In the wake of Florence’s suicide, Leonora pieces together what she saw in the park and does her best to keep Edward away from Nancy. John describes Nancy as an eccentric girl whose personality shifts from moment to moment. Sometimes she is wise beyond her years and other times she is immature. Additionally, she is completely open, honest, and innocent.
Nancy is similar in nature to Maisie. She is young, naïve, and assumes the best of the Ashburnhams.
Nancy’s background is somewhat tragic. She has an abusive drunkard of a father who would often beat her mother in front of her. Luckily, as a young girl, Nancy was able to escape her father by doing her schooling in a convent. While Nancy was still young, her father went to India to serve in the army. Around the same time, Nancy’s mother, who was best friends with Leonora, asked the Ashburnhams to serve as Nancy’s guardians, a position they happily accepted.
Because Nancy is from an abusive background, Edward’s predatory behavior is only more sickening. Leonora knows as much and wants to do her best to protect the young girl.
Luckily for Leonora, it is not as difficult as normal to keep Edward away from Nancy because he’s grown weak following Florence’s death. As the days stretch on, Edward continues to lose strength and drink heavily. Eventually, Leonora realizes that he is no threat to Nancy’s chastity and allows them to go out together unsupervised. That same night, Leonora returns to her room to find Edward on his knees, crying, while praying to the Virgin Mary. At this point, Leonora knows definitively that she can trust Edward with Nancy.
Edward’s sudden shift in behavior is difficult to interpret. Perhaps he feels guilt about Florence’s death, or maybe he’s come to realize how morally reprehensible his relationship with Nancy is. Either way, this is the first time he expresses a genuine interest in religion. Previously, religion was only present in the novel as a sort of identity marker. However, here, Edward engages with the spiritual side of religion.