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The American

Henry James

Chapters 8–9

Chapters 6–7

Chapters 8–9, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Chapter 8

Seated comfortably before the fire, Newman asks Valentin to tell him about Claire. Valentin admires his sister too much to speak of her rationally, calling her honest, true, and perfect. When Newman asks if Claire is happy, Valentin replies that she, like everyone else, has a history.

Valentin reveals that Claire was married at eighteen to the disagreeable, fifty- five-year-old Comte de Cintré. When Claire first saw her husband a month before the wedding, she completely broke down. Valentin declared the affair revolting and swore to stand by Claire if she refused, but he was sent away and she was married. When the Comte de Cintré died several years later, his family brought a lawsuit against Claire in hopes of recovering the Comte's money. In the course of the lawsuit, Claire learned so many distasteful things about her late husband's business practices that she withdrew her claim to the money. Claire's mother and older brother, Urbain, were horrified and pressed her to reconsider. Claire bought peace by promising that she would do anything they asked for ten years—anything but marry.

Valentin explains to the horrified Newman that a house like the Bellegardes' inevitably stands together: going back to the time of Charlemagne, every Bellegarde daughter has married well. Newman asks Valentin for the long-deferred favor: that Valentin do what he can to make Claire think well of Newman. Newman admits that he would like to marry Claire, and that he would jump through any hoops necessary.

Valentin pauses and paces. Finally, he admits he is hugely impressed. Though the Bellegarde elders would consider Newman not "born," Valentin finds the idea delightful and promising. He cannot expect Newman to know what is at stake, but nonetheless he is very curious to see what comes of it. At any rate, Valentin will get his own fun out of it. He advises Newman to be original and true to himself, though warns him that the family is bizarre and eight hundred years old, fit for a museum or a Balzac novel. Putting out his hand, Valentin pledges his help, both out of love for Newman and because he himself is the Opposition. Valentin urges Newman to visit Claire and to be assured of his sympathy in the matter.

Chapter 9

Newman finds Claire alone when he calls on her the next day. She admits that Valentin has spoken very well of Newman, and that it is as a favor to Valentin that she has agreed to see Newman now. Newman admits that he told Valentin that he admired Claire more than any other woman he had ever seen and that he would like to marry her. Though he may someday know how good and rare and true she is, he knows well enough now, and could have said this from the first moment he saw her. He admits that Valentin has told him that there is a great deal against this proposal. Yet Newman promises that he is honest, that he will take good care of Claire, and that he does have a large fortune. He thinks that the best thing to do is to lay all his cards on the table. It is the longest personal plea that he has ever uttered in his life.

Claire stares at him fascinated during the speech. Finally, looking extremely serious, she tells him that the offer is terribly kind, but that she has decided not to marry. He wants to make her happy, but she says the matter is impossible and further that she does not know him. Newman begs Claire not to say no, but to give him a chance and to get to know him. He promises to do whatever she and her family require, and declares that in marriage to him she would be perfectly free. Hesitantly, Claire concedes that she will not refuse to see him again, on the condition that he not speak of the subject for six months. That evening, Newman meets Valentin walking and recounts the day's events. Valentin is delighted, and promises to present Newman to the family.

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