Literature Study GuidesThe AmbassadorsBook 3 Chapters 1 2 Summary

The Ambassadors | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Ambassadors | Book 3, Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

Strether recounts to Waymarsh his visit to Chad's apartment building. The young man smoking on the balcony turns out to be John Little Bilham, an artist friend of Chad's who was house-sitting for him while Chad was visiting Cannes, the fashionable resort town in the south of France. Strether mentions that he was favorably impressed by the young artist and house sitter. Waymarsh is skeptical. Nevertheless, the following morning he accompanies Strether to breakfast at Chad's apartment, with Little Bilham as host. Little Bilham introduces Miss Barrace, another member of Chad's social circle, to the two visitors. Miss Barrace has an upbeat, somewhat eccentric personality and a generally genial nature.

Chapter 2

After a week, Maria Gostrey arrives in Paris, much to Strether's relief, for he has come to enjoy her company; as the narrator remarks, "she was the blessing that had now become his need." Excitedly, Strether shares news with her about his new friendship with Little Bilham. She remarks that Chad could not possibly be visiting Cannes with a woman of a bad reputation since the elegant society at that resort would not tolerate such a relationship. Ever curious, Maria asks him to arrange a meeting so that she can assess Little Bilham for herself. They meet at the great gallery of the Louvre, the premier art museum of Paris, and Maria concludes that Little Bilham is trustworthy.

Soon afterward, Maria arranges an evening out at the Comédie Française, one of the city's most celebrated theaters, where a person has lent her box seats. Accompanying her are Strether and Waymarsh. Also invited is Little Bilham, who does not show up. Just before the performance begins, a newcomer slips into the box and seats himself. To Strether's astonishment, the new arrival is none other than Chad Newsome.

Analysis

Book 3 begins at a leisurely pace, with Strether briefing Waymarsh on his new acquaintance with Little Bilham. The book ends dramatically and with suspense, however, with Chad's sudden, unheralded entrance into the narrative at the Comédie Française.

As in Book 1, much of Book Third focuses on two secondary characters who steadily assume more importance: Strether's confidants Waymarsh and Maria Gostrey. Waymarsh is typically gruff and blunt almost to the point of discourtesy, as when he questions Strether on the stakes of the latter's mission to Europe. James emphasizes again that if Strether fails to persuade Chad to return to America, he will lose Mrs. Newsome's hand in marriage and forgo a considerable fortune.

By contrast, Maria is suave, astute, and humorous, as foreshadowed by her lighthearted yet percipient banter with Strether in Book 1. Significantly, Strether pays attention to Maria's verdict on Little Bilham: "Oh he's all right," she murmurs to him, "he's one of us!" Maria's approval of Bilham will have a notable impact on Strether's growing feelings of affection for the young man, and also on his reliance on Bilham's misleading certification of Chad's relationship with Madame de Vionnet as a "virtuous attachment."

The high point of Book 3 is the dramatic entrance of Chad in a theater box at the Comédie Française. The circumstances necessarily limit Strether and his companions, since the performance is just beginning. Strether is thus confined to a series of interior reactions, speculations, and observations of Chad. Many of these reactions are favorable. Chad seems more mature and refined than he was back home in America.

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