Leonora, as I have said, was the perfectly normal woman. I mean to say that in normal circumstances her desires were those of the woman who is needed by society. She desired children, decorum, an establishment; she desired to avoid waste, she desired to keep up appearances. She was utterly and entirely normal even in her utterly undeniable beauty. But I don't mean to say she acted perfectly normally in the perfectly abnormal situation. All the world was mad around her and she herself, agonized, took on the complexion of a mad woman; of a woman very wicked; of the villain of the piece. What would you have? Steel is a normal, hard, polished substance. But, if you put it in a hot fire it will become red, soft, and not to be handled. If you put it in a fire still more hot it will drip away. It was like that with Leonora.
These lines are written by Dowell in Part V, Section VI of the novel. To Dowell, the "normal" woman is the traditional woman. She is one who not only submits to, but desires her role in the old establishment. She does not seek greater freedom or increased power. The "normal" woman seeks to preserve "decorum" and to "keep up appearances"; this is why she is needed by society. By desiring both children and an establishment, she not only preserves the social structure, but continues it by reproducing and teaching these traditional values to a new generation.
If woman transgresses her traditional role, then she threatens not only men, but also the very core of society. In The Good Soldier, Leonora's transgression precipitates the climax and tragedy of the novel. The comparison of Leonora, the "normal woman," to steel illustrates Dowell's conflation of women with both strength and inhumanity. But the emphasis in this passage is on the common danger of change. As women were essential to the family, steel was essential to the economy, and the threat that either may prove unreliable, that they may "melt" or "drip away" in a situation of extreme intensity was a frightening prospect. Leonora, in fact did not continue to act normally when faced with a chaotic situation. She became "mad," which to the narrator is equated with being "wicked," and "a villain." By ceasing to act "normally," and by joining the other characters in her instability, Leonora induces the destruction of the family and the crisis of the novel.