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That evening, Strether eats dinner with Waymarsh. They
discuss Stether’s walk around the city, and Strether reports that
he plans to have breakfast the following morning with the young
man he met at Chad’s apartment. Waymarsh criticizes Strether’s method
of checking in on Chad. Strether admits that he really knows very
little about Chad’s situation. He then explains that the young man
he met is named John Little Bilham. Little Bilham is house-sitting
for Chad while he is in Cannes (a French resort town). Waymarsh
asks if Chad is with a woman in Cannes, but Strether does not know.
Strether asks Waymarsh to join him the next day for the meeting
but is surprised, the next day, when Waymarsh does decide to join
him. They eat in Chad’s apartment, along with another friend of
Chad’s, Miss Barrace. Strether wonders if Bilham is trying to deceive
him by inviting Miss Barrace but decides, in the end, to just focus
on how things appear on the surface.
At the end of the week, Miss Gostrey arrives in Paris.
Strether, who is very excited to see her, goes to visit her as soon
as he is notified of her arrival. At her apartment, Strether recaps
his entire first week in Paris and finds himself significantly at
ease in her presence. He tells her the story of his meeting with
Bilham and reports that he likes Bilham a great deal. Miss Gostrey
requests her own meeting with Bilham so that she can form her own
opinion of the young man. She also comments on everything Strether
has learned of Chad. She asks Strether if it all seems as dreadful
as he anticipated and laughs when Strether reports that it actually
seems quite wonderful. Miss Gostrey explains that Chad would not
go to Cannes with the kind of vile woman Strether suspected, because
Cannes is too classy a town to permit that type of immorality. All
Strether can say is that he enjoyed his time with Bilham and hopes
to see him more.
Miss Gostrey meets Bilham at the Louvre (the largest art
gallery in Paris) some days later. Like Strether, she also enjoys
Bilham a great deal. Strether assumes that her approval of Bilham
equals an approval of his methods of intervening in Chad’s life.
The day following the Louvre visit, Strether and Miss Gostrey join
Bilham in his apartment, a small artist’s studio. Later, Miss Gostrey
invites Strether, along with Waymarsh and Bilham, to a performance
at the most popular theater in France, the Comedie Francaise.
Bilham accepts the invitation but does not show up. Miss Gostrey
pronounces that Bilham is working under the direction of Chad via
telegraph from Cannes and theorizes that Chad has orchestrated even Strether’s
incipient friendship with Bilham. Right then, a stranger is seated
in their box just as the play begins. The stranger, Strether realizes,
is Chad, much changed. Although Strether contemplates asking Chad
outside to talk, he does nothing. Rather, he contemplates the changes
in Chad’s demeanor: with gray hair and an improved appearance, Chad
strikes Strether as incredibly mature.
The third book begins by emphasizing the novel’s form
over its content. Much of the action of The Ambassadors takes
place “offscreen,” literally in the white space between chapters
and books. Rather than filling readers on the details, James chooses
another narrative technique: he situates two characters in a retrospective conversation
before setting out to continue the action of the novel. At the beginning
of the third book, the offscreen action of the second book gets
explained. Apparently, at the end of the second book, Strether went
up to Chad’s apartment and met little Bilham. By the time the third
book begins, this meeting has already taken place, but readers learn
about it only after Strether recounts it to Waymarsh over dinner.
The significance of this conversation is the way that Strether relates
the event in his own words. For a moment, Strether assumes the narration
to contextualize the events that took place between chapters. Strether,
as narrator, can show his feelings, rather than
merely telling his feelings, through what he chooses
to say—or not to say—about the meeting with Bilham.
The manner in which Strether relates the tale of his meeting
with little Bilham to Waymarsh demonstrates the great degree to
which Paris has affected him, even after such a short stay. Strether
takes great delight not only in his new friendship but also with
the exciting adventures of Chad in glamorous Cannes. That Chad might
be eluding him or that Bilham might be deceiving him never crosses
Strether’s mind. For a man on a mission, Strether seems remarkably unaffected
by the fact that he has yet to even see Chad. Possibly Strether’s
lack of interest stems from the fact that Strether has become more
interested in his own life, in living his life to the fullest and savoring
his experiences, than in “rescuing” Chad. Strether is not a moralistic
man: although he has morals, he does not often try to impose his
ideas of morality onto others. (This characteristic lets him encourage
Chad to stay in Paris even after he discovers the true nature of
Chad’s relationship with Madame de Vionnet.) He acts on Chad’s behalf
only to the degree that the Woollett contingent has asked him to
so act. But Strether is unable to ignore the effect that Paris is
having on him, and he cannot help but fall for little Bilham—and
for the enchanted Parisian artist’s life that Bilham represents.
The third book ends with a significant plot development
that underscores Strether’s changes: Chad arrives. In a markedly
dramatic moment, he sneaks into the theater box just as the show
is beginning. Significantly, no one reacts to his arrival until
after the play—and the beginning of the fourth book. Strether feels
too nervous to confront Chad right when he enters the booth, even
though he recognizes the young man. Strether finds himself taken
aback by Chad’s apparent physical transformation. Strether’s positive
reaction to Chad’s new look reflects Strether’s changing—and increasingly
positive—outlook in general. As Strether begins to think more favorably
of Paris, he unwittingly allows these new feelings to affect his
view of Chad and his mission as ambassador. Miss Gostrey foreshadowed
this change when she urged Strether to withhold his biases until
he met Chad and made sure that his supposed Parisian lover had not
changed him for the better. At this point, Strether does not remember
Miss Gostrey’s words, but they will end up being prophetic.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Ambassadors!