The Ambassadors By Henry James Summary and Analysis Book 6: Chapter I

Summary

Strether and Chad go to Madame de Vionnet's apartment that afternoon. While his hostess and Chad talk, Strether's attention is devoted to the apartment. Madame de Vionnet's possessions are not "vulgarly numerous, but hereditary cherished charming." The general result of all is an "air of supreme respectability, the consciousness . . . of private honour . . . a strange blank wall for his adventure to have brought him to break his nose against." After a few minutes, Chad announces that he has an appointment elsewhere and leaves Strether alone with Madame de Vionnet. The house seems to Strether in the style of "the ancient Paris that he was always looking for." Madame de Vionnet seems to blend with the surroundings. She tells him that it is her wish that she, her daughter, and Strether become friends. The conversation turns to Mrs. Newsome, and Madame de Vionnet says that Chad believes Strether can keep Mrs. Newsome "patient." When Strether asks how, she replies, "Simply tell her the truth. . . . Be perfectly honest. Tell her all."

"But what is the simple truth?" is Strether's response. "The simple truth is exactly what I'm trying to discover." Madame de Vionnet pauses for a while but then replies, "Tell her, fully and clearly, about us."

Strether takes this to mean Madame de Vionnet and her daughter, Jeanne, and asks if Jeanne is in love with Chad. "I wish you'd find out!" is the reply, but when Strether asks if she wants Chad to marry Jeanne, Madame de Vionnet promptly answers, "No — not that." The conversation closes with Madame de Vionnet returning to the subject of Mrs. Newsome and Chad, asking Strether to "tell her I've been good for him." Strether promises to do all he can for Madame de Vionnet.

Analysis

Strether has revised his initial impression of Madame de Vionnet; he now has a sense of "her rare unlikeness to the women he had known."

Despite the fencing-like dialogue which comes perilously close to revealing the true situation, when he leaves Madame de Vionnet he still believes that Chad's involvement is with her daughter, Jeanne de Vionnet. For example, when Madame de Vionnet asks him to tell Mrs. Newsome "fully and clearly, about us," Strether takes "us" to mean the lady and her daughter. He will slowly come to realize that Madame de Vionnet has all along been the party with whom Chad is allied, but he will not understand the real nature of their "attachment" until it is dramatically revealed to him much later in the story.

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