The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 19 | Summary



When Newman arrives in Geneva he is met by Monsieur Ledoux, a friend of Valentin's. The news is grave: Valentin was hit with a bullet near the heart and is dying. He eats breakfast with Ledoux and Monsieur de Grosjoyaux, another friend, who praise Valentin at length over the meal. Newman is quiet and, afterward, goes for a walk. That afternoon he sees Valentin, who wakes up and is happy to see him although it is clear his wound bothers him a great deal.

The next morning Valentin asks for Newman, and the doctor allows another visit. In response to Valentin's questions Newman tells him what happened with Claire. Valentin, upset, apologizes on behalf of the Bellegarde family. He also tells Newman of a terrible family secret, explaining that Mrs. Bread knows the details and Newman should go to her and ask her about it.


Newman goes to Valentin's side straight from his disappointing confrontation with Claire and the Bellegardes. He is at a very low point emotionally because he is on the brink of losing both of them. In addition he feels bad for thinking about Claire while his friend is dying: "wishing at one moment that Valentin would see him and leave him free to go in quest of Madame de Cintré and his lost happiness, and mentally calling himself a vile brute the next, for the impatient egotism of the wish." The pleasant eulogies of Valentin's friends do not resonate with Newman, whose deep sorrow makes him feel out of place among these two men.

At Valentin's side Newman shows that he still believes if you try hard at something you can make it happen. This belief makes the eventual disappointment in each case so much worse. He tries so hard to marry Claire, and his heartbreak is made worse by the added disillusionment. Valentin knows he is going to die, but Newman, ever the American, insists: "You can get well if you try."

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