Summary and Analysis
Tom is met by Penelope when he goes to Lapham's home to reveal his respect and sympathies. While waiting for Silas, they discuss the novel Tears, Idle Tears, which Penelope has recently read. "It's a famous book with the ladies," Tom says. "Did it make you cry?"
"Oh, it's pretty easy to cry over a book," says Penelope; "and that one is very natural till you come to the main point. Then the naturalness of all the rest makes that seem natural too; but I guess it's rather forced."
"Her giving him up to the other one?"
"Yes, simply because she happened to know that the other one had cared for him first. Why should she have done it? What right had she?"
"I don't know. I suppose that the self-sacrifice — " "But it wasn't self-sacrifice — or not self-sacrifice alone. She was sacrificing him too; and for someone who couldn't appreciate him half as much as she could. I'm provoked with myself when I think how I cried over that book — for I did cry. It's silly — it's wicked for anyone to do what that girl did."
After pursuing other topics Tom declares his love for Penelope, much to her surprise. Penelope nearly slips and tells Tom that everyone had thought he was in love with Irene. She checks her words, however, but she pleads with Tom to leave and not to mention his feelings to her father.
Although all the details of the novel Tears, Idle Tears are not given, a parallel between the romantic novel and the story of Penelope, Tom and Irene is somewhat evident. The hero in Tears, Idle Tears has not fallen in love with the girl who first cared for him. Likewise, Tom has fallen in love with Penelope rather than Irene. Penelope's attempt to give Tom up is also similar to the girl's self-sacrifice in Tears, Idle Tears. Penelope tells Tom, "You must go! And you must never come any more."
Her action is ironical, because she was provoked at the heroine's self-sacrifice in Tears Idle Tears "It's silly it's wicked for anyone to do what that girl did," she had said. This incident helps to substantiate Howells' conviction that, in real life, people of his time often acted ridiculously romantic.