Madame de Vionnet is the closest the novel gets to a villain. She serves as a type of femme fatale for Strether: a charming, beautiful but somewhat dangerous woman. Like Strether, readers do not learn of her true nature until the end of the novel, due, in part, to Chad’s intelligent, albeit deceitful, maneuvering. Chad and little Bilham reassure Strether of the virtuous nature of the relationship between Madame de Vionnet and Chad. By the time Strether realizes that she is the “bad woman” from whom he was sent to take Chad, Strether has become convinced of her ultimate virtue. Madame de Vionnet’s complicity in the deceit reveals her selfishness. She is not evil, but she willingly sacrifices Strether’s future happiness to keep Chad near her. Later, when Strether realizes that he has been duped, he still fights to keep Chad with her, because he has fallen in love with Madame de Vionnet himself. In the end, Strether loses his standing in the Woollett community, as well as his engagement to Mrs. Newsome, as a result of his love for, and defense of, Madame de Vionnet. But even though he loves her, Strether refuses her offer to remain in Paris as her companion at the end of the novel. By deciding to return to Woollett, Strether salvages his integrity by refusing to succumb to her deceit.
More characters from The Ambassadors