The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 22 | Summary

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Summary

Newman tells Mrs. Bread what Valentin said about the family secret, and Mrs. Bread is convinced to tell her story. She explains that Claire's father, the old Marquis de Bellegarde, had opposed the marriage of Claire to the Comte de Cintré, while his wife was strongly in favor. It so happened that the two spouses had an argument, and the marquis fell ill. The doctor was called, the marquis was examined, and he was said to be out of danger. The marquis remained ill, and one night Mrs. Bread saw Madame de Bellegarde and Urbain conferring near the marquis's door. When Mrs. Bread entered the sick man's room, he told her his wife was responsible for his death. He wrote a quick final note and gave it to Mrs. Bread. She has kept this note. Later she gives it to Newman as proof.

Analysis

Mrs. Bread's story centers on the murder of the elder Marquis de Bellegarde and a note written by the marquis that provides the proof of the deed. In some ways the old marquis's note, signed Henri-Urbain de Bellegarde, provides context for the note (signed the same way, but by the old marquis's son) written in the previous chapter. Now readers understand the sequence of events and how Claire has always been the focus of the family's rotten core; no wonder she felt so strongly the "curse" upon her family.

The family secret seems like just what Newman needed about two weeks ago: the leverage he might have used to hold the Bellegardes' feet to the fire about the vow they made to allow the marriage. Now the question is: Is it too late to be of help?

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