The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Valentin pays Newman a visit in his fancy new apartments, which Valentin seems to find very amusing. Newman and Valentin develop a friendship, even though Newman has spent his whole life working hard and Valentin prefers (and enjoys, due to his family's aristocratic class) a life of leisure. Newman explains some of how he managed to become such a success. The two seem to be opposites in most every way—the hardworking, successful businessman versus the wealthy aristocrat—but they get along despite this (or because of it).

Over time Newman and Valentin become fast friends. Meanwhile Newman continues to visit Claire, closely observing her as she entertains guests. It is clear that he very much likes what he sees.

Valentin suggests the two of them visit a young woman, Madame Dandelard, who is facing ruin. Her situation piques Valentin's curiosity but not Newman's, who is uninterested in meeting her.

Analysis

The developing relationship between Newman and Valentin will endure throughout the novel. The two are well aware that they are opposites in many ways, and this difference becomes clearer the longer they are friends. Newman thoroughly enjoys his ostentatious, giant apartments, while Valentin finds them hilariously "magnificent" (said in a tone that Newman takes to mean "ugly"). Valentin's home, in contrast, is "low, dusky, contracted, and crowded with curious bric-a-brac," which happens to be expensive bric-a-brac. Newman is the picture of an American—hardworking and practical—while Valentin embodies the aristocratic Old World lifestyle in stereotypical perfection. Newman is a man who was born into poverty but who (inevitably, as Valentin notes, engaging the American story) gets rich, while Valentin is "a man of the world" who nevertheless finds many things off limits to him. In general Newman has a freedom from social expectations, while Valentin is held captive by social expectations yet enjoys high social standing in society.

The contrast is developed further in the two men's attitudes toward women. Newman observes Claire and is content simply to passively watch her. He is moved by her distressing situation. Valentin talks about "the women" and what they have put him through in dramatic fashion, and takes an amused interest in the plight of Madame Dandelard, whose sad state seems to provide entertainment for Valentin. But as Valentin says, they are "too different to quarrel." They become friends instead.

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