Dowell describes Leonora's breakdown. Because she knew that she could trust Edward and that Nancy was absolutely trustworthy, Leonora finally felt that she could relax her vigilance, and it was then, when her defenses began to weaken, that she fell apart.
Dowell explains the history of Leonora's marriage to Edward. She was one of seven daughters born to Colonel and Mrs. Powys, the owners of an Irish manor house. She was extremely sheltered, going first to convent school, and then remaining cloistered in her parents' home. Her marriage to Edward was arranged by her parents who asked the Ashburnhams for a favor. They wanted to have their son marry one of the Powys daughters. From the start, Edward admired Leonora, her "cleanness of mind," her truth, her efficiency, but she never held any true spark for him. Leonora's admiration for Edward, however, soon grew into love. She loved him intensely and desired love in return. Problems arose in their marriage when Leonora's desire for economic efficiency clashed with Edward's tendencies toward generosity and extravagance. Edward, always a sentimentalist, desired to build an expensive and elaborate Catholic church on the property as a homage to his wife. But Leonora argued that such a suggestion was ostentatious and unnecessary; he was hurt by her lack of sentiment. He began to fear that where his traditions were entirely collective, his wife was a "sheer individualist."
Edward and Leonora drifted further and further apart. Edward, an Anglican, refused to allow any future sons to be raised Catholic. Leonora agonized over this; she believed that any child of hers raised Anglican would have mortal sin on his soul. They fought about religion and they argued about money; they grew increasingly estranged. Edward's brief encounter with a young girl in the back of a railway carriage (the Kilsyte case) actually came as a relief to Leonora. It allowed her to stand faithfully and publicly behind her husband. But mentally, Edward was scarred by the drama and publicity.
For the English novel of adultery, 1910–1914 were crucial transitional years, a period where the novel walked the line between utter condemnation of and sympathy for the adulteress. The change in authorial judgment of the adulteress in the years immediately preceding the Great War significantly affected the depiction of female adultery and the form of the English novel. In The Good Soldier, Ford is able to suspend his own judgment of the adulteress by inserting the thoughts and feelings of John Dowell. Dowell may dismiss or condemn Florence's actions as he wishes, while Ford remains beyond reproach for his portrayal of marital deception.
In English literature, the adulteress has always held a very unique place. She represents instability, a challenge to the order and morality of society. In Victorian novels, characters who committed such acts were deemed "fallen women," those who suffer or are destroyed for their transgressions. Such punishment serves as a lesson for the reader, that disobeying the sacred rules of marriage has harsh consequences. In Ford's novel, Florence is destroyed not by fate, but by her own hand. The Good Soldier signals a new kind of adultery novel, one in which the woman maintains great control over her affairs and her fate.