The Ambassadors By Henry James Summary and Analysis Book 12: Chapter I

Summary

Strether receives a special delivery letter which he thinks is from Chad, but upon opening it, he is surprised to learn that it is from Madame de Vionnet, requesting him to visit her that evening. Quickly, "with a directness that almost confessed to a fear of the danger of delay," he sends her an affirmative reply, thinking, with amusement, that he has now "ranged himself . . . on the side of the fierce, the sinister, the acute." After spending the day in reflection and anticipation, he arrives at Madame de Vionnet's apartment at the appointed hour. Strether, finding his hostess at ease, becomes romantically in tune with the appearance of the room. Madame de Vionnet "might intend what we would, but this was beyond anything she could intend, with things from far back — tyrannies of history, facts of types, values, as the painters said, of expression — all working for her and giving her the supreme chance, the chance of the happy, the really luxurious few, the chance, on a great occasion, to be natural and simple. She had never, with him, been more so." He wonders why she has sent for him and whether or not she intends to extend the "lie" of her trip to the country with Chad. He had realized the night before that Madame de Vionnet was certain that he knew the truth. Now "she had sent for him to see what the difference thus made for him might amount to, so he was conscious at the end of five minutes that he had been tried and tested."

Leaving their pretense to conversation about the country behind, she begins, "The last twice that you've been here, you know, I never asked you."

Analysis

In the moments before Strether mails his reply to Madame de Vionnet, he is tempted to "make an end" to things then and there and return home.

Once he has mailed the letter, he reflects that "they were no worse than he, and he no worse than they." Strether realizes that "properly and logically" he should have placed Madame de Vionnet at a disadvantage by arranging a meeting at a less comfortable place then her home. "An instinct in him," one obviously planted by the Puritanical atmosphere of Woollett, demands "some awkwardness," "some danger, or at least some grave inconvenience. . . . This would give a sense — which the spirit required . . . — that somebody was paying something somewhere and somehow" that they were not all to escape punishment.

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