PERSUASIONS ON-LINE V.28, NO.1 (Winter 2007)

Walking a Path toward Marriage in Persuasion




Kathleen Anderson (email: is Associate Professor of English at Palm Beach Atlantic University, a specialist in nineteenth-century British literature, and a writer of creative nonfiction.  Her work has appeared in Persuasions and Persuasions On-Line, European Romantic Review, Sensibilities, Victorian Poetry, and other publications.  Tiffany VonderBecke (email: is a talented student in the Frederick M. Supper Honors Program at Palm Beach Atlantic University. 


Jane Austen integrates walking into Persuasion to aid in the progression of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s relationship.  The forward movement of an ordinary walk parallels the development of the couple’s romantic bond.  In such instances as Anne’s daily walks, the strolls about Lyme, and Anne and Wentworth’s final convergence in Bath, walking serves to clear the characters’ minds and rejuvenate their bodies while providing opportunities for social bonding.  Walks are essential to the advancement of Anne and Wentworth’s romance:  they prepare Anne to be the wife of a traveling naval captain; they accentuate her superiority and Louisa’s inferiority as potential wives; and they serve as a social medium through which Anne and Wentworth rediscover their mutual passion.


Numerous scholars acknowledge the significance of walking in Austen’s novels, though few provide in-depth analyses of its critical importance in Persuasion.  Sally Palmer argues that this simple activity “promotes and advances social relationships, develops aesthetic sensibilities, and leads to proper understanding of correct behavior and thinking” (154).  She asserts that mobility is essential to Austen’s characters and acknowledges the catalytic social function of walks in cementing social connections and forwarding the plot.  Mary Jane Curry, applying this premise to Pride and Prejudice, argues that “Elizabeth’s walks—solitary or in company with Mr. Darcy and the Gardiners—figure a gradual change in her” and manifest Austen’s innovative feminization of “the conventions of serious pastoral” (176).  Melissa Sodeman explicates Anne Elliot’s displacement from multiple homes and her frequent rambles that render her domesticity both more mobile and more developed than the more stationary domesticity portrayed in Austen’s earlier novels.


Anne’s frequent walks, whether with or without Wentworth, anticipate her future travels as a naval captain’s wife.  Significantly, when she hears that the Crofts will likely rent Kellynch-hall, drawing her former fiancé back after nearly eight years, Anne imagines Wentworth taking a walk.  While walking herself, she visualizes his return, initiating the parallel between walking and the growth of their relationship:  “as [Anne] walked along a favourite grove, [she] said, with a gentle sigh, ‘a few months more, and he, perhaps, may be walking here’” (25).  She still loves Wentworth, despite having ended their engagement and having been separated from him for so long.  He must learn that he still loves her as well, and that she is his ideal mate.  Wentworth tells his sister Sophia, half seriously, that he would like to marry a girl with “‘[a] little beauty, and a few smiles, and a few compliments to the navy’” (62).  He knows that his future wife must admire the navy, for she may not have the luxuries of one home in which to spend her entire life.  Travel is inevitable in the life of a naval officer and, therefore, must be accepted by his spouse.  Always on the move, Anne is already prepared for this reality.  She “lives in no fewer than five residences” in Persuasion and has become accustomed to traveling (Sodeman 789).  Her daily walks further demonstrate her mobility and likelihood not merely to accept but to enjoy the life of a sailor’s wife.  “On the morning appointed for Admiral and Mrs. Croft’s seeing Kellynch-hall, Anne found it most natural to take her almost daily walk to Lady Russell’s” (32).  Not only is she an instinctive traveler, she further proves herself to be Wentworth’s ideal woman by defending the navy to her father:  “‘The navy, I think, who have done so much for us, have at least an equal claim with any other set of men, for all the comforts and all the privileges which any home can give.  Sailors work hard enough for their comforts, we must all allow’” (19).  Anne appreciates sailors’ sacrificial, physically demanding lives, and she indirectly identifies with that life through her habitual rambles, which are often motivated by benevolent intentions.


The walks in Persuasion play a significant role in the progressive reunification of Anne with her sailor, Wentworth; they prove Anne’s superiority to Louisa and provide her and Wentworth with opportunities for interaction that aid in the revelation of their enduring love.  In addition to her flexibility and admiration of the navy, Anne manifests a physical and mental superiority to other women that marks her as Wentworth’s ideal woman.  She conveys a sensitive appreciation for nature’s beauty, with which she and her relationship with Wentworth become associated in the course of the novel.  Persuasion begins in the autumn; however, autumn promises the growth of spring (Sherry 146).  Autumn suggests Anne’s loss of love and youthful beauty, but it also portends the arrival of a springtime of renewed hope and vigor.  The dying, falling leaves are eventually succeeded by a season of growth and new life.  “In Persuasion . . . nature exerts its own abiding power over the lives of the characters” (Spence 629).  Spence refers to this use of nature as “dynamic” because of the change in seasons and the way they mirror Anne’s change of bloom (629).  Walking during this transformation corresponds with the passage of time and the fading of one season into the next (Gill 349).  It contributes to the smooth transition between seasons.  It is as if Anne walks down the path of her life, from fall to spring, as reflected by the changes in nature during her walks.


