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The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 10 | Summary



Newman has continued his friendship with Mrs. Tristram, who is (like everyone) surprised when he tells her that Claire is willing to see him. Newman can't help but feel his ego swell a little at this reaction. Valentin has been working behind the scenes to secure an invitation to meet the Bellegarde family, telling his family all about Newman's vast riches. However, when Newman does meet Claire's mother, Madame de Bellegarde, she seems unfriendly and difficult for him to read. Likewise Urbain's manner as he briefly discusses Newman's businesses and his interest in Paris is cold and formal, which Newman finds off-putting. Urbain's wife seems flighty.

In the midst of this rather chilly reception Newman decides to explain at length how he worked hard to escape poverty and then continued to work hard to make his fortune. This speech is followed by an awkward silence, a few words of encouragement from Urbain, and the declaration by Newman that he expects to find an excellent wife.

Urbain and his wife are on their way out to a fancy ball when Valentin enters to tell them that Claire intends to go as well. Claire appears, decked out in a beautiful dress and sparkling jewelry. Newman, of course, is awestruck. After Urbain, his wife, Claire, and Valentin leave, Newman confides in Madame de Bellegarde that he wants to marry Claire. She doesn't rule it out, and even seems to view the suggestion favorably. Although the family did not give Newman a warm welcome, he leaves feeling hopeful.


While the friendship between Mrs. Tristram and Newman is based on frankness and hold-nothing-back honesty, Newman's experiences with the Bellegardes is entirely opposite. Will Claire tell Madame de Bellegarde all about his conversation with her? Newman wonders to Valentin. Of course not, Valentin assures him: "She will keep her own counsel." And indeed the first interactions between Newman and the Bellegarde family are all gestures and expressions. Newman shakes Madame de Bellegarde's hand. She looks "hard" at him with her "cold blue eyes" as she returns his handshake. The young Marquise de Bellegarde, Urbain's wife, looks at Newman with an "agreeable smile." Valentin greets the marquise with a kiss on the hand as Newman sits down. After a very few words another bout of nonverbal communication ensues: "Madame de Bellegarde looked at him with her cold fine eyes, and he returned her gaze, reflecting that she was a possible adversary and trying to take her measure. Their eyes remained in contact for some moments."

Likewise, as Urbain engages in conversation with Newman he pulls on white gloves. This simple act of gentility communicates a great deal to Newman, who feels as though he has finally come into "personal contact with the forces with which his friend Valentin had told him that he would have to contend."

It is into this atmosphere laden with nonverbal signals and understatement that Newman feels the need to bluntly summarize his life experiences and personal aspirations. He just can't seem to help himself.

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