Just as Anne anticipates visiting Lady Russell, Captain Wentworth returns from a visit with friends at Lyme with warm reports of the seaside town. Anne, Charles, Mary, Henrietta, Louisa, and Captain Wentworth plan a short vacation to the town. They meet Captain and Mrs. Harville, who are Captain Wentworth’s friends from the Navy. They are generous and welcoming people.
Austen displays a generous regard for the Navy in her depiction of officers, who generally and more consistently display virtue and positive character than perhaps any other class of characters—whether the aristocracy, landed gentry, or lower ranking widows.
Captain Benwick, a former lieutenant, is also staying with them; his excellent character and grief over the recent death of his fiancée, Mrs. Harville’s sister, excites the others’ sympathy. Although melancholy and reserved at first, he and Anne form a friendship over poetry. Anne recommends prose reading and encourages him to fortitude; she reflects on the irony of teaching patience and resignation to a grieving lover, when she feels they are lessons she also requires.
Captain Benwick is a romantically tragic figure who appears mired in mourning, yet Austen suggests that the showiest grief is not necessarily the most constant in his character. Anne is able to lift his spirits and inspire hope of new romance in a fairly short time, which testifies to how compelling and compassionate she can be.