In November, Anne joins Mary, the Miss Musgroves and Wentworth on a long walk in the fields around Uppercross.  The autumn reflects Anne’s lost bloom, and the lengthy walk parallels the nearly eight long years she and Wentworth have been apart.  This challenging hike among the hills and farms occurs prior to their renewed relationship and reflects in the natural landscape the obstacles to and potentialities of their love.  They wander among the company in a disjointed, meandering manner as they study each other’s feelings; they will one day proceed confidently side-by-side into the future as a couple.  This fall ramble reveals important information to both:  Wentworth learns that Anne rejected a marriage proposal from another man, and Anne learns that Wentworth values qualities she possesses, though he does not currently recognize them in her.  She overhears his speech to Louisa, in which he sermonizes on the merit of “‘a beautiful glossy nut’” that is “‘blessed with original strength’” and has “‘outlived all the storms of autumn’” (88) due to its firmness.  (Wentworth will discover on a future walk that Anne is the firm hazelnut he seeks.)


On the November walk, both Anne’s sister Mary and Louisa Musgrove serve as foils to set off Anne’s superior nature.  Even a discussion of the excursion before it begins underscores Anne’s superiority to the other women.  The Musgrove sisters ungraciously attempt to dissuade Mary from accompanying them on the outing by suggesting it will be too protracted for her.  The perpetually offended Mary whines to the forbearing Anne, “‘I cannot imagine why they should suppose I should not like a long walk! . . . Every body is always supposing that I am not a good walker!’” (83).  The Musgrove sisters and others assume that hypochondriac Mary does not like long walks and is “‘not a good walker,’” an unkind but understandable excuse to discourage her company.  Moreover, since walking reflects Anne’s emotions and beauty throughout the novel, the fact that Mary is supposed a terrible walker pinpoints her lack of the natural beauty present in Anne.  Anne walks regularly and enjoys the freedom and natural surroundings that evoke her own inner and outer beauty, a beauty that ultimately attracts Wentworth back to her.  Mary, the daughter who claims she is sick in order to receive attention, lacks her sister’s subtle charm and humility.  Naturally, Charles Musgrove fell for Anne first and then settled for Mary after receiving Anne’s refusal.


In contrast to Mary’s self-centered weakness, Anne conveys a strength and determination to appreciate the landscape despite her inner misery:


Her pleasure in the walk must arise from the exercise and the day, from the view of the last smiles of the year upon the tawny leaves and withered hedges, and from repeating to herself some few of the thousand poetical descriptions extant of autumn, that season of peculiar and inexhaustible influence on the mind of taste and tenderness, that season which has drawn from every poet, worthy of being read, some attempt at description, or some lines of feeling.  (84)


The autumnal scene in this passage reflects Anne’s feelings of loss.  The withered hedges symbolize her declining beauty and regret over her rejection of Wentworth, but she walks on in the hope of spring bringing happiness (Litz 153).  She assumes that she has no hope of reattaching her former lover in her present “loss of bloom and spirits” (Austen 28).  Despite Anne’s sorrows, she has the courage to move past them and becomes attentive to the natural world around her (Duckworth 319).  Curry claims that “Austen’s novels imply that . . . country life is better for young women than city life. . . . [N]ature is a source of comfort and freedom as well as beauty” (176).  Anne looks to nature for liberation from her burdens, but she also exhibits strength of will and generosity of spirit in focusing on nature’s glories and accommodating the desires and demands of others, regardless of her privately mournful heart and her awareness of Wentworth’s apparent interest in Louisa.


At the conclusion of the walk to Winthrop (a walk that, significantly, leads to the restoration of the Henrietta-Hayter alliance), Austen shows a change in Anne and Wentworth’s relationship.  Wentworth observes Anne becoming sluggish from the long walk and insists she ride back in his sister’s carriage; he instinctively looks out for her needs (MacDonagh 101):  “Captain Wentworth, without saying a word, turned to her, and quietly obliged her to be assisted into the carriage” (91).  Her step into the carriage and cessation from walking signals a shift of emotions in both Anne and Captain Wentworth.  Before he seems to realize or admit that he still loves her, he conveys an intuitive understanding of and interest in her well being that betrays the secret constancy behind his arrogant show of independence.  A change has also occurred in Anne.  His assistance into the carriage helps to further her reinvigoration and journey toward love’s springtime by awakening her to the realization that he possesses “a remainder of former sentiment; it was an impulse of pure, though unacknowledged friendship” (91).


