Anne spends the day with the Musgroves. Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Croft discuss the evils of a long engagement, when there is no certainty as to when a couple might marry. Captain Harville engages Anne in a conversation about which gender is more constant in love. Anne asserts that women are more faithful; they love longest even after hope is gone and forget last, because they live at home, confined with their feelings, whereas men have their profession, pursuits, and business to distract them. Captain Wentworth, writing a letter nearby, drops his quill and startles them; Anne wonders whether he has overheard their conversation. Captain Harville argues that men’s passions are stronger, more enduring and bear the “heaviest weather.” They agree to disagree.
Mrs. Musgrove and Mrs. Croft’s conversation about the evils of a long engagement affirms the early wisdom of Anne in breaking off her engagement with Captain Wentworth, as they had no certainty about when he would earn enough money for them to marry and start a family. The conversation between Captain Harville and Anne provides an interesting commentary on gender differences—both related to different social circumstances as well as physical build—in terms of constancy.
Captain Harville and Captain Wentworth depart to mail his letter. However, Captain Wentworth returns a moment later to hastily slip Anne a note. Upon reading it, she finds a declaration of love: Captain Wentworth had indeed been listening to her speech about the constancy of women, and he asserts his own enduring love for her. He admits that he has been weak and resentful, but he has always loved her and hopes to ascertain her own feelings.
Anne’s speech about the constancy of women in love provides the necessary encouragement to Captain Wentworth to precipitate his own declaration of love, which testifies to his constancy—as well as a new understanding of his own errors in the past.
Anne is overwhelmed with emotion. The others fret that she is unwell, and Charles insists on walking her home. They encounter Captain Wentworth on the road, and he replaces Charles at Anne’s side. The two of them take a quiet detour and reaffirm their devotion to each other with an even deeper appreciation and tenderness enhanced by the trials of their long separation.
Despite his determination to forget Anne, Captain Wentworth has loved her all along. Though he flirted with Louisa out of angry pride, the events at Lyme taught him to prize Anne’s steadiness of principle and gentleness. But just as he came to appreciate all these qualities he had scorned and understand his own heart, he discovered that everyone expected him to marry Louisa. Horrified but honor-bound, he left Lyme for a time and was extremely relieved to learn of her engagement with Captain Benwick.
Ironically, despite the fact that Anne was the “persuadable” one of the couple, it is Captain Wentworth who has gone through the greatest change: though he loved her all along, he has been forced to recognize and repent his pride and resentment, as well as his mistaken notion of firmness of will as the ultimate virtue.
Captain Wentworth recounts the ecstasy and agony of seeing Anne at Bath, where he went immediately in the hopes of winning her back. He was held back by jealousy of Mr. Elliot, whom he believed all her friends and family wished her to marry; Anne gently reminds him that though she yielded to persuasion in youth, the situation and her duties now have changed.
At home, Anne reflects with wonder and gratitude at the turn of events. That evening at the party, she glows with joy and benevolence. She tells Captain Wentworth that, after reflection, she has no regrets in submitting to Lady Russell’s advice—even though the advice may have been poor. She concludes that she behaved rightly, and after all “a strong sense of duty is not bad part of a woman’s portion.” Captain Wentworth is less ready to forgive Lady Russell, but he realizes that he has been his own worst enemy: his pride kept him from contacting her after he had attained financial means of marriage, which would have spared them six years of separation. He warmly and humbly acknowledges that he will be happier than he deserves in marrying Anne.
Anne and Captain Wentworth come to a mutual understanding of the distinction between firmness of resolution, as it relates to good character, and firmness in folly, as in the case of Louisa’s stubbornness. The novel affirms the virtue of “a strong sense of duty” for women in Anne’s youthful decision to submit to Lady Russell, even as it affirms the superiority of Anne’s judgment of character over Lady Russell’s. Time has tempered Captain Wentworth’s confidence into a deep humility that acknowledges his good fortune in marrying Anne.