We hear about Claire de Cintré long before we get to know her. We hear that she is beautiful but not a beauty. Mrs. Tristram thinks that she is perfect in all ways.
James presents her as a representative of the aristocratic world in its best form. She is virtually a work of art. Many images of her are in terms of a cold statue of white marble. She possesses all the art and beauty but apparently needs Newman to give her life.
Valentin sees his sister as the perfect combination of many opposing qualities. She is half "grande dame and half an angel." She is also a mixture of pride and humility. Valentin says she "looks like a statue which has failed as stone . . . and come to life as flesh and blood."
All through the novel, people refer to her as being proud, but if she possesses this quality, she does not show it to Newman. Instead he views her as rather shy. But she does have pride. She knows the value of the Bellegarde name and will not think of marrying Newman until she is confident that he is worthy of that honor. But she is humble also. She will not fight against her family and instead chooses to fold her wings and retire to the nunnery.
She is a combination of the European qualities of form, ceremony, ritual and urbanity. But she also responds warmly and in a friendly way to people. She makes everyone feel that she is interested in them.
She feels that her love for Newman is so great that she can only show it by renouncing this life. Even though she refers to herself as a coward, it takes a very brave woman to enter into the strict nunnery of the Carmelites. But for Claire, this was her only satisfactory way of showing Newman the extent of her love.
It may be said that Claire de Cintré was too good and too great for this world. Her beauty, intelligence, charm, and generosity are too much for this realistic world and can only be solved by entering the nunnery.