Observing that England is now at peace, Mr. Shepard remarks that many men of the English Navy will soon be home on land. He suggests that a sailor would be a very desirable tenant to rent Kellynch Hall because they are so meticulous and careful with their possessions.
The family enters into a conversation on the merits of the Navy as a profession. Anne asserts that naval men work extremely hard and that they must all be indebted to them for their service. Sir Walter counters that he would never want any of his relatives to be a part of the Navy for two reasons: first, it is a "means of bringing persons of obscure birth into undue distinction" and second, it severely weathers a man's youth and appearance. Mrs. Clay makes the point that every career, except that of the privileged landowner, does its part to wear on the looks and health of men.
News comes that Admiral Croft, a native of Somersetshire and a man with quite a large fortune, is interested in renting Kellynch Hall. Sir Walter is concerned that Admiral Croft's appearance must be "orange" and weatherbeaten from all his time at sea. But Mr. Shepard assures him that the Admiral is a "well-looking man" who would be an extremely desirable and appreciative tenant. The Admiral is a gentleman, and he has a wife but no children. A woman, Shepard argues, is much more likely to keep a watchful eye over the estate. Furthermore, Admiral Croft has family connections to the area; his wife's brother, Mr. Wentworth, was a curate at Monkford. Sir Walter concedes that the sentence, "I have let my house to Admiral Croft" has a good sound to it, since the consequence and rank of the tenant is quite clear. Finally convinced by the "extreme happiness" the Crofts would have at being chosen to be the tenants of Kellynch, Sir Walter agrees to let them rent his estate. Elizabeth is strongly in favor of going to Bath and is happy to have a tenant so soon. At the end of the chapter, Anne walks outside with flushed cheeks and thinks fondly to herself that her love interest "may soon be walking here."
Anne's love interest is Captain Frederick Wentworth, the brother of the former curate of Monkford and of Mrs. Croft. The narrator recounts the events of the summer of 1806 in which Captain Wentworth was visiting his brother in the area and became aquainted with Anne. They fell in love and had hoped to marry but Anne's family and her trusted friend Lady Russell thought it a degrading alliance. In 1806 Captain Wentworth was without fortune or high birth. Lady Russell thought it was her duty, in the absence of Anne's mother, to persuade her not to marry beneath her social class. She vehemently opposed the match.
Anne, very young and gentle at this time, did not want to contradict her father's wishes and her friend's advice. She was persuaded that their engagement was improper and impractical, and she ended it. Her consolation was that her prudence and self-denial was for his good, as well as her own, and that Captain Wentworth would be better off unattached to her. But he was angry at being given up so easily, and he proudly left the country. Anne suffered from the lonely effects of her decision for the seven years from their short engagement to the present time. She did not stop thinking about her Captain, who by now, she reasons, must have made a large fortune.
Since that time, there was no man who matched Captain Wentworth in Anne's affections, though Charles Musgrove proposed to her. Although her father condoned this match, she refused him, and he married instead her younger sister, Mary.
Anne regretted her refusal of Captain Wentworth, but she did not blame Lady Russell for her unwanted advice. She understood that Lady Russell's motives were good, however selfish her father's might be. Seven years let Anne mature, and her maturity brought a greater understanding of love, romance, and happiness. The thought of Captain Wentworth's sister inhabiting Kellynch Hall brings all these emotions to the forefront of Anne's mind.
Persuasion explores the role of the Navy in early nineteenth-century class-structured society. Sir Walter's principal objection to the Navy is that it brings "persons of obscure birth into undue distinction." Thus, he dislikes and disapproves of its function as a means of social mobility. The Navy allows men who are dedicated and hard-working to build not only a fortune, but also to gain respect and social status. His objection then, is not only to the Navy, but to increasing social mobility in society. Sir Walter's dislike of this progress, in which birthright loses some of its social importance, is representative of upper-class nineteenth-century British men.
On the other hand, Anne sees the Navy as a source of national pride. In this period of English history, England was often embroiled in wars with France and skirmishes with America. Domestic politics gave way to perceived international threats and the Navy was considered the arm of English power and the defender of British sovereignty. The officers of the Navy held a charm and an attraction for young girls at home, who believed that they had a reputation for gallantry and bravery.
Chapter Four highlights the theme of persuasion. Anne is persuaded by the disapproval of her father and of Lady Russell to end her engagement with Captain Wentworth. Such advice is against her initial decision, but she believes it is right to defer to those older and wiser, who must, she assumes, have her best interest at heart. Though seven years later Anne regrets her decision to break the engagment, Austen leaves it unclear whether her ability to be persuaded is a positive or negative character trait. Anne is torn between her duty to her class and her passion for Captain Wentworth.
Austen's style makes use of free indirect discourse, which interweaves grammatical and other features of the character's direct speech with the narrator's indirect report. This technique allows the narrator to take on the speech or thought patterns of a particular character, often expressing a sense of irony. Thus we learn that from Sir Walter's point of view, "an admiral speaks his own consequence, and, at the same time, can never make a baronet look small."