The American

by: Henry James

Chapters 6–7

Summary Chapters 6–7

Newman admits that there is something he wants, and promises to elaborate when they know each other better. Meanwhile, Newman finds Valentin the typical, ideal Frenchman: a gallant, honorable, irresistibly entertaining hero. Over the next few weeks, Newman and Valentin, "without formally swearing an eternal friendship, [fall], for their course of life, instinctively into step together."

Newman takes to calling on Valentin in his antique apartments on the Rue d'Anjou Saint Honoré, which are damp, gloomy, and full of treasure. The two friends trade stories: Newman of adventure, Valentin of women. Valentin remains curious as to what a man of Newman's talent could want in the Parisian world, but Newman again defers explanation. Meanwhile, Newman has visited Madame de Cintré twice, and both times found her entertaining. He is content to sit among her guests and watch her endlessly.

One night, after a long enjoyable dinner, Valentin proposes that they go to see Madame Dandelard, a young pretty woman whom he is watching fall into ruin. Newman proposes instead that they retreat to his apartments and talk by the fire.

Analysis

Newman's first successful visit to the Bellegarde mansion is appropriately symbolic. He is received by Valentin and Claire, who appear as each other's perfect complements. They are clearly quite close, with Valentin's vivacity reflecting Claire's quiet dignity. Though Newman has met each of them briefly before, this is the first time he has seen them together. He meets Claire in Mrs. Tristram's company and Valentin in the courtyard when he first comes to call on Claire. When Newman enters Claire's chamber, Valentin appears as an ambiguous character: he will either be Newman's greatest ally or his greatest rival. His comfortable place by Claire and by the fire contrasts with Newman's awkward entrance as the odd man out. Valentin has already earned Claire's love and affection, and occupies the place by her side that Newman hopes to gain. When Valentin offers an olive branch of friendship to Newman, he becomes a stand-in and an intermediary for Newman, someone through whom Newman can be with Claire. The accommodating Valentin is thus contrasted with the aggressive figure of Urbain, who had blocked the doorway during Newman's prior visit. Valentin's role as intermediary can work for Claire as well, going in her stead to visit Newman. Valentin's curious mixture of masculine and feminine sensibilities reflects his particular role as liaison between the ruggedly masculine Newman and the delicately feminine Claire.

Yet Valentin is more than a wordless go-between: he is an important catalyst, an intelligent and creative person pushed by boredom to the point of troublemaking. His offer to show Newman around the house is made in the grand spirit of adventure, but Claire immediately sees through it. Valentin has effectively proposed an experiment to see what happens when two very unlike substances—a culturally innocent American and an antique house—are combined. Metonymically, the house is both the physical structure and the pedigreed family, the House of Bellegarde. Claire's immediate veto suggests that she has had enough of drama and experiments, albeit much less pleasant ones waged by much more powerful puppeteers. Meanwhile, Valentin's love of human drama finds an outlet near the end of this passage when he suggests to Newman that they go see Madame Dandelard. Mme. Dandelard is a small, childlike, Italian woman who has recently obtained a separation from her abusive husband. She is now divorced, pretty, and penniless—a combination that in nineteenth- century Paris led reliably to prostitution. Valentin neither helps Mme. Dandelard nor takes advantage of her, but enjoys visiting her just to watch her inevitable downfall play itself out.

In these examples we see several characteristics of Valentin's experiments emerge. First, their appeal does not center around a surprise ending, but rather the gymnastics that occur en route. Second, the experiments betray a certain fatalism which saves the observer the moral guilt of watching. At the same time, Valentin's experiments are games, and his attempt to involve Newman is a calculated risk. When Valentin admits that Newman is the only man he has ever found himself wanting to be, he casts Newman as a better, abler version of himself. Newman's involvement in the family is, however unconsciously, on Valentin's behalf, just as Valentin interferes with Claire for Newman. Here, Valentin's speech of friendly envy is critical, as it singles out Newman's mode of living as fundamentally aristocratic. What Valentin recognizes in Newman is the trait by which all the world knows a Bellegarde. Valentin and Newman's innate kinship thus receives a symbolic boost, though how the rest of the family will greet this would-be cousin remains to be seen.