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The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 13 | Summary



Newman visits Claire's home regularly, falling more and more in love with her. Claire, though not as enthusiastic as Newman, seems to find his presence pleasant. The Bellegarde family has plenty of other company as well, and Claire and her family entertain them in an aristocratic fashion. One day while at Claire's Newman encounters Mrs. Bread, a servant of the Bellegarde family who had been Claire's nurse. Mrs. Bread tells Newman that she is in favor of his marriage to Claire because Claire deserves to be happy, but he should know that it isn't going to be easy to actually make the marriage happen.

As Claire and Newman get to know one another better, she reveals that she is concerned for her brother Valentin, who doesn't seem happy. One evening the two also discuss Urbain and Madame Bellegarde, who haven't warmed up much to Newman. In contrast Claire's mother and brother seem to enjoy the company of Lord Deepmere, a wealthy aristocrat who is also visiting. As Lord Deepmere, Newman, and the Bellegardes discuss Lord Deepmere's properties, Newman finds he isn't very interested in the topic, and he rises to head home. Urbain follows him to the door, and Newman expresses gratitude that Urbain continues to support his relationship with Claire. As Newman leaves Urbain's facial expression is inscrutable.


Newman's feelings for Claire are explored in depth as the narrator explains not only Newman's emotions but also Newman's own analysis of his feelings. Newman doesn't classify his feelings for Claire as being in love, even though he shows all the signs of it: he has an "all-consuming tenderness" and a "heart-ache" toward her. He feels she is perfect. Yet he still seems to view her as a fascinating object, observing her from a distance rather than interacting with her.

The theme of belonging is developed throughout the chapter. The description of Newman as a "tall, lean, silent man in a half-lounging attitude, who laughed out sometimes when no one had meant to be droll, and remained grave in the presence of calculated witticisms" shows just how out of place Newman is among Claire's social set. Newman is unfamiliar with the "old" stories they tell, and he has no practice or interest in making small talk.

The chapter also foreshadows events and revelations to come: it reminds readers that Mrs. Tristram observed Claire in tears after going to confession, and thus there may be some "tearful secret" she is keeping. It recounts a conversation in which Newman says of Madame de Bellegarde, "I shouldn't wonder if she had murdered some one—all from a sense of duty, of course." He is speaking of her general personality, but the comment is intuitively right on target. Likewise the encounter with Mrs. Bread and the scene between Urbain and Newman that concludes the chapter both hint at further obstacles in Newman's quest to marry Claire. And of course Claire's statement about her brother Valentin—"I don't know why, but I fancy he will have some great trouble—perhaps an unhappy end"—comes true as well.

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