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The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 24 | Summary



Newman goes to Mass, and as the nuns chant he is saddened by the idea that he may never hear Claire's voice again. As he leaves he passes Urbain and Madame de Bellegarde. Outside the convent he encounters the young marquise, who agrees to help him meet Urbain and Madame de Bellegarde "coincidentally." She takes her husband and mother-in-law on a walk along a known path, on which Newman suddenly confronts them. He reveals that he knows the whole story. He shows them the note written by the late marquis. The two Bellegardes walk away, but later Urbain seeks out Newman and spins a yarn about how his father was mentally ill and so Newman should simply destroy the note out of sympathy for the family. Newman doesn't think much of this story.


Even in their chapel the nuns are hidden from view, so Newman cannot see Claire but only hear her, or imagine he hears her. This is in sharp contrast to his first interactions with her, in which he watched her so attentively. It is so painful that he leaves quickly without pausing to greet anyone. This mirrors the quick exit he makes from Valentin's funeral service and draws a parallel between Valentin's death and burial and Claire's becoming a nun and being confined to the convent. Both are a kind of death—one literal; one figurative.

The fact that Newman has the note proving Mrs. Bread's story puts the Bellegardes on the defensive, though Madame de Bellegarde seems unfazed in person. However, Urbain's façade begins to break down, giving Newman a very small moment of satisfaction, before he walks away after his mother. The story that the late marquis was mentally unstable, which the Bellegardes seem to cook up after the encounter, is a transparent ruse. Sadly all of this satisfaction is cold comfort because Claire is now beyond reach.

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