Leonora Ashburnham is shaped by her economic upbringing and her stoic Catholicism. Though she is not outwardly religious, she believes in right and wrong, and in making the best of one's situation. Above all, she values propriety, and she insists that the Ashburnhams maintain the appearance of the perfect couple. Although she loves Edward deeply, especially at the beginning of their marriage, she grows frustrated with his impracticality. Though Leonora tries to keep control over her emotions at all times, she, too, is vulnerable to outbursts. When she hits Maisie Maidan, Leonora is really "striking the face of an intolerable universe." Leonora tries to remain in control so that, unlike Dowell, she may be aware of the world crumbling around her.

Dowell describes Leonora as "a perfectly normal woman," but we understand that from Dowell, this is not a compliment. "Normality" in the novel is associated with coldness, boredom, and a complete lack of passion. Dowell is jealous of Leonora, but she is the character who most intrigues him. Leonora, in her utter normality is the prototype of the new, powerful woman. She endeavors to control not only Ashburnham's money, but his amorous affairs as well. Such power and control is utterly threatening to man like Dowell, one who fears and chooses to remain ignorant of all female assertiveness.