Persuasion
Jane Austen
Contributed by Tereasa Jacob

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Chapter 17-18
Summary

Chapter 17

Anne finds out that Mrs. Smith (who used to be Miss Hamilton) is now in Bath. She is an old school friend of hers. Mrs. Smith married a wealthy but extravagant man. He died two years ago, and she is now a widow and deeply in debt. Shortly after this, Mrs. Smith became ill with rheumatic fever. This illness crippled her. Mrs. Smith’s illness and poverty has caused her to be excluded from society. Anne decides that she will visit her.

When Anne goes to see Mrs. Smith, she finds that her friend still has her pleasant manner and good spirits. This is all the more admirable given the stressful situation she is in. Mrs. Smith earns money by selling her needlework to wealthy women in Bath. Anne promises to visit again soon.

An invitation from Lady Dalrymple arrives one evening. Anne informs her family that she will have to decline it as she must visit Mrs. Smith instead. Sir Walter is disgusted that Anne should visit in such a poor neighborhood and that she wants to associate with someone with so little consequence.

Mr. Elliot and Lady Russell talk at the dinner party. Lady Russell becomes convinced that Anne is the object of Mr. Elliot’s interest rather than Elizabeth. She is pleased by this, as nothing would make her happier to than to see Anne as Lady Elliot of Kellynch Hall, like her mother. Lady Russell thinks that Anne closely resembles her mother in virtue and disposition. Even though it cannot be denied that Anne is attracted by the idea of being Lady Elliot, she maintains her suspicion of Mr. Elliot’s character and motivation. She doesn’t find him to be very open or warm in nature.

Chapter 18

Anne receives a letter from Mary that informs her that the Crofts are in Bath. The letter also tells Anne that Louisa Musgrove is engaged to Captain Benwick. This was obviously a shock for everyone, as the two are so dissimilar. It seems they must have fallen in love when Louisa was recovering at the Harvilles’ house. Mary declares that while it isn’t a wonderful match, it is certainly better than marrying one of the Hayters.

Anne is thrilled by this news as it means that Captain Wentworth is free again. She also believes that it is good for Captain Benwick to be attached to someone. While she believes that their temperaments are very different, as Captain Benwick is very thoughtful and pensive and Louisa joyous and high-spirited, she is pleased that they have found love with each other.

Anne hopes to see the Crofts frequently as they are now in Bath. One morning, she sees the Admiral while out walking. He is clearly pleased to see her and he tells her everything he knows about the engagement between Louisa and Captain Benwick. He says that he and his wife were very surprised because they thought that Captain Wentworth would marry Louisa. He communicates that Captain Wentworth does not seem to be upset in any way over the engagement. He expresses the opinion that Captain Wentworth should come to Bath, as the city has many young unmarried women for him to potentially court.

Analysis

One of the most important features of Austen novels is their use of irony. Irony occurs when the truth is hidden not to deceive but rather to achieve artistic or rhetorical effects. In Austen’s novels, we see irony used to hint at deep observations on customs and social life. It is ironic that Captain Benwick chooses to propose to Louisa, as they’re a very unlikely match. Yet the fact that the engagement takes place suggests that there are many different kinds of marriages. We learn that not every couple resembles Anne and Captain Wentworth, who are perfectly matched in temperament. Instead, people sometimes choose their marriage partner based on something they are searching for at a particular point in their lives. Louisa and Captain Benwick are both in rather vulnerable and needy situations. Louisa is recovering from her accident, while Captain Benwick is still getting over his fiancee’s death. While Austen clearly finds amusement in this match, she doesn’t automatically disapprove of an engagement made in these kinds of conditions. We see that Austen’s irony works to highlight her skepticism on the topic of true love. It is obvious that the connection shared by Anne and Captain Wentworth is extremely rare, and we see the practical needs of finding someone who has a good fortune and will make you tolerably happy. Love can be a question of shared learning, not just shared passion.

The perils women face in a society where their social position is able to change so drastically are evident in Mrs. Smith’s situation. The death of her husband has led her to fall drastically in consequences and rank. This is an instance of how cruel a strongly class-based society can be. Mrs. Smith is crippled and poor and is almost entirely without friends. Not many people are willing to visit her at her lodgings. The fact that Anne is willing and eager to visit her shows that she has the strength of character to look past social rank, as well as independence of mind.

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