Part 1, Chapters 3-4 Summary
It is 1904; Florence is still alive. They are at a German health resort, "taking the baths" to make Florence stronger. Here they meet the Ashburnhams.
Dowell is very impressed with Captain Ashburnham. He approves of the captain's neat dress, handsome looks, and manners. Observing him even before the Ashburnhams join them at the table, Dowell equally is affected by Ashburnham's ability to show no emotion. The captain's facial expression is not blank but rather perfectly balanced amid a range of emotions.
Dowell is not impressed with the captain's conversation topics, although he believes the captain's sensitivity and focus on personal care must appeal to women. Dowell does not fathom any other reason why women seem to like him. Leonora appears to adore him with a passion. Later, Dowell learns Leonora also hates her husband with an equal passion.
Dowell concludes the captain must have been a good soldier, at least. The captain was obviously a sentimentalist, a trait all good soldiers have. If true, Dowell thinks, then he must also possess courage, loyalty, honor, and constancy.
Dowell's first impressions of Leonora are not so flattering, although he claims he always has loved her in a nonsexual way. At their first encounter, Dowell noticed Leonora's eyes first and the way they evaluated him. He imagined her wondering if this stranger might be trustworthy. He was taken aback when Leonora appeared to judge him an invalid when it was Florence who was sick.
So the nine-year relationship was established. Dowell refers to the friendship as based on "an atmosphere of taking everything for granted." They thought of one another as good people and took for granted that they liked and wanted the same things. This meant that the friendship never grew much deeper.
Florence begins to flirt with the captain. When the couples visit the house where Martin Luther once lived, Florence's attention stays on the captain. Leonora sees what is happening, as she has witnessed many other budding affairs; Dowell is completely ignorant. While at the Luther home, Florence also criticizes Catholics, especially Irish Catholics. Without Luther and his reformation, they might all have been horrid Catholics. This, along with Florence's obvious attraction to the captain, infuriates Leonora, an Irish Catholic, and she runs out of the room. When Dowell follows her, he believes Leonora is only upset about Florence's comments. He does not comprehend that his wife has become emotionally aroused by Captain Ashburnham.