The Ambassadors By Henry James Summary and Analysis Book 8: Chapter III

Summary

The day after the Pococks' arrival, Strether visits Sarah at her apartment. To his surprise, the first thing he hears as he nears the door is the voice of Madame de Vionnet. Upon entering the room, Strether's surprise is increased when he finds Waymarsh with the two women. Sarah is not caught unaware by Madame de Vionnet's visit, and in response to Madame de Vionnet's invitation to show her Paris, she says, "Oh you're too good; but I don't think I feel quite helpless. I have my brother — and these American friends. And then you know I've been to Paris. I know Paris." Madame de Vionnet greets Strether with more familiarity than did Mrs. Pocock, and in doing this, she is, Strether muses, "giving him over to ruin." Still, even though Sarah may think him involved in a way he is not, he decides he is "with" Madame de Vionnet and cannot abandon her now.

The atmosphere is rather tense and becomes increasingly so when Madame de Vionnet mentions Strether's attachment to Maria Gostrey. In answer to her question to Sarah, "Do you know about dear old Maria?" Strether intercepts: "Mrs. Pocock knows about Miss Gostrey. Your mother, Sarah, must have told you about her." Sarah replies that she has no notion of whom they are talking. When Waymarsh comes to his defense, Strether realizes that his friend is trying to save him with Sarah. The encounter ends with promises of visits to the home of Madame de Vionnet — one from Strether and one from Sarah, who has been urged to bring Mamie to meet Jeanne de Vionnet.

Analysis

Strether notices Madame de Vionnet's card on the table at Sarah's apartment — "her coronet and her 'Cometesse'" (Madame de Vionnet's husband, it will be remembered, is a Count) — and Strether thinks that there will be "certain private adjustments in Sarah's mind. She had never, he was sure, sat with a 'Cometesse' before." This attitude of Strether's has certain implications in terms of the basic European-American, Old World-New World juxtaposition that James is always conscious of and which is one of the underpinnings of this and others of James' novels. Notice that Sarah is not impressed with "titles."

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