Chapter 23 Summary

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Anne has not discussed with Lady Russell what she has learned about Mr. Elliot from Mrs. Smith, but she concludes that the matter must wait. She has other, more pressing, and more interesting thoughts in her head. She promised to spend the day with the Musgroves, and she hopes that Captain Wentworth will be among them.

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She hurries over to the hotel where the Musgroves are staying and finds that Mrs. Croft has already arrived. Also there are Captain Harville and Captain Wentworth. Soon after her arrival, Captain Wentworth tells Captain Harville that he will write the letter they discussed if Harville will supply the writing materials, which he does. As Mrs. Musgrove is busy providing details to Mrs. Croft about the histories of her two daughters, Anne is left to converse with Captain Harville, who motions her to his side.

When Anne reaches him, Harville shows her a small print and asks if she knows whose portrait it is. Anne identifies it as Captain Benwick. Harville tells her that Benwick had it made for Fanny, Harville’s sister, whom Benwick claimed to love. Now he is going to give it to Louisa Musgrove. Harville has trouble understanding how Benwick could redirect his feelings so quickly. Harville’s sister died less than a year ago, and now Benwick claims to be in love with another woman. Harville states that he does not believe Fanny would have forgotten Benwick so quickly had the circumstances been reversed.

Anne agrees, and they begin a long discussion about the differences between men and women. Anne claims that women feel more deeply and hold onto their emotions much longer than men do. She believes this is because women do not live out in the world as men do. Women live at home, where they have little to distract them. Men, on the other hand, have professions, and they busy themselves with the details of continuing in those professions. Women harbor their feelings because they are all they have to think about.

Harville does not agree with Anne completely. This is particularly not true, Harville says, in Benwick’s case. Benwick did not go back into the world after Fanny’s death. Instead, he has been convalescing at the Harville home. He was nursing his depression and not working until Louisa came along.

Anne says that maybe the difference between men and women does not have anything to do with men’s having jobs out in the world. Maybe it is just in women’s nature to hold on to their emotions longer. Harville continues to disagree. It is not correct to assume, he says, that men are inconstant with their feelings. Harville believes that just as a man’s body is stronger than a woman’s, so are a man’s emotions stronger.

Anne does not acquiesce. Men’s emotions might be stronger, she says, but women’s are more tender. Women also live longer than men do, typically, and so do their emotions. At this point, they are distracted and look over to where Wentworth is sitting at a desk. He has dropped his pen and is bending down to pick it up. Anne suddenly realizes the possibility that Wentworth has been listening to them.

Mrs. Croft announces that she must leave. Wentworth stands and tells Harville that he is also ready....

(The entire section contains 864 words.)

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