The American

by: Henry James

Important Quotations Explained

Madame de Cintré rose quickly and grasped his arm. "Ah Valentin, what do you mean to do?"

"To show Mr Newman the house. It will be very amusing to show Mr Newman the house....It's full of curious things. Besides a visit like Mr Newman's is just what it wants and has never had. It's a rare chance all round."

"You're very wicked, brother," Madame de Cintré insisted.

This quotation comes from the middle of Chapter 6 during Newman's first successful visit to the Bellegarde mansion, wherein he is invited to join Claire and Valentin around the fire. In response to Newman's innocent conversation, Valentin, with a twinkle in his eye, offers to show Newman around. Claire manages to prevent the excursion by ordering tea, to Valentin's evident disappointment. Valentin and Claire's family, the House of Bellegarde, is metaphorically linked with its eponymous residence throughout the novel. The suggested tour is symbolic of Valentin's larger plot to use Newman to shake things up in the dull world of pedigrees and politics. As the younger and more rebellious son, Valentin would like to cause trouble for his mother the Marquise and older brother Urbain—the family elders—in return for what he suspects was the murder of his beloved father some years earlier at Fleurières. Newman's declaration of love for Claire soon provides exactly the opportunity Valentin wants. In the case of Claire's courtship, Valentin is honest with Newman about the fact that he will get his own pleasure from Newman's tour of the family. Though he sees Newman as an object of potential retribution, Valentin has by then come to view him as a great comrade, collaborator, and true friend.

Meanwhile, Claire is frightened and worried by Valentin's hints of revenge. Though she loves and adores Valentin, she is terrified of her mother and of Urbain and simply wants to escape their influence. Though Mrs. Bread also suspects foul play at Fleurières, she later guesses that Claire was too afraid to find out more. Though Newman sees Claire as gentle, perfect, and good, Claire admits to him that she is no heroine, nor is she brave. Her sudden check of Valentin's mischief in this passage is a knee-jerk attempt to protect the brother she loves. In the Bellegardes' environment of endless dinners, gaudy parties, and institutionalized terror, Claire wants only peace. Though the meeting is auspicious—Newman will soon become great friends with Valentin and fall in love with Claire—Newman cannot possibly read the subtext, quoted here, of Valentin's and Claire's exchange. Yet it is a subtext that will haunt the rest of the siblings' lives.