Literature Study GuidesThe AmbassadorsBook 9 Chapters 1 2 Summary

The Ambassadors | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Ambassadors | Book 9, Chapters 1–2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

A few days later, Strether visits Madame de Vionnet at her residence. They discuss the new detachment of ambassadors from Woollett, who seem—at least to Strether—to be blind to the evident improvement in Chad's maturity and refinement. Strether worries about the Woollett detachment's rigidity, but Madame de Vionnet tries to calm him, urging patience. Strether reflects that Madame de Vionnet seems to him a paradoxical mixture of "lucidity" and "mystery." The two discuss what actions Sarah Pocock may take. They then chat about Jim Pocock and his motivations. Strether makes it known that he thinks Waymarsh has allied himself with Woollett.

Near the end of the visit, Madame de Vionnet abruptly informs Strether that her daughter Jeanne will soon be married. She tells Strether that Chad played a leading role in arranging the engagement. Strether is perplexed by this news.

Chapter 2

After a week in Paris, Sarah Pocock has still not arranged to meet with Strether. He talks with Maria Gostrey about Chad's frequent meetings with Mamie and speculates on the strength and mutuality of the attraction. They also discuss the recent engagement of young Jeanne de Vionnet to be married. Once again, Chad's role in this matter presents itself as mysterious.

Analysis

Marriage is a significant underlying theme in the opening chapters of Book 9. Chapter 1, featuring the conversation between Strether and Madame de Vionnet, stresses that the new ambassadors from Woollett are rigid and difficult to deal with. Strether is already conscious that his relations with Mrs. Newsome, who is still technically his fiancée, have deteriorated (he refers, for example, to "suspense about [my] own case too"). Madame de Vionnet, the reader assumes, has become more and more apprehensive about her relationship with Chad.

It is against this background, then, that Madame de Vionnet suddenly reveals that her daughter Jeanne has become engaged to be married. Oddly, Strether appears oblivious of one of the most surprising features in this development: the prominent role played by Chad in the engagement. Strether himself, not long ago, seemed convinced that Chad was focusing his romantic affections on Jeanne de Vionnet. Now, however, he does not pause to wonder why it is Chad, rather than Madame de Vionnet's estranged husband, who has arranged Jeanne's marriage. It does not occur to him, for example, that Chad may be exercising the role of a potential stepfather to Jeanne. Strether simply accepts Madame de Vionnet's confident opinion that her husband will have to accept the match because it is so advantageous (presumably, Jeanne's fiancé is wealthy and socially prominent).

Besides marriage, communication is an important motif in these chapters. Although Strether has become more and more favorably disposed to Madame de Vionnet, there are still gaps in their communication with each other.

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