The American

by: Henry James

Chapters 23–24

Summary Chapters 23–24

The young Marquise discreetly takes her leave. Newman bluntly tells the Marquise and Urbain that he knows they killed the Marquis and has evidence to prove it. The Marquise, with admirable composure, sits down. Anticipating their skepticism, Newman presents them with a copy of the Marquis' letter, and announces his intent to reveal it personally to every one of the Bellegardes' friends whom he met at their ball. The Marquise, replying haughtily that she knows Newman bought Mrs. Bread's services, rises to leave. As the Marquise and Urbain strut away, Newman marvels at her incredible pluck.

The next morning, Urbain calls on Newman to a different tune. Urbain claims that his father was mentally ill at the end, and exhorts Newman, as a gentleman, to destroy this proof of his madness to preserve the Marquis' memory. Newman is unimpressed, remembering that Urbain has never before considered him a gentleman.

Urbain tries several other tactics, warning Newman that his smear tactic would not work. Finally, Urbain resorts to a claim that Claire loved her father and would have wanted Newman to destroy the raving letter for her father's sake. Newman steels at this, reminding Urbain that Claire's current predicament does not inspire him to forgive. Instead, Newman proposes that Urbain free Claire from the Carmelites and allow Newman to marry her, in which case Newman will destroy the letter. Urbain refuses, claiming that the family's quarrel with Newman has not changed, and that they are sorry for having made his acquaintance. Newman returns that the Bellegardes cannot yet know how very much they will regret it. Having nothing else to say, Urbain leaves.

Analysis

Mrs. Bread's arrival in Newman's apartments is a sympathetic but bittersweet touch. Newman's offer to pension her is further evidence of his good heart and his abiding efforts to take care of those he can. Of all Newman's efforts to save others, Mrs. Bread is the only success story. Yet, coming in the wake of his loss of both Valentin and Claire, Newman's retainer of Mrs. Bread only makes this void more palpable for both of them. In happier times, Newman had promised Mrs. Bread that she would come to live with him and Claire when they married. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bread associates Newman with her beloved Valentin's deathbed. Her presence in Newman's house is thus an immediate reminder to Newman of the engagement's failure, just as Newman's presence is an immediate reminder to her of Valentin's absence. Yet, though they do not discuss such things, Newman and Mrs. Bread are nonetheless a comfort to each other, a coalition for the memory of their beloved dead.

Urbain's stalemate in his discussion with Newman brands him clearly as a lackey and messenger, someone who does not have the power to really negotiate. Whereas the Marquise manages to maintain an elegantly dismissive air and an almost heroic haughtiness during Newman's revelation of the family secret, Urbain's surprise escapes through the seams of his ostensible best manners in Europe. The tactics Urbain tries at Newman's the following morning are clearly not his own, and he clearly does not have a well thought-out response to Newman's predictable demand. Urbain's stalemate with Newman is particularly embarrassing considering Newman has made his motives and wishes known at every possible occasion and stuck with them. He has even gone so far as to tell Urbain in Chapter 21 that he is investigating a secret with the hope of forcing the family to surrender Claire. Under the same pressure, the Marquise, in contrast, gives a performance that even Newman admires. She carries off her defiance of Newman's great advantage with the same pluck that the seemingly meek Claire managed to summon for a defiant flight to the nunnery. This poise and pluck on the Marquise's part is perhaps the same aspect that allowed her to justify killing her husband for what she saw as the family's gain. In this sense, the Marquise resembles Noémie, who is more than willing to let Valentin die in a duel that guarantees her own social advancement.

Newman's sudden departure from the Carmelite mass recalls his sudden departure from the last religious service he has attended—Valentin's funeral. Then, unable to watch his friend being buried, Newman turns and walks down the hill away from the burial. Now, unable to bear Claire's living burial in the convent, Newman leaves the church. Throughout the novel, Newman's physical displacement, movement, and travel are important clues to his emotional state. Nature's nobleman, Newman is a particularly physical person, healthy, athletic, and active. His feeling of unnatural confinement within the Bellegardes' rarefied social world is often accompanied by physical feelings of constraint, restriction, or claustrophobia. Further, Newman's way of thinking deeply is taking a walk or—for very important questions—an extended voyage. Claire's dumping of Newman warrants a number of walks through Paris and Poitiers and ultimately a trip to London and San Francisco. For Newman, gaining critical distance from his situation is more than a helpful metaphor: it is an attempt to physically escape the constraints of the scene at hand. By contrast, Newman's impulsive physical expansiveness is an indicator of happiness and comfort. When he finally feels at ease during his first visit to Claire in Chapter 6, Newman symbolically stretches his long legs. Describing his homing instincts to Mrs. Tristram in Chapter 3, Newman says he would like to stretch out and haul in. Newman's extended exploration of Europe in Chapter 5 reflects his delight in the world's novelty and promise. Against Newman's love of exploration and his deep need for open space, burial and confinement represent a kind of personal hell.