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The American

Henry James

Chapters 6–7

Chapters 4–5

Chapters 8–9

Summary

Chapter 6

Newman returns to Paris in the late fall to apartments that Tom Tristram has carefully selected for him in accordance with his social standing. The rooms are on Boulevard Haussman, gilded from floor to ceiling and full of satin, furniture, mirrors, and clocks. Newman, who likes big rooms and patented mechanical devices, finds the apartments magnificent.

One day Mrs. Tristram tells Newman that she has just seen Claire leaving church at St-Sulpice, her eyes red from confession. Mrs. Tristram explains that the saintly Claire is suffering at the hands of her mother and older brother, who probably want her to marry again to revive the ailing family fortune. Newman is dismayed by this idea and feels immediately protective of Claire.

On Mrs. Tristram's encouragement, Newman goes once more to the Bellegarde residence and this time finds Claire at home. He is ushered into a candlelit room where Claire and a gentleman sit talking by a fire. Newman recognizes the pleasant young man from the courtyard, who turns out to be Claire's brother Valentin. The three make small talk about Paris. Newman finds Valentin to be a man of good humor, seeking opportunities for amusement. When Newman inquires about the house, Valentin offers to take him on a tour, claiming a tour is exactly what the house needs. Claire dissuades them, however, and orders tea. Along with tea comes a young pretty lady, the wife of Urbain, Claire's eldest brother.

Newman watches Claire as she makes the tea. Mrs. Tristram's tales of Claire's perfection have made him trust Claire implicitly and feel at ease around her. He senses her beauty in a kind of lightness, serenity and dignity, and in her intense yet mild eyes. When talk turns to Newman, he discusses his business ventures and his involvement in the war. Valentin asks Newman if he is brave and, when Newman replies "Try me," invites Newman to visit again.

Chapter 7

Valentin calls on Newman at home very late one evening about five days later. Newman's apartments delight Valentin. Though Newman is not sure what Newman finds so funny, he feels that he and Valentin are destined to be great friends. Valentin apologizes for coming so late, but admits that he has stopped by at Claire's urging that he make amends for coming across as a fool.

The two men talk late into the night. Valentin offers to help Newman with anything he may wish in Paris, remarking on the irony of an indolent aristocrat offering to help a man's man. Still, Valentin predicts that he and Newman will get along wonderfully, if only because they are too different to quarrel. Newman finds Valentin "now almost infantile and now appallingly mature," candid, eloquent, and a great talker. Valentin, who has no ambitions, envies Newman's liberty—the freedom that first his poverty now his capital have given him—and admits that Newman is the only man whom he has ever caught himself wishing to be. Valentin finds in Newman that air of being indestructibly at home in the world—a trait by which Valentin's father had said people recognize a Bellegarde.

Newman admits that there is something he wants, and promises to elaborate when they know each other better. Meanwhile, Newman finds Valentin the typical, ideal Frenchman: a gallant, honorable, irresistibly entertaining hero. Over the next few weeks, Newman and Valentin, "without formally swearing an eternal friendship, [fall], for their course of life, instinctively into step together."

Newman takes to calling on Valentin in his antique apartments on the Rue d'Anjou Saint Honoré, which are damp, gloomy, and full of treasure. The two friends trade stories: Newman of adventure, Valentin of women. Valentin remains curious as to what a man of Newman's talent could want in the Parisian world, but Newman again defers explanation. Meanwhile, Newman has visited Madame de Cintré twice, and both times found her entertaining. He is content to sit among her guests and watch her endlessly.

One night, after a long enjoyable dinner, Valentin proposes that they go to see Madame Dandelard, a young pretty woman whom he is watching fall into ruin. Newman proposes instead that they retreat to his apartments and talk by the fire.

Analysis

Newman's first successful visit to the Bellegarde mansion is appropriately symbolic. He is received by Valentin and Claire, who appear as each other's perfect complements. They are clearly quite close, with Valentin's vivacity reflecting Claire's quiet dignity. Though Newman has met each of them briefly before, this is the first time he has seen them together. He meets Claire in Mrs. Tristram's company and Valentin in the courtyard when he first comes to call on Claire. When Newman enters Claire's chamber, Valentin appears as an ambiguous character: he will either be Newman's greatest ally or his greatest rival. His comfortable place by Claire and by the fire contrasts with Newman's awkward entrance as the odd man out. Valentin has already earned Claire's love and affection, and occupies the place by her side that Newman hopes to gain. When Valentin offers an olive branch of friendship to Newman, he becomes a stand-in and an intermediary for Newman, someone through whom Newman can be with Claire. The accommodating Valentin is thus contrasted with the aggressive figure of Urbain, who had blocked the doorway during Newman's prior visit. Valentin's role as intermediary can work for Claire as well, going in her stead to visit Newman. Valentin's curious mixture of masculine and feminine sensibilities reflects his particular role as liaison between the ruggedly masculine Newman and the delicately feminine Claire.

Yet Valentin is more than a wordless go-between: he is an important catalyst, an intelligent and creative person pushed by boredom to the point of troublemaking. His offer to show Newman around the house is made in the grand spirit of adventure, but Claire immediately sees through it. Valentin has effectively proposed an experiment to see what happens when two very unlike substances—a culturally innocent American and an antique house—are combined. Metonymically, the house is both the physical structure and the pedigreed family, the House of Bellegarde. Claire's immediate veto suggests that she has had enough of drama and experiments, albeit much less pleasant ones waged by much more powerful puppeteers. Meanwhile, Valentin's love of human drama finds an outlet near the end of this passage when he suggests to Newman that they go see Madame Dandelard. Mme. Dandelard is a small, childlike, Italian woman who has recently obtained a separation from her abusive husband. She is now divorced, pretty, and penniless—a combination that in nineteenth- century Paris led reliably to prostitution. Valentin neither helps Mme. Dandelard nor takes advantage of her, but enjoys visiting her just to watch her inevitable downfall play itself out.

In these examples we see several characteristics of Valentin's experiments emerge. First, their appeal does not center around a surprise ending, but rather the gymnastics that occur en route. Second, the experiments betray a certain fatalism which saves the observer the moral guilt of watching. At the same time, Valentin's experiments are games, and his attempt to involve Newman is a calculated risk. When Valentin admits that Newman is the only man he has ever found himself wanting to be, he casts Newman as a better, abler version of himself. Newman's involvement in the family is, however unconsciously, on Valentin's behalf, just as Valentin interferes with Claire for Newman. Here, Valentin's speech of friendly envy is critical, as it singles out Newman's mode of living as fundamentally aristocratic. What Valentin recognizes in Newman is the trait by which all the world knows a Bellegarde. Valentin and Newman's innate kinship thus receives a symbolic boost, though how the rest of the family will greet this would-be cousin remains to be seen.

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