Irene, the younger daughter of the Laphams, has an "innocence which is almost vegetable," Howells points out. Her mother and older sister understand that Irene's eyes always express a great deal more than Irene ever thinks or feels. The Corey women, however, find Irene to be very pretty and well-behaved but very insipid. Tom Corey says, "She is interesting by her own limitations." And, Mrs. Lapham admits that she is not equal to Tom intellectually. "I'd ten times rather she was going to marry such a fellow as you were Si, that had to make every inch of his own way, and she had to help him. It's in her."
Irene is the ideal romantic girl — beautiful, unintelligent, and passive. She is like a flower — close to nature and unlearned. Although she becomes stronger after her love affair with Tom Corey is abruptly ended, she is not further developed. Practical enough to know that she must leave home after the blow, she does not return until the need for her arises during her father's difficulties with business. Her practical abilities are an asset to the family, as she keeps the house in perfect order. A better housekeeper than a student, she does not mentally fit into the Coreys' society, where but for her father's money, she might have been their maid.