Captain Wentworth and Anne see each other frequently at dinners and other meetings, as they are now in the same social circle. Anne sadly reflects on the great change that has passed in the nature of their relationship; they who were once so open, similar, and united in feelings with each other, now barely speak to each other except when courtesy requires! They were happier than all the couples, except perhaps Admiral and Mrs. Croft, but now they are perpetually estranged.
Anne reflects on the real happiness that could have been hers, as she and Captain Wentworth were perfectly suited in temperament and sentiment. The suggestion that Admiral and Mrs. Croft are the only other model match indicates that Austen considers true matches to consist of equal understanding and character and practicality.
Henrietta and Louisa eagerly question Captain Wentworth about the Navy. Mrs. Musgrove grieves at this reminder of her son, and Captain Wentworth sits by her side to comfort her. He is kind and sensitive, and he demonstrates a warm sense of humor and confident convictions over dinner. He believes that women should not board a ship, because they will be uncomfortable. Mrs. Croft counters that women are not so delicate, and that she has been very comfortable on ships with her husband. The Crofts travel everywhere together, and tease Captain Wentworth that he will see the matter differently once married.
Although Mrs. Musgrove’s grief is depicted as rather melodramatic, Captain Wentworth’s sympathetic engagement with her further supports Anne’s opinion of his merits. Austen pits his chivalric notion of gender differences against the outspoken Mrs. Croft’s insistence that women are perfectly capable of weathering naval conditions and belong by their man’s side.
The evening ends with dancing and music. Anne plays at the piano, her eyes occasionally tearing with emotion. Everyone is having a delightful time, and Captain Wentworth is in the highest of spirits. He is the center of attention, and all the young ladies appear in love with him. His cold politeness and hurts Anne more than anything.
While Captain Wentworth’s intentions may be innocent, his behavior demonstrates insensitivity to the feelings of his admirers—most notably, Anne, who still harbors deep feelings for him.