It is summer, and Simon, having recently lived in Europe, is “dazed” by the sudden change in the weather. He is eating breakfast with Mrs. Humphrey; she has cooked because Dora is no longer at the house, but she does not want to carry breakfast up to Simon, “as it would be humiliating.” The house is filthy, and Simon worries that his reputation, particularly in the eyes of the Reverend Verringer, might suffer. He has considered asking Grace for advice on how to hire a maid, but has decided against it because “he must retain his position of all-knowing authority in her eyes.”
For the first time, the reader sees the toll that listening to Grace’s story is taking on Simon. The fact that he is now living in squalor and beginning to panic about having a paper to present shows that Simon is becoming simultaneously more desperate and less aware of his reality. Not only is it ironic that Simon thinks Grace views him as all-knowing (in fact, she has long since thought of him as childlike and even slightly unstable), but it is also ironic that merely listening to Grace’s life story has so affected Simon’s mental stability. This makes the fact that Grace has survived for all of these years even more formidable and impressive.
Simon listens to Mrs. Humphrey discuss how grateful she is to him. He finds himself daydreaming about what Mrs. Humphrey would look like naked, but maintains that “in reality this woman does not attract him.” Simon wonders if he is taken ill, and thinks he should probably follow his mother’s advice and get married. He’s annoyed by how solicitous Mrs. Humphrey is of him; he thinks there is “something cringing about her.” Still, he continues with his sexual fantasies, imagining “her naked feet, shell-thin, exposed and vulnerable, tied together […] like a parcel.” Simon leaves abruptly and wanders by the lakeshore. He feels “insubstantial as a bladder, emptied of will.”
Despite his sudden listlessness, Simon still has the mental energy to dream up sexual fantasies about Mrs. Humphrey in which she is humiliated and serves as little more than an object for his sexual pleasure. The fact that Simon is beginning to visibly unravel—while his mental habits remain largely unchanged—raises the question of what constitutes “madness” and whether insanity is actually visible to the naked eye.
Listening to Grace that day, Simon feels slightly better, as Grace “represents to him some goal or accomplishment.” However, he finds that today Grace’s voice nearly lulls him to sleep. He tries to focus—he knows that “at last they are approaching together the centre of Grace’s narrative”—but he feels as though Grace is “drawing his energy out of him.”
Simon’s feeling that Grace is sapping his energy paints Grace as a kind of mystical figure. This description seems to comfort Simon, because it eliminates the need for him to acknowledge how depressed Grace’s story has made him.
The chapter is interrupted by an excerpt of a letter from Simon’s mother, in which Mrs. Jordan laments that she has not heard from her son recently. She also sends updates about the girl she wants Simon to marry.
Mrs. Jordan’s letter reminds the reader that Simon and his mother are in a somewhat precarious financial situation due to the collapse of his late father’s business. While Simon is wrapped up in Grace’s story and sexual fantasies about his landlady, Mrs. Jordan remains focused on the practical realities of her son’s future, suggesting that she is more rational and objective than her “all-knowing” physician son.
The chapter flashes ahead to the evening; Simon himself is feeling as though time has been making “odd lurches.” He is dreading the next day, Tuesday, when he must address the Governor’s wife and her friends. He tries to write a letter to his friend Edward Murchie, but realizes he has nothing to say because “he has discovered nothing.”
Simon’s apathy and disjointed sense of time suggest that he is falling out of touch with reality. The fact that he can’t think of anything to say to his friend Edward is strange, since he has recently learned an incredible amount of information about Grace’s life. The fact that he seems unable to process and parse this information suggests that he is less intellectually superior than he had fancied himself.
Simon suddenly awakens, shirtless in bed; there is a light in his doorway. He hears Mrs. Humphrey say she was alarmed by a noise “as if of someone attempting to break in through a window.” Simon agrees to come downstairs to “check the locks and shutters”; he asks her to wait outside while he dresses. Simon thinks: “This must stop […] This can’t go on. But nothing has been going on, and therefore nothing can stop.”
Simon’s dreamlike narration seems to depict Mrs. Humphrey as a kind of temptress, and his conviction that “this must stop” acts like a premonition. It is suddenly very difficult to know whether Simon can be trusted in his account of Mrs. Humphrey’s reactions, or whether he might be hiding his true intentions from the reader. At this point in the novel, the balance between Grace’s and Simon’s claims to being reliable begins to reverse.