Dowell explains Edward's background, desires, and regrets. Edward had all the virtues and the manners that are associated with the best kind of English people. His life had the outline of a "hard-working, sentimental and efficient professional man." His passions, Dowell explains, took up only a very small amount of his time.
Before the Kilsyte case, Edward claimed he had no thought whatsoever of being unfaithful to Leonora, but afterwards he could not stop thinking of the nurse-maid in the railway carriage. Though the law was fairly tolerant of his indiscretion, Edward vowed that he would not get into trouble with a lower-class woman again. Nevertheless, as he grew more estranged from Leonora, he went deliberately looking for a woman who would provide comfort to him.
It was one of Leonora's priests who first suggested that she bring Edward to Monte Carlo. He had the idea that this vacation would help to improve their marriage. Unfortunately, the trip turned out for the worst. La Dolciquita, the Spanish mistress of the Russian Grand Duke, set her sights on Edward. Believing he was passionately in love with her, Edward spent a night in her bed, and was ready the next morning to pledge his undying devotion to her. He was horrified when she asked for money, and he tried, unsuccessfully to talk to her about passion, devotion, constancy, and the honor that he owed to her. However La Dolciquita was a practical businesswoman, and she took Edward for more than twenty thousand pounds. He excused his behavior by convincing himself that he was in love with her, but after spending an excruciating week with her in Antibes, Edward realized that he owed to her no duties of love or honor. He returned to Leonora scared and repentant.
When Edward returned from Monte Carlo, he found a wife ready to clean up his messes and pull him out of financial ruin. He was humiliated over his actions at the gambling tables and with La Dolciquita, so he agreed to grant Leonora control over the finances. Within two days all the deeds were in her name, and Edward Ashburnham was removed from his position as the generous magistrate. Her motivation was partially to fix their finances and partially to punish her husband. Leonora took control of the estate with quick efficiency. She rented out Branshaw Manor, mortgaged some properties, and sold a few of the old family paintings. The loss of these family heirlooms touched Edward deeply. He resented his wife for failing to understand him, and for being of such a different temperament entirely. He longed for female sympathy.
Edward found sympathy in Mrs. Basil, the wife of a fellow officer, whom he met while stationed in Burma. She was a kind soul and she carried on the high romance that Edward desired. Leonora, ever the practical woman, was not in the least impressed by Edward's army position or his deeds of heroism. She thought it foolish that he would dive into the Red Sea to save a fellow officer. Edward did not know how to ever win the admiration of his wife.
After Edward was stationed away from Mrs. Basil, he met his next love interest, Maisie Maidan. His affection for Maisie bothered him intensely because he began to suspect that he was "inconstant." He had what he considered to be a valid excuse for all his other affairs, but it seemed dishonorable of him to have affection for Mrs. Maidan when he is still not over Mrs. Basil. He arranges with Leonora that they should bring Mrs. Maidan with them to Nauheim, and she agrees. Edward worries because he fears that Leonora plans to manage his loves in the same way she has managed his money. Leonora managed the money extraordinarily well. In only a few years, she brought the Ashburnhams back to an excellent financial position. Unfortunately, this skill does not endear her to her husband, whose only focus is on the young Mrs. Maidan. Their marriage is in a horrible state; everything Leonora tries to do causes Edward to hate her more.
Leonora is pained. She tries to do good deeds for Edward so that he will come back to her. She wonders why he needs to turn to women like Mrs. Basil and Mrs. Maidan, and why he cannot find solace with her. But Leonora thinks it fortunate that they have found someone like Maisie Maidan. She does not think that Mrs. Maidan and Edward will ever have a physical relationship, and she hopes that when Edward tires of Maisie, he will be grateful for the joy that his wife has allowed him. She longs for him to return to her. But when Florence enters the picture, Leonora loses all hope of winning back her husband.
Dowell's reference to "good people" is an important recurring term in the novel. In these two sections, Dowell explores the backgrounds, secrets, and desires of two of the "good people": Edward and Leonora Ashburnham. By "good," Dowell does not refer to their charity toward others or to their principled stances, he instead refers to their position in society. Because the Ashburnhams are well- dressed, well-groomed, and well-mannered, they are assumed to be "safe," a kind of couple very similar to the Dowells. It is evident that the Ashburnhams are wealthy, and their wealth makes Dowell feel more comfortable with them. He is satisfied, knowing very little about them, to take it for granted that the Ashburnhams are upright and trustworthy.
Dowell's misperception of who are "good people" is his ultimate and life-long mistake. By trusting people based on first impressions, Dowell places too much weight on his poor insight into others. "Good people" are the very ones who betray, deceive, and make a fool of him. He is wrong to necessarily link good appearances with good people. "Goodness" after all, is an arbitrary quality. Edward considers himself good as long as his affairs are backed by passion and affection. In contrast, Leonora cannot consider herself to be good unless she is living a holy and upright life. This difference in their conceptions of goodness accounts for much of the marital conflict in the novel.