The Ambassadors | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Ambassadors | Book 8, Chapter 3 | Summary

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Summary

The following day, Strether finds himself again with the Pococks, this time together with Waymarsh and Madame de Vionnet. Strether feels somehow disconcerted by the latter two characters' presence, and a certain chill comes over him when he hears Sarah Pocock assertively proclaim that she knows Paris.

The conversation unfolds politely in this group, but there is no doubt that Sarah Pocock is the key figure. Waymarsh plays a curious role, gratuitously volunteering comments about the close relationship between Strether and Maria Gostrey.

Analysis

Beneath the social pleasantries of the dialogue in this chapter, James strongly hints that Sarah Pocock is dead set on her mission to reclaim her brother Chad from the clutches of Paris. Sarah's emphatic assertion that she knows Paris cannot but sound sinister in context (before this chapter, the narrator tells the reader that Sarah has never been to Paris). There are warning notes, too, in Madame de Vionnet's profuse yearnings for approval, as well as in Strether's "mixed relations" with Waymarsh.

It is clear that Sarah is very intent on her purpose for being in Paris—to retrieve her brother and bring him home to Woollett. Unlike Strether, she will not be distracted by the pleasantries of Parisian culture. Sarah is the embodiment of Mrs. Newsome, whom the readers only know through other characters and have not actually "seen" in the story. Strether was tense upon learning of Sarah's impending arrival in Paris, and he is caught very off guard at the beginning of this chapter when he finds Madame de Vionnet and Waymarsh conversing with Sarah in Sarah's apartment.

With the Pococks' arrival in Paris, the reader becomes more aware of what it means to be a Newsome in Woollett. Jim is an average Woollett businessman who acts as Sarah and Mamie's chaperone. Detached from the cause of rescuing Chad, his sole purpose for being in Paris is to have a good time and enjoy the culture of the city. Mamie is a young New England socialite, seeking to secure marriage. Through Mamie, the purpose of Mrs. Newsome's reclaiming of Chad becomes clearer: she wishes to bring him home to marry Mamie, which will create the continuum of their place in New England society.

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