Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Lapham forces herself to tell Irene of the situation. Stunned, the girl gives Penelope all her love mementoes: the newspaper clipping telling of the Texas ranch, the pine shaving, and a pin like one worn by one of Tom's sisters. She goes for a long walk with her father, buys a sleeping potion, and returns home to sleep. The next morning, she announces that she will go to the farming community of Lapham, named for Silas. Before she leaves, she instructs Penelope to tell Tom that they all thought he loved her.
Tom visits Penelope, who is still quite perplexed. He learns of the mistake and tries to convince Penelope that she must not be silly like the girl in the book, Tears, Idle Tears. However, she will not let him touch her, saying, "No, no! I can't let you-yet!"
One critic has called this the greatest chapter in all literature. He praises the emotional impact of Irene's giving the love mementoes to Penelope. It is a sterling chapter, for it is one in which the symbols of romance are turned over to Penelope, and she must continue the romantic story. A good example of dramatic irony, it shows romance operating in reality, outside novels like Tears, Idle Tears.
The character of Irene is developed as she assumes the suffering which is rightfully hers. She must take it to spare the rest of the family. This illustrates Howells' concept of the "economy of pain" that must exist in a realistic world. Irene's decision to leave and her sleeping potion are both realistic solutions to her problem.