The Ambassadors By Henry James Summary and Analysis Book 3: Chapter II

Summary

Maria arrives in Paris, and Strether goes immediately to see her: "she was the blessing that had now become his need." He tells her that he has made friends with Little Bilham and invites her to meet him. "Haven't you been seeing what there's to protest about?" she asks, referring to Strether's mission. "I haven't yet found a single thing," Strether says. Maria meets Bilham at the Louvre and, after the first exchange, whispers to Strether that Bilham is "all right — he's one of us!"

The next day, Strether and Maria visit Bilham at his own apartment, where they meet several of Bilham's artist-friends — "ingenuous compatriots," Strether thinks them. Maria tells Strether that she will reserve final judgment on Bilham until she has seen him again.

She invites Strether and Waymarsh to accompany her to a performance at the theater and suggests that Strether invite Bilham to attend with them. At the theater, Strether, Waymarsh, and Maria discuss Bilham, who has unaccountably not come. Despite this fact, Maria says that Bilham is "far and away, you know, the best of them . . . of . . . the boys, the girls . . . ; the hope, as one may say, of our country." Maria tells Strether, however, that she believes Chad and Bilham have been working together to soften Strether and compromise his mission, suggesting even that Bilham has been acting on daily instructions by telegram from Chad. "Will that be — just all through Bilham — the way he's going to work it?" asks Strether, and when Maria says no, he inquires, "Through whom else then?" At this point, the door of the box opens and Chad Newsome walks in.

Strether is so startled to see Chad under these circumstances that he sits "like a schoolboy" through the play instead of proposing to Chad that they speak in the lobby. He is bewildered by the complete change in Chad but finds "the marked streaks of grey, extraordinary at his age, in his thick black hair . . . curiously becoming" as a kind of "refinement." Maria, knowing that Strether and Chad want to go straight somewhere and talk, arranges for Waymarsh to escort her home after the play. Strether and Chad then go to a nearby cafe.

Analysis

When Maria says of Bilham, "he's one of us!" Strether takes this to mean that they are all "intense Americans together" and that Maria's approval is a sign that Strether has his job well in hand. Maria, however, intends something entirely different by her comment, as the reader will subsequently discover.

Strether's impression of the changes in Chad's appearance is only the beginning of what will become a continuous sense on the part of Strether that Chad has been improved by his European experience. Recall that earlier in the story, Strether had rejected Maria's suggestion that Chad might have got "refined" instead of brutalized by his experiences. Strether's use of the word "refinement" to describe Chad in this chapter is an obvious irony. Chad's manner has its effect on Strether: "he had on the spot and without the least trouble of intention taught Strether that even in so small a thing . . . there were different ways."

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