For most of her life, Nancy has been a naïve and innocent girl. She was brought up in the church and has no idea what the modern, adult world looks like. Although she’s heard of adultery, she doesn’t know of anyone who’s committed it, nor does she have a firm grasp on the concept in the first place. However, several weeks before her discussion with Leonora about Edward, Nancy loses some of her innocence.
Nancy’s ideas about the world would not have been out of place in England just a few decades before her birth. Although adultery has always occurred, it was not talked about in England for much of the 19th century. However, the turn of the century ushered in a different social paradigm that was more open about sex. In this environment, Nancy comes off as hopelessly naïve.
One day, while reading the newspaper, Nancy comes across the names of two people she knows, Mr. and Mrs. Brand, who are getting a divorce. The newspaper provides all of the lurid details of Mr. and Mrs. Brand’s personal lives, including adultery, alcoholism, and physical abuse. The article shocks Nancy: she didn’t know that high class people could act like this. However, after reading the article and thinking on it, she wonders whether something similar could be going on with Edward and Leonora. Nancy decides to discuss the article with Leonora to see what she can learn. In the course of their conversation, Leonora asks Nancy if she ever wants to get married. Nancy is unsure, but says that if she does get married, she wants to be with somebody like Edward. This response elicits thinly veiled disgust from Leonora.
The explicit details contained in the newspaper are an example of how different the 20th century was from the 19th. Such descriptions of violence and infidelity would not have been explicitly detailed in widely distributed 19th-century newspapers. When Nancy talks about marriage with Leonora, Leonora is disgusted because she realizes that Nancy loves Edward as more than a father, even if she doesn’t think of it like that.
The newspaper article and her conversation with Leonora leads Nancy to see her situation more clearly. She realizes that Edward must love another woman and that is why his marriage is falling apart. As she ruminates on the Ashburnhams’ circumstances, Nancy becomes depressed and even tries alcohol for the first time. However, drinking only makes matters worse; when Nancy tries some of Edward’s liquor, it makes her lust after Edward, so she vows to never try it again. Although Nancy wants to stay and help Edward and Leonora, she realizes that her situation has grown complicated and that her presence isn’t helping anyone improve. Shortly after this realization, Nancy receives a letter from her mother who has fallen on hard times. Seeing an out, as well as a better calling, Nancy begins packing her things. That same night is when Leonora comes into her room and begs her to stay.
Although Nancy hasn’t put all the pieces together yet, she is getting close. Additionally, her drinking helps her discover the feelings that she’s been harboring about Edward but doesn’t want to deal with. Because Nancy is a respectable young woman who wants to do what is right, she decides it would be best to remove herself from the situation. However, as with everything relating to the Ashburnhams, the matter is not as cut and dry as Nancy thinks, which is why Leonora goes to Nancy’s room to speak her.