When she no longer had to worry about Edward and Nancy, Leonora relaxed her mind, marking the beginning of the end for her. Despite their strange relationship, John says that Leonora loved Edward “with a passion” and for the first time elaborates on Leonora’s background. Leonora was one of seven daughters who grew up in an isolated Irish manor home. As a child, Leonora only ever spent time with her sisters, as her family rarely traveled or had visitors. However, her parents were friends with the Ashburnhams and when Edward came of age, Colonel Powys (Leonora’s father) asked Colonel Ashburnham (Edward’s father) if one of his daughters could marry Edward. At the time, Edward was a pure youth with a strong mind.
Unlike the story’s other main characters, Leonora did not grow up with money. This is one explanation for why Leonora is so willing to put up with Edward’s behavior. Without him, she would go back to being broke, which she seems unwilling to do.
In an attempt to arrange a marriage, the Powyses invited the Ashburnhams to come and visit them. Despite their established name, the Powyses were poor and thought that it would be cheaper to have the Ashburnhams come to them than the other way around. After spending the weekend with Leonora and her sisters, Edward had a talk with his mother about which one he would like to marry. Of course, he chose Leonora and, even though Leonora was their third daughter, the Powyses accepted the marriage offer.
The first five or six years of Edward and Leonora’s marriage were a happy, albeit uneventful, time. During these years, Edward demonstrated great admiration and respect for Leonora and, in return, Leonora obeyed his every wish. Although there was never true love between them, they got on well enough and they were faithful to one another. However, problems began to develop after the death of Edward’s parents. After inheriting his parents’ estate, Edward became frivolous with money, much to Leonora’s consternation. Their first major falling out occurred because Edward wanted to build a Catholic Church in Leonora’s name, even though to do so would have been financially irresponsible.
Here, John begins to retell the same story he’s already told about Edward and Leonora’s marriage, expect this time with more detail. In contrast to Florence and John, Edward and Leonora initially have a good marriage. However, Edward’s frivolity with money is understandably stressful for Leonora, who was raised in relative poverty and does not want to go back to such a lifestyle.
Around the same time, the English economy took a hit and Edward acted too generously toward his tenants for Colonel Powys’s taste. Colonel Powys relayed his opinions to Leonora, which only made her worry more about how her husband handled their finances. Leonora’s fears about their financial situation boiled over when she heard Edward completely absolve one of his tenants from paying rent. This led to a fight between Edward and Leonora, although nothing was resolved. Edward argued that in hard times, he should bear as much financial strain as possible to help out his tenants. However, at the time, Leonora had other matters to consider, including the children she hoped to have with Edward.
Despite his many negative attributes, Edward’s one redeeming quality is his charitability. Although he may go too far, Edward genuinely cares for those who are less fortunate and does what he can to help them. Meanwhile, Leonora comes off as callous toward people who are of a lower class.
The topic of children also drove a wedge between Edward and Leonora. Although they never had a child of their own, they regularly argued about their potential children’s religious upbringing. Such arguments only put more stress on the relationship and drove Edward and Leonora further apart. These tensions eventually led to Edward’s first attempt at an affair. While in the back of a carriage, he attempted to console a grieving servant woman by kissing her. Horrified, the woman alerted their driver, and the event became a public affair. Although Edward’s public reputation survived, the event had a permanent effect on his mental wellbeing.
Edward and Leonora’s argument about religion is absurd precisely because of how irrelevant it ends up being. They spend their time arguing about religions which, in this cultural context, function more as identity markers than guides for living a moral life. Both Protestantism and Catholicism would say that fidelity and giving to the poor are moral acts. Yet, Leonora is not charitable, and Edward is not faithful to his wife.