The Ambassadors By Henry James Summary and Analysis Book 11: Chapter III

Summary

Feeling that his days of peace are numbered, Strether takes a train, "selected almost at random," to spend a day in the countryside. He alights at a small village and heads for the hillside, intending to relax there for the afternoon, return to the village for supper, and catch the 9:20 train back to Paris. He feels at peace as he stretches out beneath the poplars, with his straw hat over his eyes. He discovers that he is tired, "not from his walk, but from that inward exercise which had known, on the whole, for three months, so little intermission." He meditates on his two recent visits with Madame de Vionnet and how he had told her he preferred not to talk of tiresome things. Thus ridding their conversation of everything that was unpleasant, Strether realized that "he had conjured away almost all they had hitherto talked about." He remembers the "delightful facility, with such a woman, of arriving at a new tone; he thought, as he lay on his back, of all the tones she might make possible if one were to try her, and at any rate of the probability that one could trust her to fit them to occasions."

He walks back to the village and up to the Cheval Blanc, where the hostess seats him in a pavilion by the river's edge to await his dinner. As he sits there, however, he sees "something that gave him a sharper arrest."

Analysis

This scene carefully prepares the reader for the dramatic revelation to come in the next chapter. Notice Strether's growing sense of reconciliation and harmony, his tendency again to compare the setting to a painting (once seen in Boston), and that he thinks of himself as stepping into a painting. The painting of Strether's recollection, "a certain small Lambinet," refers to Emile Lambinet, a nineteenth-century French painter.

Strether's thoughts of "Maupassant" are of Guy de Maupassant, the nineteenth-century French short-story writer and novelist.

The allusion to "Shakespeare and the musical glasses" derives from Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield and refers to superficial topics of conversation.

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