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The American

Henry James

Chapter 12

Chapters 10–11

Chapter 12, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

Three days after his introduction to the Bellegardes, Newman receives an invitation to dinner at their home. Having canceled his other arrangements, he arrives at the Bellegarde hôtel to find the entire family awaiting him around the fire in the Marquise's rooms. Claire is telling a fairy story to her young niece, in which the beautiful Floribella survives seemingly endless hardships to marry a prince and live happily ever after. At the story's end, Claire tells Newman that she is no heroine, and could never have suffered like Floribella, even for great rewards.

As dinner begins, Newman attempts to gauge the situation. He cannot tell whether the family has invited him alone in order to honor him or to avoid having to introduce him to their other friends. Urbain strictly keeps dinner conversation to the fine arts, a topic he seems to have chosen to preempt embarrassing personal revelations. For the first time in his life, Newman is not quite at ease. He finds himself counting his words and measuring his motions. He is deeply happy, however, simply to be close to Claire.

After dinner, Urbain, Valentin and Newman retire to the smoking-room, though Newman does not smoke. After a certain silence Valentin declares he cannot keep quiet any longer. He reveals that the family has convened formally and decided that they will accept Newman as a candidate for Claire's hand. Urbain appears irked by Valentin's outburst, but nonetheless confirms—in much more circumspect language—that he and the Marquise, as heads of the family, have agreed after a great deal of thought to give Newman their sanction to pursue Claire. Urbain makes a point of noting that the decision was not simple, as it is the first time the family has considered someone so intimately involved with business. Newman, told that the Marquise would like to speak with him herself, promptly goes in search of her.

Newman makes his way to the small boudoir next to the drawing-room, where he finds an old couple speaking to Claire and to her mother. Before he can approach them, Urbain's wife, the young Marquise, intercepts him. She claims to know his secret of wanting to marry Claire, and offers him her allegiance, as another who has entered the family by marriage. Though the young Marquise's family was older and grander than the Bellegardes, she explains that she does not care for lineage. She considers herself quite modern, and hopes Newman can help her have some fun.

Newman listens to the young Marquise's odd confession, not sure what she wants from him or why. He finally extracts himself by expressing his gratitude for her offers of aid, but insisting that he begin by helping himself. Newman approaches Claire and the old woman, who is delighted to finally meet an American. The old woman's husband appears with the Marquise and recalls the only other American he has met, the great Dr. Franklin. The Marquise offers Newman her arm into the other room.

Alone with Newman and Urbain, Madame de Bellegarde tells Newman that he has nothing to fear from the family's opposition. Still, she wants him to know that they have stretched very far to accommodate him, and that they are a very proud family, too old to change. Newman says there will be no quarrel so long as the family sticks to its bargain, to which Urbain notes solemnly that they have given their word. The Marquise declares that she will always be polite to Newman, but will never like him.

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