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The American

Henry James

Chapters 4–5

Chapter 3

Chapters 4–5, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Chapter 4

Newman has nearly forgotten his art purchase when M. Nioche appears at his hotel with Noémie's heavily varnished canvas in an elaborate frame. Newman, feeling rich in his acquisition, agrees to pay 3,000 francs for the framed work. In his usual direct manner, Newman manages to extract that M. Nioche is terrified of his daughter and her prettiness. Nioche fervently hopes that she will settle down and get married, but he cannot afford even a dowry of fifteen thousand francs. Newman generously offers to let her earn this sum by painting a half-dozen pictures. Overwhelmed with gratitude, Nioche offers to give Newman's French lessons for free.

Newman and Nioche begin taking coffee together in the mornings on the pretext of learning French. Newman has always liked talking to natives, while Nioche, a failed capitalist, is delighted to have an audience for his opinions. When Nioche begs Newman not to take advantage of Noémie, Newman, who had no designs on her at all, amusedly agrees.

Newman and Noémie meet in the Louvre to choose the paintings she will copy for him. Noémie clearly enjoys being seen with a benefactor, but after Newman has chosen, she bursts out that he has chosen the hardest pictures in the place, that she cannot paint, and that she cannot understand why he is doing this to her. Newman explains that his interest is letting Noémie earn a dowry to assuage her father. She declares that if she cannot marry well she will not marry at all. Apologizing for her outburst, she leaves. Newman feels that he understands M. Nioche's worries.

Chapter 5

Mrs. Tristram, on hearing the story of Newman's failed visit to Claire, encourages him to spend the summer seeing Europe. She assures him that Claire will be there at summer's end. Newman sets off, haunted by Claire's intense, mild eyes.

Newman is a natural tourist and spends a wonderful summer traveling. He has an excellent memory, an innocent wonder, a broad interest, and an ability to communicate with people despite any language barrier. He has no interest in the vacation as a retreat, and instead hires all manner of guides and strikes up conversations with porters, valets, and fellow travelers.

In Holland, Newman falls into a tacit travelers' partnership with another American, Benjamin Babcock, a young Unitarian minister from Dorchester, Massachusetts, who lives chiefly on Graham bread and hominy. Newman enjoys Babcock's company, not minding that they have little in common. Meanwhile, Babcock is deeply ambivalent about both Newman and Europe. He hates the European climate, temperament, and impurities, but finds Europe inextricably linked to the true beautiful in life. Likewise, Babcock is drawn to Newman as one of nature's noblemen, but finds him lacking in the kind of severe moral response that Babcock has tried to cultivate.

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