The American | Study Guide

Henry James

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The American | Chapter 8 | Summary



The friendship between Newman and Valentin continues to develop, and at Newman's prompting Valentin reveals more about Claire's life story. She married the Comte de Cintré when she was just 18, and he was a terrible husband. He was far older than she was and treated her poorly. His death a few years after the marriage was a blessing. Although Claire's mother and brother Urbain pressured Claire to keep her late husband's fortune, she agreed to give it back to the demanding de Cintré family, especially after seeing the unsavory ways her husband had made his money. To convince her mother and brother to give up the money without a fight, Claire had agreed to do whatever pleased them for a period of 18 years, with one exception: she would not marry.

Newman reveals that he just might be interested in courting Claire, and while Valentin is surprised at first by the suggestion (his aristocratic family only marries those from other aristocratic families, after all) he decides to help Newman try to win her.


Newman reveals to Valentin that he wants to marry Claire, and in the subsequent discussion Valentin must overcome his shock at the notion and warm to the idea. It is clear that Valentin doesn't think Newman has a chance at all with Claire because history and tradition leave no room for a Bellegarde to marry an untitled man. But after a few minutes of expressing his vast surprise and disbelief that Newman would even suggest such a thing, he becomes amused by the fact that Newman doesn't take seriously the great impediment that the family and its traditions will be. He acknowledges that Newman cannot possibly understand how hard it will be to convince the family to accept him, but Newman's nonchalant attitude toward the challenge captures his imagination. He agrees to put in a good word for Newman.

Along with Valentin readers feel optimistic about Newman's chances. Newman's own optimism is contagious. His good humor and genial acceptance of everyone and everything, mentioned frequently in the text, seem as though they will certainly be enough to confront the challenge of family ways and old traditions. If Newman's optimism can win over Valentin, it may win over the rest of his family.

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