John says that he’s decided to call his tale “the saddest story” because there is nothing elevated about it that could promote it to the level of tragedy. Rather, it is simply a string of bad events happening to “two noble people.” According to John, there is no villain in his story.
John returns to what happened in the wake of Edward’s affair with La Dolciquita. When Edward returned to Leonora, he was forced to tell her about the great sum of money he lost. However, he did not elaborate upon how he lost it, even though Leonora could probably guess. After realizing that her husband could not be trusted with their finances, Leonora took control of their estate and only allowed Edward a set allowance. She also sold, rented, and refinanced their properties as necessary so that they could financially recover in the wake of Edward’s affair with La Dolciquita. Although Leonora gives Edward the courtesy of discussing their financial affairs—to pass the time if nothing else—she has the final say in nearly everything. Only Edward’s allowance is his own and even there she counsels him on how to spend it.
At the time, it would be incredibly unusual for a woman to control the family’s finances, especially because all of the Ashburnhams’ wealth came from Edward’s side of the family. However, it is clear to Leonora that she cannot trust Edward, and so she treats him like a child by giving him an allowance. At this point, Edward and Leonora’s marriage is falling apart, and Leonora believes that stabilizing their finances is the only thing that can repair it.
Because they need to live on a relatively small sum of money, the Ashburnhams move to Burma—which was part of the Indian Empire at the time—where Edward meets Mrs. Basil. Before long, Edward and Mrs. Basil begin their affair, which is much more discreet and less financially taxing than Edward’s previous infidelities, at least at the start. Unlike La Dolciquita, Mrs. Basil is genuinely in love with Edward, and he loves her in return. Their affair could have lasted forever if Major Basil hadn’t been positioned elsewhere by the army.
Edward continues his established pattern of behavior. He readily cheats on his wife without thinking of the consequences.
Major Basil discovered Edward and Mrs. Basil’s affair just before moving. Almost immediately, he decided on blackmail. Every year, for as long as he could get away with it, Major Basil extorted 300 pounds out of Edward. The blackmail was yet another stress for Edward, who was already upset because Mrs. Basil had moved away. After the Basils went away, the Ashburnhams moved to Chitral, where Edward met Maisie. By this time, Edward and Leonora were married only in the legal sense. Although they always acted in a morally upright fashion in public, they barely spoke to one other in private.
Edward’s behavioral pattern persists as the Ashburnhams’ marriage continues to deteriorate. Their public behavior is only to keep up appearances; in reality, their marriage is all but lost.
In Chitral, Edward immediately grows fond of Maisie. He spends as much time with her as he can, even as he and Leonora continue to drift apart, barely speaking to one another. He also continues writing to Mrs. Basil, whom he is still fond of. While Edward is busy carrying on his affairs, Leonora continues rebuilding their finances. She is quite successful and manages to make back a good portion of the money that Edward lost.
During this time, Leonora does what she can to secure her financial future. It is difficult to find fault with her behavior during this portion of the story. However, perhaps this is because Leonora herself provided much of the information in this chapter. One of the difficulties of determining fact from fiction in this novel is that John rarely elaborates on who told him what.
Knowing they will be departing for Nauheim soon, Edward boldly asks Leonora if they can take Maisie with them. Surprisingly, Leonora accepts the request, even though she knows that Edward is likely trying to sleep with Maisie. Leonora thinks it unlikely that her husband will be successful, which is part of the reason she doesn’t mind bringing Maisie with them. Secretly, Leonora hopes that Edward will eventually get sick of Maisie, as well as his other affairs, and come back to her.
Despite his infidelity—which he isn’t even trying to hide at this point—Leonora still wants Edward back. Whether her desire is based in love or a thirst for normalcy is unclear.
Despite Leonora’s efforts, Edward continues to feel alienated from his wife. He wonders whether she accepted his request to bring Maisie with them as a way of controlling his love life in a similar manner to how she runs their finances. Still, Leonora has hope that one day Edward will come back to her; or, at least, she did until Edward met Florence.
It is difficult to feel sympathy for Edward because all the restrictions Leonora has put on him are of his own making. Of course, it is worth reaffirming that all of this information could have come from Leonora, which is why it is biased in her favor.