The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter XII

Summary

Three days after meeting the Bellegarde family, he received an invitation to dinner from the Marquis Urbain de Bellegarde. When he arrived, he was told that no one else had been invited. Newman asked Madame de Cintré if she enjoyed her ball, and she is taken aback when Newman answers for her that she had annoyed her mother and brother by going. Madame de Cintré admits he is right and warns him that she has "very little courage;" she is not, she says, a heroine.

Dinner was announced. It was simple but elegant and in perfect taste. During the dinner, Newman was uncomfortable and felt that the Marquis Urbain de Bellegarde was constantly in opposition to him.

Newman, "for the first time in his life, was not himself." He suffered it through because he kept in sight the reward that he wanted so badly, Madame de Cintré.

After dinner, the gentlemen withdrew to the smoking room where Valentin burst out that he couldn't keep quiet any longer — Newman has been officially accepted by the family as a suitor for the hand of Claire de Cintré. He tells of the family council and other things which to the Marquis seem indiscreet. The Marquis explains that it was not an easy choice, but offers Newman his assurances that he will not interfere. "I will recommend my sister to accept you." But he suggests that Newman should receive the last word from the mother.

In the drawing room, young Madame de Bellegarde approaches Newman and tells him how she stood up for him in the family council. She suggests to him that she expects to take her revenge against the family through him. Newman is very cautious and the young Madame de Bellegarde reminds him that she could be a great help to him in many ways.

Madame de Bellegarde asks for Newman's arm and they retire to another room where she explains that they will not interfere, but the rest will remain with Newman. She feels compelled to tell Newman that they are stretching a point and doing him a great favor. Furthermore, she says that she shall not enjoy having her daughter married to him. Newman says he doesn't mind them not liking him as long as they don't back out of their promise. Madame de Bellegarde said that the word "back out . . . suggests a movement of which no Bellegarde has ever been guilty." She ends the interview by saying that she will always be polite to Newman but she will never like him.

In the drawing room, Newman tells Madame de Cintré that he has been given permission to come often. She wonders if he didn't think it strange there was so much formality over his coming. Newman admits he doesn't understand it. Valentin arrives and congratulates him. He inquires about M. Nioche, and Newman had seen the old man that very day. M. Nioche had been particularly cheerful. This amuses Valentin because he tells Newman that Mademoiselle Noémie "is launched." She has left her father, and her father is still cheerful. Valentin now decides that he will see her.

Analysis

In this chapter Madame de Cintré tells Newman that she has very little courage and is not a heroine. Actually, when it comes later to a point of defying her family, it will be seen that she does not possess enough strength to do this and prefers to enter a nunnery.

At the dinner, Newman was not himself "for the first time in his life." Again. James' technique is to place his central character in a situation and watch his reactions. In this particular situation, Newman found that ''the marquis was profoundly disagreeable to him'' and that the marquis was a man "towards whom he was irresistibly in opposition." This is what causes Newman to feel uncomfortable. The marquis is a man of forms, phrases, and postures. He never speaks open and spontaneously. These are rituals and ceremonies that Newman does not understand. Newman is an open, honest and sincere man. He cannot conceal his inner feelings. Thus to be around the marquis, he is uncomfortable because the two are diametrically opposite, and here is the contrast between the American and the European placed in its most direct statement.

The reader should be completely aware of the terms of the contract that the Bellegardes make with Newman. Everything in their promises suggest that they will never interfere with Newman and his suit for Madame de Cintré's hand. Later the Bellegardes use a small technicality to escape from the promise, but as Newman will later say, they will be acting dishonestly. Here, the Marquis even says he will recommend his sister to accept Newman. Later, however, they use the idea that they would not interfere with the proposal and when they do interfere, they remind him that they held their promise as long as they said they would, that is, until Madame de Cintré accepted him.

Newman, in his caution, fails to understand exactly what the young Madame de Bellegarde means when she offers him her friendship and says that through him she "expects to take" her revenge. Actually, later, she is able to render a great favor to Newman by arranging a meeting between him and the Bellegardes.

The chapter ends with the ironic comment about the Nioches. Here Valentin points out that Newman has been wrong, but Newman is so tense from his encounters with the Bellegardes that he doesn't care about the fate or downfall of M. Nioche. The point is, that in the midst of so much to be learned about Europe, Newman was certainly wrong in his evaluation of the Nioches, and as he accepts Madame de Bellegarde's word, he will later be wrong in believing her.

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




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