John shifts his focus to August 1904, when he and Florence first met the Ashburnhams. At the time, Florence was routinely taking spa baths, and it was John’s job to accompany her from their hotel to the bath. These walks bored John, who started counting his steps to amuse himself. One such morning, John remembers dropping Florence off at the spa and receiving a wanton look from her. Instantly, this look made him jealous because he didn’t think it was for his benefit.
John’s response to Florence’s look is peculiar. He assumes the look is not for his benefit despite the fact that she seems to have directed it at him. This suggests that John is not used to receiving sexual signals from his wife and, in turn, that their sex life is strained or non-existent.
In the midst of boredom, John remembers meeting the Ashburnhams in the dining room of their hotel. Leonora and Florence were the first to become acquainted, and the two of them suggested that the couples have dinner together. As a result, Edward and John indulged their wives and got to know one another. John remembers that Edward’s good looks immediately struck him. He also recalls Edward talking about how to get all of the best items a man can have, including clothing and alcohol.
Later, John will come back to this moment and reveal that the origin of the couples’ relationship is not as innocent as it appears here. However, in this description, the Dowells and the Ashburnhams appear to enjoy one another’s company.
In the present, John takes a moment to think about why women find Edward so attractive. John finds Edward too concerned with material objects to be interesting and he wonders how women could like such a boring man. He decides that it must be because Edward is a sentimentalist in the presence of women; that is, he acts like someone who upholds traditional values such as honesty, loyalty, and honor.
Returning to the first night he met the Ashburnhams, John remembers having mixed feelings about Leonora. Although beautiful, she is too pale for John’s taste, and he cannot imagine ever being with her. He compares her skin to marble and says that kissing her would result in quite a cold feeling. He also recalls that Leonora gave him a strange look the first night they met, as though he was the one with the heart condition and not Florence. Nonetheless, he insists that he loves Leonora and would happily give his life for hers.
John is more reticent about the nature of his relationship with Leonora than he is with other characters. Although he claims he is not sexually attracted to her, there are moments later in the novel that would suggest otherwise. Also notable is this section is the strange look Leonora gives John. It is difficult to interpret the look at this moment in the story, although it is clear that something is off. On a structural level, it is worth noting that this chapter both begins and ends with a mysterious look from the main female characters.