Until this point, Nancy had been brought up in a very sheltered, religious environment. She knew that some people committed adultery, but she assumed they were poor people whom she did not know. One morning, about a month before the evening when Leonora confessed in Nancy's room, Nancy decided to read the paper and her eyes came across a familiar name: Mrs. Brand. Mrs. Brand was a friend of the Ashburnhams, and as Nancy read the divorce court article, she realized what a terrible marriage Mr. and Mrs. Brand had. Mr. Brand drank too much, hit his wife, and carried on a long adulterous affair with another woman. The article shocked Nancy, not because she knew the Brands so well, but because it had never occurred to her that "good people" could do such things when they were married. It led her to think that Edward and Leonora could have the same problems.
Nancy told Leonora about the Brands' divorce. Leonora asked Nancy if she ever wanted to marry; she responded that she didn't. She said that she would like to keep on living with her aunt and uncle. If she had to marry, she would want to marry someone like Edward. Leonora groaned in agony.
The rest of this section describes Nancy's personal thoughts and reflections during the period between their return from Nauheim and Edward's death. After Nancy began to suspect that Edward loved another woman, she grew depressed. All happiness and joy seemed tainted. She consoled herself by believing that only protestants could love someone other than one's spouse. She began to drink, but doing so brought sexual thoughts about Edward into her head, so she gave it up immediately. Nancy wanted to be good and to do her duty. She wanted to care for Leonora for the rest of her life. After she received a letter from her own mother, who was living on the streets of Glasgow, Nancy determined that she should leave to take care of her mother, who had fallen so low. Just as she was packing, late that night, Leonora came in to tell her that Edward was literally dying of love for her.
Nancy now realized what she had felt all along: that Edward was dying of love for her, and that she was dying of love for Edward. She felt that Leonora possessed his body, but that Nancy possessed his soul. She wanted to shelter him and care for him spiritually. She determined to go to Glasgow to save her mother, and to write letters to Edward, loving him from afar. But Leonora would not hear of it; she wanted Nancy to go and physically "belong" to Edward. When Edward heard that Nancy desired to go to Glasgow, he forbade her from considering it. He said that she was to be sent to India to be with her father as soon as possible. Nancy consented to Edward's wishes.
Leonora tries to convince Nancy to become an adulteress. She tells her that it is her duty to belong to Edward. Nancy must bear the burden of sin by commiting the initial wrong of "making Edward love her." Nancy was too beautiful, too good, and she had to pay the price by becoming an adulteress. Leonora and Nancy talked long into the night, and Edward heard their low voices through the wall.
Dowell frequently mentions religion as a motive for thoughts and actions. He reasons that fervent Catholicism must be the cause of many of Leonora and Nancy's "queer ways." Because they believe different things, Dowell assumes that they act in a way that he does not understand. Nevertheless, he is critical of the rules that force people into "normal" roles, and prevent them from acting on their passions. It is not the belief structure that Dowell dislikes, so much as the necessity of "being good." He thinks the necessity of being good forces people to assume false appearances, to suppress their feelings rather than enjoying life. Dowell's criticism of Catholicism functions in the novel as a larger criticism of "moral rules."
The novel questions whether it is better or worse to live in a system with a universally accepted morality. Edward's suppression of his love for Nancy, which he sees as moral, destroys him. Leonora's desire to always keep up the appearances of a perfect marriage, which she sees as moral, prevents her from finding love. Finally, everyone's desire to keep Dowell from knowing the truth about his wife's deception forces him into a virtual nervous breakdown. In the end, Dowell feels "horribly alone" with "nothing to guide" him through the "subtle morality of all other personal contacts, associations, and activities."