John once again extols the virtues of Edward’s character. He thinks of Edward as a proper Englishman with a sentimental nature whose tendency to cheat on Leonora only makes up a small part of his character. For a moment, John contemplates what gives someone their character. He decides that character is not a stable concept; although people often act one way, their behavior can shift suddenly, especially under stressful circumstances.
If John is a manipulative murderer, then this passage is his most conniving work. Here, he expresses the idea that identity is fundamentally unstable and so people can act irrationally. While this is true, there is a question of degree. For instance, Edward’s decision to have an affair seems believable because it falls within the realm of normative human behavior, even if it is morally wrong. However, can the same be said about Florence’s suicide? John’s comments here refer to that situation as well, and he seems to imply that Florence’s decision to kill herself is similar to Edward’s decision to have an affair. Essentially, if one is assuming the worst of John, then what he is doing is creating a false equivalency to explain away Florence’s death.
Prior to the Kilsyte case—the name given to Edward’s indiscretion in the back of the carriage—Edward had never considered cheating on Leonora. However, having gotten a small taste of what it would be like to be with another woman, it was only a matter of time before he found someone else. Although Edward swore off lower-class women, he continued pursuing women of his own rank as soon as he got the chance. After a brief moment of unity, the Kilsyte case drove Edward and Leonora further apart than ever, and Edward was eager to find another woman.
Edward’s sudden shift in character quickly becomes his new pattern of behavior. He cheats, gets caught, then moves on to the next woman.
Edward and Leonora travel to Monte Carlo at the suggestion of Leonora’s priest. Although the intended purpose of the trip is to heal their marriage, it ironically does the opposite. Because Edward is enjoying his time dancing with some Spanish women, Leonora leaves him alone and goes to bed. While dancing, Edward meets La Dolciquita, the mistress of the Russian Grand Duke. Immediately, Edward is infatuated with La Dolciquita, and the two of them go to bed together.
At this point, Leonora still trusts Edward enough to leave him alone with another woman. However, she is wrong to do so, and this proves to be one of her most costly mistakes.
After sleeping with Edward, La Dolciquita has gotten all she wanted out of their relationship. However, in sharp contrast, Edward falls deeply in love with her. Edward urges La Dolciquita to continue acting as his lover. In response, La Dolciquita says that she will only continue spending time with Edward if he pays her. After all, she is the mistress to a Grand Duke; if her association with Edward was discovered, she would lose a great deal of wealth, as well as her social standing. Although Edward initially finds the idea of paying La Dolciquita abhorrent, he eventually gives in and pays her more than 20,000 pounds for her company. After spending a week with La Dolciquita, Edward realizes that he is not in love with her and that he's acted dishonorably. After the affair, he returns to Leonora with a great sense of shame about what he’s done.
Edward’s notion of love is really just lust, which wears off after only a few days. However, the emotional and financial damage his affair with La Dolciquita creates is far more permanent. Although Edward feels somewhat ashamed about his actions, he doesn’t stay ashamed—instead, he continues to act in a similar manner going forward.