The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 26 | Summary



Newman stays in London for months as he processes all that has happened to him. He decides to go back to America, leaving his business with the Bellegardes behind though unfinished. As he is staying in San Francisco, Newman learns in a letter from Mrs. Tristram that Claire has taken her vows as a nun. He decides he cannot wait any longer to resolve his conflict with the Bellegardes and hops on a ship to Paris. He briefly visits the Tristrams and then goes to the convent where Claire is a nun. Staring at the tall, featureless wall of the convent, Newman realizes that Claire is completely lost to him. He walks away and wanders through Notre-Dame, feeling that his desire for retaliation has abated. He just wants to go home and put this behind him.

Back at the Tristrams' home Newman reveals that he knew a secret that would ruin the Bellegardes but now does not want to pursue it. He throws the old marquis's note in the fire. He prepares to leave Paris.


As Newman processes his experience standing at the Carmelite convent wall, he suddenly feels his desire for revenge disappear. This brings him full circle. He originally came to Paris after waking up from a nap and suddenly feeling as if his desire for revenge against a fellow businessman was pointless. Now he has a similar experience. These two incidents neatly frame Newman's time in the Old World, and their striking similarity draws attention to their differences. Newman's first plan for revenge was against a competitor in business—a man who presented a threat to Newman's money. This revenge plan was, then, for an offense against Newman's business matters, as a successful New World capitalist. Newman's second revenge would have been for a much more Old World matter—betrayal of a vow, a matter of pride. This difference shows that he has gained something from his exploration of the Old World, even if that something is a tragic past and a greater understanding of transactions and "deals" that have nothing to do with the copper business.

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