Wentworth’s passion for Anne is re-evoked when the two sojourn to Lyme with Mary, Charles, and the Musgrove sisters and participate in critical walking adventures that further showcase Anne’s superiority.  On a ramble at Lyme, Anne’s physical beauty is revealed and shines once again.  The narrator credits the “fine wind which had been blowing on her complexion” for accentuating her returning “bloom and freshness of youth” (104).  Now that Anne’s attractiveness has returned, Wentworth cannot help but notice her even more than before.  “Austen’s novels involve movement, process, and change, primarily toward the enhanced independence of a marriage” (Palmer 164).  Wentworth both recognizes Anne’s prettiness and witnesses a stranger’s admiration for it, an admiration that confirms both her inherent desirability and her greater charm as compared to the two other women present.  When they pass the man who is later revealed as Mr. Elliot and who becomes Wentworth’s rival, Mr. Elliot shows “a degree of earnest admiration, which she could not be insensible of.  She was looking remarkably well. . . . Captain Wentworth looked round at her instantly in a way which shewed his noticing of it.  He gave her a momentary glance,—a glance of brightness, which seemed to say, ‘That man is struck with you,—and even I, at this moment, see something like Anne Elliot again’” (104).  This scene is climactic in that Wentworth’s attention is diverted from the younger, bubblier Musgrove sisters (whom Mr. Elliot does not single out with admiring glances) to his former beloved as he rediscovers his physical attraction to her.


After this walk at Lyme establishes Anne’s physical desirability, another walk there reinforces her estimable strength of character and the foolish belligerence of her foil.  It is ironic that when Wentworth shared his analogy of the hazelnut with Louisa, he had declared that “‘many of its brethren have fallen’” (88).  This analogy parallels the positions of Anne and Louisa after the incident at the Cobb.  Louisa is first considered a candidate for Wentworth’s wife.  When she stubbornly insists on jumping from a dangerous height, however, and falls, she reveals her inferiority of character to Wentworth and “falls” in his opinion.  When she becomes engaged to Captain Benwick, she leaves the relieved Captain Wentworth enlightened to Anne’s merits and free to pursue her.  It is as if Louisa has “fallen from the tree” and Anne has remained strong and attached to the tree through the storms of Wentworth’s resentment and reactive flirtation.  The last quality he attaches to the nut is its firmness.  Anne exemplifies this quality in the physical vigor she has attained from walking and the mental vigor she has always possessed and which she has honed by enduring long suffering and remaining true to her nature.  Wentworth has told his sister that he wants “‘[a] strong mind, with sweetness of manner’” in his future wife (62). 


Anne’s “‘strong mind,’” symbolically represented by her walking, is best showcased during the walk at Lyme when Louisa falls off the Cobb and loses consciousness.  Anne demonstrates calmness, clarity of mind, intelligence and leadership under duress when everyone else either panics or becomes paralyzed from shock:  “Anne, attending with all the strength and zeal, and thought, which instinct supplied, to Henrietta, still tried, at intervals, to suggest comfort to the others, tried to quiet Mary, to animate Charles, to assuage the feelings of Captain Wentworth.  Both seemed to look to her for directions” (111).  Anne takes charge immediately after Louisa’s dreadful fall.  She does not throw hysterics like Mary or wilt into helplessness like Wentworth; she gives orders and does what is needed to save Louisa, all while comforting those around her.  She instantly “becomes the authority to whom others turn” after the incident on the Cobb (Tanner 235).  Captain Wentworth begins to realize the strength of mind and “‘sweetness of manner’” that Anne possesses (Austen 62; Johnson 151).


Although Anne’s revitalized beauty has been manifested in the earlier Lyme walk, her superior beauties of character must also be clearly underscored before Wentworth recognizes the true object of his passion.  Before the accident, Louisa and Wentworth seem likely to be engaged soon, but Louisa’s behavior on that most significant walk, ironically, jars his own brain, and he perceives the difference between discerning firmness and thoughtless obduracy.  Louisa wishes to jump from the steep Cobb a second time; Wentworth attempts to dissuade her and fails:  “she smiled and said, ‘I am determined I will:’ he put out his hands; she was too precipitate by half a second, she fell on the pavement on the Lower Cobb, and was taken up lifeless!” (109).  Paradoxically, Wentworth’s inability to persuade Louisa to alter her actions suggests that she lacks the firmness of true judgment but rather possesses an “egotistical rashness” (Tanner 233).  Wentworth experiences first-hand the tragic consequences of a personality that is not to be persuaded, thereby possibly increasing his empathy for Anne’s being persuaded by a trusted friend to alter her decision and reject him when she was nearly Louisa’s current age.  Louisa disregards his concern and fails to consider the consequences that may arise from her action.  She has bounced flirtatiously like a stray nut down the steps into Wentworth’s arms; she ultimately falls astray of her target and smacks her head on the Lower Cobb.  This walk results in the removal of Louisa as competition and the likely removal of Wentworth’s prejudice against Anne’s character, thus bringing the former lovers closer to each other and a renewed engagement:  “[Anne] thought it could scarcely escape him to feel, that a persuadable temper might sometimes be as much in favour of happiness, as a very resolute character” (116).


