Literature Study GuidesThe AmbassadorsBook 12 Chapters 3 4 Summary

The Ambassadors | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Ambassadors | Book 12, Chapters 3–4 | Summary



Chapter 3

Strether reviews the latest developments with Maria Gostrey. She explains to him that she deliberately absented herself from Paris because she did not want to lie to Strether about Madame de Vionnet's relationship with Chad. In the meantime, Maria has received a visit from Madame de Vionnet, who is upset that Chad has had no contact with her for some days. The two then discuss Little Bilham. Strether tells Maria that Bilham's lie regarding Chad's attachment to Madame de Vionnet was only "technical."

Chapter 4

Strether's penultimate farewell in Paris is to Chad at the latter's apartment on Boulevard Malesherbes. He finds Chad standing on his balcony—in the same spot as Strether had, some months ago, first seen Little Bilham (Book 2). Besides bidding Chad farewell, Strether's primary goal is to persuade the young man to remain in Paris and to continue his relationship with Madame de Vionnet. However, all signs point to Chad's returning home. He speaks only of the utility of advertising as a technique to enhance the family business in Woollett.


Both chapters carry a considerable infusion of situational irony. We have already discovered that Waymarsh, one of Strether's "confidants" from the very beginning of the novel, has covertly allied himself with Woollett and the Pococks. However, in Chapter 3 it is now revealed that Maria Gostrey, in whom Strether has confided from the beginning, has also not been exactly transparent with him on the topic of Chad and Madame de Vionnet. Close readers will perhaps have picked up on the hints that Maria Gostrey knows more than she has been willing to tell Strether: her longstanding acquaintance with Madame de Vionnet from school in Switzerland, for example, and her signal to Strether that Chad and Madame de Vionnet may absent themselves from town for a few days.

In Chapter 4, Chad's failure to fall in sync with Strether's urgent exhortation to remain in Paris exhibits a situational irony, given his earlier agreement to do whatever Strether recommends. Chad's professed interest in a relatively new field of business—advertising—compounds the situational irony in this scene. Chad has not displayed any interest in the Woollett family business so far. Here, however, we find him revealing a surprisingly materialistic streak. The result is a double failure for Strether. He has not succeeded in carrying out Mrs. Newsome's mission; neither has he succeeded in his adopted mission of saving Chad and Madame de Vionnet's relationship.

As for Little Bilham, James provides little explicit information on Strether's feelings. Not too long ago, Strether was protective and generous toward the young artist. However, Strether's impending departure from Paris now does not furnish any insight into his current attitude. The reader must assume that Bilham's lie disappoints Strether, but he is also perhaps supportive of Bilham, in that the latter was acting out of loyalty to his friend Chad.

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