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Madame de Vionnet is the closest the novel gets to a villain.
She serves as a type of femme fatale for Strether: a charming, beautiful but
somewhat dangerous woman. Like Strether, readers do not learn of
her true nature until the end of the novel, due, in part, to Chad’s
intelligent, albeit deceitful, maneuvering. Chad and little Bilham
reassure Strether of the virtuous nature of the relationship between
Madame de Vionnet and Chad. By the time Strether realizes that she
is the “bad woman” from whom he was sent to take Chad, Strether
has become convinced of her ultimate virtue. Madame de Vionnet’s
complicity in the deceit reveals her selfishness. She is not evil,
but she willingly sacrifices Strether’s future happiness to keep
Chad near her. Later, when Strether realizes that he has been duped,
he still fights to keep Chad with her, because he has fallen in
love with Madame de Vionnet himself. In the end, Strether loses
his standing in the Woollett community, as well as his engagement
to Mrs. Newsome, as a result of his love for, and defense of, Madame
de Vionnet. But even though he loves her, Strether refuses her offer
to remain in Paris as her companion at the end of the novel. By
deciding to return to Woollett, Strether salvages his integrity
by refusing to succumb to her deceit.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Ambassadors!