The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter XVIII

Summary

The next morning, Newman went to call upon Madame de Cintré a bit earlier than usual. He was met by Mrs. Bread who told him that her lady was preparing for a journey and had left a letter for Newman, but she impulsively leads him up to Madame de Cintré's apartment. Here he finds Madame de Cintré already dressed for her journey. Madame and Urbain de Bellegarde are also present. Newman immediately felt as though he "was in the presence of something evil." He noticed that Madame de Cintré was in great distress. She announced simply that she couldn't marry Newman, and referred him to her mother and brother. They inform him that such a marriage is impossible and improper. He appeals to Madame de Cintré, but she says that she is "ashamed." She asks him to let her go in peace (or "death"), but at least to let her bury herself alone. Newman then faces Madame and Urbain de Bellegarde and reminds them of their promise not to interfere. But they maintain that they did not interfere; they simply commanded. This difference Newman refuses to accept, especially after he has heard Madame de Cintré say that she is afraid of her mother. She then asks Newman to pity her and let her go alone. He promises to come to her later.

After she is gone, he accuses the Bellegardes of using some force on Madame de Cintré. But Madame de Bellegarde maintains that her only force lies in the obedience that her children show her.

They explain that they tried to carry the thing through, but after the ball, where they introduced Newman to their friends, they could not take it any longer. They can't accept Newman's antecedents, especially that he was engaged in commercial enterprises. Newman appeals to them that he will leave the country or do anything they desire, but the Bellegardes are firm. They cannot allow Madame de Cintré to marry him.

After he leaves, he walks at random for a long time and finally finds himself near Mrs. Tristram's. He goes for a visit and she immediately knows that they have backed out. She admits that they are really aristocratic and points out that the Bellegardes want Madame de Cintré to marry Lord Deepmere. Mrs. Tristram also wonders what Valentin thinks about the entire situation. Then Newman remembers Valentin's plight and goes to his rooms where he finds a letter asking him to come immediately. He sits down and writes a note telling Madame de Cintré that he must go to Valentin who is "ill, perhaps dying," but he will come to her soon.

Analysis

Perhaps one of the greatest understatements of this chapter is made by Madame de Bellegarde when she asks Newman: "not to be violent. I have never in my life been present at a violent scene of any kind . . ." Yet, under all the calmness and quietness of this scene, there is a sense of impending evil and violence. It may be that Madame de Bellegarde only "commanded" her daughter to give up Newman, but for the sensitive reader, there is a sense of quiet violence present in these simple comments.

The reader should note that when Newman first enters, he feels that he is "in the presence of something evil." Furthermore, as he observes Madame de Cintré, he knows that she is terribly distressed. Perhaps her strongest statement concerning her family comes when she says "I am ashamed." This is the same thing that Valentin is to say in the next chapter concerning his family. But in this simple statement is an evaluation of her family that she has never before made. In her promise that she wants to bury herself, we are prepared for her future announcement that she will enter the Carmelite nunnery.

As Mrs. Tristram points out later, it is not solely that the Bellegardes resent Newman's antecedents and commercial endeavors, but they also think that if they prevent this marriage then they can persuade Madame de Cintré to marry Lord Deepmere.

The reader should be aware of the Bellegarde concept of honor. They use a subtle distinction to justify themselves. They say that they had promised not to interfere until Madame de Cintré had accepted Newman. After that they felt they could not interfere, but could command. Like Newman's failure to accept Valentin's definition of honor, he refuses to accept this view of honor. Here Valentin agrees with Newman and apparently so does Madame de Cintré.

In the refusal of the Bellegardes to live up to their promise, the reader should see that the concept of honor, as adhered to by Newman, is far greater than the aristocratic concept adhered to by the Bellegardes.

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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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