Two final walks confirm Wentworth’s conviction of Anne’s superiority to all other women, reinforce the couple’s compatibility, and affirm the reciprocity of their passion.  The springtime of Anne and Wentworth’s love finally comes to fruition at Bath, where Wentworth pursues Anne after his liberation from Louisa.  Anne’s competition has been eliminated, but Wentworth must face competition as well.  Even a missed walk affects the progression of the protagonists’ romance.  One way in which Wentworth communicates his desire to reconnect with Anne, when they meet at a shop during a rain shower, is by offering his umbrella for her walk home.  Mr. Elliot returns to the shop for the clearly prearranged purpose of being her escort, however, thus thwarting Wentworth’s opportunity for an intimate walk with her.  This incident introduces Wentworth to his rival and augments his yearning for Anne; succeeding events heighten his jealousy as he sees repeated evidence of Mr. Elliot’s intentions and seemingly perfect suitability to be Anne’s husband.  Her restored beauty has become so evident that even her father admits she can omit his prescription of “‘the constant use of Gowland, during the spring months’” (146).  After the climax of Wentworth’s jealousy at the concert, succeeded by Anne’s debate about love with Captain Harville and Wentworth’s proposal via letter, the two lovers finally converge from their individual walks.  Charles Musgrove, who had sought Anne’s hand himself, starts to accompany her home after she becomes ill from reading the proposal letter.  When they encounter Wentworth, however, Charles requests that Wentworth escort Anne home, a gesture of transference that highlights her most appropriate walking and life partner.  This final walk signifies the couple’s unification and the maturation of their relationship:  “They have moved, in a few heightened moments, from separate and secret yearnings to proud public acknowledgment of their future together” (Shields 169).


After all the years apart and through various obstacles, Anne and Wentworth’s paths have met and are now conjoined.  They walk into their new life in synch:  the “two proceed[ed] together; and soon words enough had passed between them to decide their direction towards the comparatively quiet and retired gravel-walk” (240).  Austen’s use of the word “retired” also suggests a positive conclusion to Anne and Wentworth’s walks, as they seclude themselves from the interfering bustle of society.  Walking in Persuasion assists in the reawakening and development of Anne and Wentworth’s romance by adjusting Anne to the lifestyle of constant movement she will experience as a sailor’s wife, accentuating her strengths of mind and body as Wentworth’s “‘too excellent creature’” (237), confirming Louisa’s corresponding insufficiency as a potential partner, and facilitating the couple’s walk back to each other and forward toward a lifetime together.  In the end, “[h]e walked by her side” (240).



Works Cited


Austen, Jane.  Persuasion.  Ed. R. W. Chapman.  3rd ed.  Oxford: OUP, 1969.

Curry, Mary Jane.  “‘Not a day went by without a solitary walk’: Elizabeth’s Pastoral World.”  Persuasions 22 (2000): 175-86.

Duckworth, Alistair M.  “Nature.”  The Jane Austen Companion.  Ed. J. David Grey, A. Walton Litz, and Brian Southam.  New York: Macmillan, 1986.  317-19.

Gill, Richard, and Susan Gregory.  Mastering the Novels of Jane Austen.  New York: Palgrave, 2003.

Johnson, Claudia L.  Jane Austen: Women, Politics, and the Novel.  Chicago: UCP, 1988.

Litz, A. Walton.  Jane Austen: A Study of Her Artistic Development.  New York: Oxford UP, 1965.

MacDonagh, Oliver.  Jane Austen: Real and Imagined Worlds.  New Haven: Yale UP, 1991.

Palmer, Sally.  “‘I Prefer Walking’: Jane Austen and ‘The Pleasantest Part of the Day.’”  Persuasions 23 (2001): 154-65.

Sherry, Norman.  Jane Austen.  New York: Arco, 1969.

Shields, Carol.  Jane Austen.  New York: Viking, 2001.

Sodeman, Melissa.  “Domestic Mobility in Persuasion and Sanditon.”  Studies in English Literature 45 (2005): 787-812.

Spence, Jon.  “The Abiding Possibilities of Nature in Persuasion.”  Studies in English Literature 21 (1981): 625-36.

Tanner, Tony.  Jane Austen.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1986.

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