The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter X

Summary

Newman goes to Mrs. Tristram and relates his experiences with Madame de Cintré. Mrs. Tristram thinks it "is a great triumph." She is also surprised that Newman has gone so fast, and that he was not immediately thrown out.

Later, Valentin comes to conduct Newman to the house so as to meet the other members of the family. He warns Newman that his mother is not easily pleased. When presented to Madame de Bellegarde, Newman and she talk politely, both agreeing that each is ambitious and somewhat proud. She is very conservative in her manner and in her speech. She tells Newman that he must meet her oldest son who will not amuse him as much as does Valentin, but who is really much better. In a few minutes Newman meets the Count (Marquis) Urbain de Bellegarde who inquires about Newman s business activities. In a few minutes, Madame de Cintré enters and wants to attend a ball with her brother and his wife. This is, according to her mother, an inconsistent and strange action on Madame de Cintrés part. When they have all left, Newman tells Madame de Bellegarde that he wishes to marry her daughter, but Madame de Bellegarde says she will not favor it. Newman tells her how rich he is and asks her if she will suffer it. She responds: "I would rather favor you, on the whole, than suffer you. It will be easier."

Analysis

This chapter continues to emphasize the difference between the American and the European. The reader should note the various ways by which Madame de Bellegarde is condescending to Newman. She makes various references to Americans as though they were some strange breed, and she speaks with a degree of coldness and distance. Urbain de Bellegarde is, as his name suggests, the epitome of everything that represents extreme urbanity. He was "distinguished to the tips of his polished nails and there was not a movement of his fine, perpendicular person that was not noble and majestic." But Newman and the reader immediately react against this person because he represents all form and ceremony without the touch of sincerity and honesty found in Madame de Cintré and Valentin. He represents the "incarnation of the art of taking one's self seriously."

We should be aware of how carefully James always has his characters say just the right thing, or else they say things which later become ironically true. For example, Valentin in urging his sister to attend the ball says that such "a beautiful woman . . . has no right to bury herself alive." Yet, at the end of the novel, the beautiful Madame de Cintré has done exactly that — buried herself alive.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

At the ball, who tries to point out some things to Newman, when he fails to realize them on his own?




Quiz