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The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 16 | Summary



Now that the engagement is official, Newman visits Claire every day, and those visits are especially pleasant because Urbain and Madame de Bellegarde are out of the house most of the time, sightseeing with Lord Deepmere. Newman notices Urbain's wife, the young marquise, occasionally looking at him as though she wants to say something. Newman keeps in touch with his friends, the Tristrams, who can hardly believe Newman's success in managing to convince the Bellegardes to let him marry Claire.

As the night of the ball arrives Newman is introduced to plenty of rich, aristocratic guests. As the evening wears on Newman seeks out Madame de Bellegarde, finding her speaking seriously with Lord Deepmere, who leaves quickly when Newman interrupts their conversation. Madame de Bellegarde also makes a quick exit, saying she needs to talk to Urbain. Later Newman finds Claire in conversation with Lord Deepmere, and she is obviously upset, though she tells Newman not to be concerned. As the party ends Mrs. Bread brings Claire a shawl.


Newman's confidence in Claire and in the vow made by her family carries him through the ball, at which his outsider status is obvious. It is made more obvious by the appearance of Lord Deepmere, who is the picture of graceful nobility. Newman dislikes and lacks skill in small talk, but Lord Deepmere excels at it: a level of expertise he shows clearly in his flirtatious banter with the young marquise. Newman admits that he does not dance, while Lord Deepmere not only dances but also thinks that "a fellow ought to know how to dance if he didn't want to make an ass of himself."

In an interesting reversal the ball places Newman in the position of observed, more than observer. He has spent a great deal of time observing Claire, her guests, and her family. Now everyone is there to catch a glimpse of him—the strange American whom Claire will marry. He is the "object of the exhibition," and guests "turn their backs to their partners to get a good look" at him.

Newman's unrelenting optimism is in full force in this chapter, and again it is both frustrating and endearing. When Mrs. Tristram tells Newman that M. de Bellegarde has been watching him and looks displeased, Newman takes it not as an insult or foreboding of bad things to come but as a testament to Urbain's self-control. "I have been watching M. de Bellegarde. He doesn't like it," Mrs. Tristram tells Newman. "The more credit to him for putting it through," Newman replies. However, despite Newman's optimism there is clearly something going wrong. The fact that the reader sees this while Newman does not heightens the suspense.

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