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

Summary

Although both Strether and Madame de Vionnet were prepared for the confrontation, Strether was "the more prepared of the two, inasmuch as, for all her cleverness, she couldn't produce on the spot — and it was surprising — an account of the motive of her note." Madame de Vionnet berates herself for what must seem to Strether her "selfish and vulgar" position, releasing him from his promise to help her any further: "I won't ask you to raise your little finger for me again." She tells him that she does, however, care how she appears to him.

Madame de Vionnet asks him to stay in Paris, asking him, "Where is your 'home' moreover now? . . . I've upset everything in your mind . . . in your sense of . . . all the decencies and possibilities." But finally she asks, "When is it you say you go?"

Strether realizes that what really bothers her is Chad, that "the strange strength of her passion was the very strength of her fear." He says, "You're afraid for your life!"

Madame de Vionnet is visibly shaken by this pronouncement and can no longer control her emotions. Sobbing and gasping, she appears to Strether older and "less exempt from the touch of time but she was as much as ever the finest and subtlest creature" he had ever known. Recovering her composure somewhat, she calls herself "old and abject and hideous." Strether tries to comfort her by suggesting that there is something he can still do for her. She denies that she can be helped: "There's not a grain of certainty in my future — for the only certainty is that I shall be the loser in the end."

As Madame de Vionnet and Strether stand at the door, she says, "You see how, as I say, I want everything. I've wanted you too."

"Ah but you've had me! [Strether declares] . . . with an emphasis that made an end."

Analysis

Implicit in this final scene between Strether and Madame de Vionnet is that Strether has for some time been in love with her; his love has been an idealized kind of love, and nothing she does here — calling herself old and hideous, crying over Chad "like a maidservant crying for her young man" — can diminish Strether's affection for her; he will carry back to America the unspoiled image of this remarkable person. Although Strether's romanticism has been tempered by the reality of the situation, he has not been overwhelmed by this reality. This is what Strether means when he tells Madame de Vionnet, "Ah but you've had me!"

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