Part 3, Chapters 2-3 Summary
Dowell describes Nancy in this section. Her background was marred by a passionately angry father and a mother whom Dowell suspects was alcoholic. During an argument, Nancy's father punched her mother in the face, knocking her unconscious. A similar incident occurred with Nancy, and she lay unconscious for three days. Despite this, Nancy appeared to love her father, even more than her mother, who disappeared after Nancy was sent to a convent. Nancy was told that her mother died, although Dowell was not able to confirm this.
Nancy often acted in contrary ways. She could be very patient but also intolerant. Sometimes she was mature and sophisticated, but other times she would roll down the lawn with one of Leonora's dogs. Nancy was an innocent, Dowell concluded.
After Florence's death, Leonora became jealous of her husband's relationship with Nancy. Leonora did her best to ensure Ashburnham was never alone with Nancy. Nancy had always favored the captain and enjoyed long periods of time alone with him. They often took long walks and frequently went out at night by themselves as Leonora always went to bed early.
The captain became moody after Florence's death. At first, Leonora thought it might be Florence's death, but she saw no sign of this. Leonora surmised Nancy might be causing his emotional unrest. Leonora kept Nancy away from her husband until the night she found him sobbing by his bed. This distress released Leonora's anxiety.
In Chapter Three, Dowell provides background information about the Ashburnhams' relationship. Their parents arranged it, but they admired one another and seemed content. For the first few years, everything went well. After six years, the captain decided to give his wife a gift, one he felt a great expression of his admiration: a Catholic church on their property so that Leonora did not have to travel so far for services. This did not appeal to Leonora. There were no other Catholics in the vicinity except for Leonora and one of her maids. Leonora was content to have Mass served in a small but clean outhouse on the estate whenever a priest visited them. The captain felt slighted and from then on refused to allow future offspring to become Catholics. From this point on, Leonora and the captain often argued. Soon after, the captain was caught and publicly shamed for his first incident of making sexual advances on a young woman.