change once he is married — an idea that the captain denies vehemently. Aside, Mrs. Croft assures Mrs. Musgrove that men-of-war are perfectly suitable to ladies, so long as husband and wife are together.
The evening ends in dancing, with the attentions of the young Miss Musgroves and Miss Hayters focused intently on Captain Wentworth. At one point, Anne senses that the captain may be observing her, or speaking of her. And once, he does speak to her: “I beg your pardon, madam, this is your set.” Anne finds his “cold politeness, his ceremonial grace. . . worse than anything” (49).
Although Captain Wentworth first intended to visit his brother at Shropshire, he has found such welcome at Uppercross that he has settled into Kellynch Hall for an indefinite period - and visits Uppercross almost daily. When one Charles Hayter returns to the Uppercross circle after a short absence, however, he does not appreciate the captain’s presence. Charles Hayter is the eldest of the cousins and a pleasant clergyman who lives only two miles from Uppercross. Although the Hayters are clearly below the Musgroves in the social hierarchy, the two families have always “been on excellent terms, there being no pride on one side, and no envy on the other” (50). Thus far, the young Mr. Hayter has enjoyed the attentions of the Miss Musgroves and has been on particularly good terms with Henrietta. But upon his return, he finds his presence eclipsed by Captain Wentworth.
Since Captain Wentworth’s recent arrival, speculation has abounded as to which of the Miss Musgroves he prefers. At the Cottage, Charles Musgrove states that he would be happy to have either of his sisters marry the captain. ary, on the other hand, would prefer him to marry Henrietta on account of Charles Hayter, “whose pretensions she wished to see put an end to.” Mary has inherited a clear share of the Elliot pride and believes that Henrietta “has no right to throw herself away” (51). Charles counters that Henrietta could do much worse — and that her marriage to Charles Hayter would free Captain Wentworth for Louisa.
As for Anne, she deems it important that Captain Wentworth makes a decision before he compromises his honor or gives false impressions. With regards to Charles Hayter, whom she has known for a long time, she finds the situation alarming. Only two weeks have passed, but the young Miss Musgroves’ attentions have been almost completely diverted. The young Mr. Hayter has hope, however, of securing a much more advantageous position in the near future, for Dr. Shirley, the local rector, has become somewhat infirm in his old age.
One morning, Captain Wentworth arrives at the Cottage to find Anne alone in the room with Mary’s injured son Charles. Both parties are surprised by the encounter and are unsure of what to do. At this point, Charles Hayter enters the room, followed by Mary’s younger son. The boy fastens himself around Anne’s neck playfully and refuses to release her, even after Charles Hayter’s prompting. At this point, Captain Wentworth steps in and picks up the boy, leaving Anne “perfectly speechless.” His act of kindness towards her leaves her in state of “painful agitation,” the recovery from which “required a long application of solitude and reflection” (54).
After observing the party at Uppercross for some time, Anne comes to believe that Captain Wentworth is in love with neither of the Miss Musgroves, nor are either of the Musgroves in love with the captain. On the lady’s part, there is a “little fever of admiration”; on the captain’s part, there is a mistake of “accepting the attentions. . . of two young woman at once.” As for Charles Hayter, it appears that he feels slighted and has “quit the field” (55).
One morning, the Miss Musgroves, Anne, and Mary set out to take a walk and are joined by Charles Musgrove and Captain Wentworth. Anne takes pleasure in the exercise and in repeating “the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn,” yet she cannot help but overhear Captain Wentworth’s conversations with the Miss Musgroves (56). He appears more engaged with Louisa than with Henrietta. At one point, the captain wonders whether his sister and brother-in-law are enjoying the weather. Louisa declares that she would be doing so, were she in Mrs. Croft’s place — and that she would always stay by the man she loved. Captain Wentworth responds, equally enthusiastically: “I honour you” (57)! Shocked by the mutual enthusiasm between the couple, Anne cannot fall back into her poetic quotations for a while.
As they approach Winthrop, Charles declares that he would like to visit his aunt and cousins. Since Mary is tired — and does not deign to visit the relatives — it is decided that Charles will go down with Henrietta while the rest of the party remains on the hill. While Louisa and Captain Wentworth wander off, Anne and Mary sit down by a hedge-row. After a while, Anne hears Louisa and the captain walking behind the hedge-row, out of sight. When Louisa speaks of Henrietta’s “nonsensical complaisance” regarding the visit to the relatives, the captain responds with a warm speech praising her “character of decision and firmness” (58-59). Equally startling to Anne, however, is the captain’s curious attitude when he learns from Louisa that Anne turned down Charles Musgrove’s marriage proposal.
Charles Musgrove and Henrietta return with Charles Hayter, with whom Henrietta seems to have reestablished good terms. The party is thus divided into three couples, with only Anne taking Charles’ arm to form a group of three. On their way home, the party chances upon the Crofts’ carriage. Captain Wentworth suggests to his sister that they might take Anne home with them, as she seems tired. Anne is moved by his “warm and amiable heart, which she could not contemplate without emotions so compounded of pleasure and pain, that she knew not which prevailed” (61). On the way home, the Admiral and his wife discuss which of the young Miss Musgroves the captain intends to marry.
