Louisa Musgrove’s accident is significant in the novel as a catalyst which brings about the reaffirmation of the relationship between Anne and Captain Wentworth. This passage is a plot device which brings an end to the relationship between Louisa and Wentworth and inevitably is the subject for the conversation that finally brings Anne and Wentworth together. In this passage the group is taking their last walk together in Lyme. The events of this passage allow Anne’s ability to command a situation shine through.
Her sensibility and authoritative actions provide a great contrast to her passivity in the chapters before. Louisa shows her immature nature by saying that she “must be jumped down” the steep Cobb by Captain Wentworth. Her defiance at the doubts of the others and the fact that “she grew so determined” provides the reader with a sense of ill fate. Wentworth shows his thoughtful and less reckless side by insisting on the “hardness of the pavement for her feet”. This is a contrast to earlier in the novel when we are told that he “rowed off to the Grappler in an instant”.
The reader is told in a rather satirical way that she was “taken up lifeless” from the Cobb. Anne shows herself to be a strong decisive woman at this time and takes control of the situation. Her common sense parallels that of Wentworth as Anne shows herself as his equal. This is significant because it shows Anne’s progression from passivity to Wentworth. We are told that “Captain Benwick obeyed”. The use of the imperative gives a sense of activity, she is dominating the moment. Her words “Go to him, go to him” shows that Wentworth is the focus of her attention not Louisa.
Austen shows this very dramatic scene by almost uncharacteristically parodying a Romantic novel. This is shown by Mary’s cries of “She is dead! ” A contrast to this is Wentworth’s practical first words “oh God, her father and mother”. This implies that he has failed in his paternal role, he does not cry “oh Louisa” in the usual Romantic way. This provides a hint to the reader that the relationship between Louisa and Wentworth is not as serious as Anne thinks it is. These subtle suggestions from Austen about possible future relationships are significant in the novel as they keep the reader guessing.
Previously in the novel Wentworth has not taken notice of Anne, but this event derails his bitterness at being rejected by her and “his eyes also turned towards her”. The passage marks a turning point in the novel were Wentworth finally becomes aware of Anne’s attributes. This is shown by their awkward but controlled conversation in the carriage on the way back to Uppercross, showing that the event has brought them, if only slightly, closer together. This passage helps to bring Anne’s worth to the light and as her intelligence and beauty are “warmly praised” by both Charles and Captain Benwick, Wentworth soon rethinks his view of her.
Austen provides the reader with red-herrings throughout the novel; one of these being the “Thank God” from Captain Wentworth, on hearing Louisa was conscious, which “Anne was sure could never be forgotten by her”. She feels grief because she believes that he is in love with Louisa when the reality is that less blame will be showered on him. Austen’s satirical words “there was no injury but to the head” implies the view of women at the time; that their minds were not valued as much as their bodies and looks.