Captain Wentworth’s arrival at Kellynch rouses a great deal of excitement at Uppercross. Whereas Sir Walter and Elizabeth would not deign to interact with men of low rank like Captain Wentworth — however charming they may be — the Musgroves enjoy him for who he is. Louisa and Henrietta, in particular, appear to be infatuated with him immediately. But what does Anne think of the situation? The narrator tells us: “And what was it to her, if Frederick Wentworth were only half a mile distant, making himself agreeable to others” (39)! The ironic tone suggests that Anne would like to be in Captain Wentworth’s company, despite her generous offer to remain home with the injured child Charles.
In reality, however, the offer to stay home may stem more from anxiety than from generosity. Although Anne wishes to see Captain Wentworth, she cannot bear the though that he may not particularly wish to see her. The narrator’s free indirect speech expresses Anne’s inner conflict well: “She would have liked to know how he felt as to a meeting. Perhaps indifferent, if indifference could exist under such circumstances. He must be either indifferent or unwilling” (39). We see that Anne mind, usually sensible and rational, does not dare to contemplate the very logical possibility that the captain may want to see her — just as much as she wants to see the captain. Even seven years’ time, it appears, has yet to extinguish to her love for Captain Wentworth.
For Austen’s young women, Anne’s age of twenty-seven represents a liminal and perilous period in life. As the critic A. Walton Litz reminds us, “Charlotte Lucas of Prude and Prejudice] is ‘about twenty-seven’ when she accepts the foolish Mr. Collins, and Marianne in Sense and Sensibility laments that ‘a woman of seven and twenty. . . can never hope to feel or inspire affection again” (Litz 37). Similarly, the reappearance of Captain Wentworth confuses and even dismays Anne. She realizes that “her bloom had vanished early” and wonders what the captain will think of her at present (5). For readers familiar with Austen's other works, Anne's age heightens such tensions by way of dramatic irony: will Anne be able to conquer the dangers ascribed to her age that are unbeknownst to her?
When Captain Wentworth does appear, the results are far from encouraging for Anne. According to Mary’s report, the captain tells Henrietta that “[Anne was] so altered that he should not have known [her] again’” (41). The verb “alter” derives directly from the Latin alter, meaning “other.” It is as if Anne were another person entirely—harsh words indeed. But from a narratological perspective, the report has the advantage of containing an uncertainty inherent to hearsay. Did he captain really say those exact words? In context, perhaps, the words meant something slightly different. In any case, Stuart M. Tave points out that “[Captain Wentworth] is a perceptive man, but at his first appearance in the novel he has the closed, foolish mind that only a clever man can have” (Tave 13). Only as the plot progresses do we begin to recognize a man worthy of Anne Elliot.
One night, when Captain Wentworth visits the Musgroves at the Great House, Mrs. Musgrove reminisces fondly of her lost son Dick. The narrator has noted earlier that Dick was a worthless son whom the Musgroves are better off without. Thus Anne, who knows Captain Wentworth very well, notes “a certain glance in his bright eye, and curl of his handsome mouth, which convinced [her], that instead of sharing in Mrs. Musgrove’s kind wishes, as to her son, he had probably been at some pains to get rid of him.” But the flicker of irony and self-amusement is replaced promptly by a sincere sympathy. The captain moves to talk with Mrs. Musgrove in an appropriately “low voice”—and not simply because it is the gallant and proper thing to do (45). He appreciates that a mother, even if she is “infinitely more fitted by nature to express good cheer and good humour,” may miss a deceased son like Dick (46). The narrator portrays the mother satirically but not the captain.
With regards to the young Miss Musgroves, however, Captain Wentworth’s behavior appears less than exemplary. As Anne notes, in not showing a preference for Henrietta or Louisa, he endangers their happiness as well as his own honor. Meanwhile, he also displaces Charles Hayter, who feels rather estranged from Henrietta. One incident is particularly telling of this displacement. When the child Walter clings on to Anne’s neck and refuses to obey Charles Hayter’s order to release her, the captain comes to the rescue by removing the child physically. Compared to Charles Hayter, the captain is characterized as manly and gallant. The incident certainly has a powerful effect on Anne: “She could only hang over little Charles, with the most disordered feelings. His kindness in stepping forward in relief—the manner—the silence in which it had passed—the little particulars of the circumstance. . .” (54). The brief, staccato phrases convey Anne’s elevated heartbeat to the reader.
Anne’s silent agitation increases as she spends more time around Captain Wentworth and the Miss Musgroves. On the outing to Winthrop, Anne finds pleasure in contemplating the scenic setting and repeating to herself poetic descriptions of “that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness” (56). Some critics have called this autumnal walk Wordsworthian, “emphasizing as it does the responsive ego” (Litz 41). Now, Austen draws more heavily on a satiric rather than true appreciation of Romanticism. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that Anne attempts to find comfort in books—just like Sir Walter, when he reads the Baronetage. This parallel is particularly interesting because the attempt fails: upon hearing Captain Wentworth’s fervent admiration of Louisa, Anne is so agitated that she “could not immediately fall into a quotation again” (57). Poetry provides little more than a mere distraction, an inferior substitution to the company of Captain Wentworth.
For more on Anne Elliot's relation to Wordsworth, see Ann W. Astell's essay "Anne Elliot's Education: The Learning of Romance in Persuasion".