The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter XXII

Summary

At his meeting with Mrs. Bread, she tells Newman that the Bellegardes made Madame de Cintré feel wicked. She explains that Madame de Cintré knew nothing wicked about her mother, but that was because she was afraid to know, but Mrs. Bread wants to hear about Valentin. Newman recounts to her what Valentin had told him, and Mrs. Bread is shocked, but she is also touched that Valentin thought so highly of her and died with her name on his breath. Newman tells her that Valentin wanted whatever information she possessed so that he could force the Bellegardes to come round to him. He explains: "I have been cruelly injured. They have hurt me, and I want to hurt them. I don't deny that." He wants to bring them down. Mrs. Bread is worried about what Madame de Cintré would say, but Newman thinks she entered the nunnery so that he would have a free field to work in. Newman promises Mrs. Bread that she can come and work for him.

Mrs. Bread then tells Newman that she has harbored a grudge against Madame de Bellegarde for many a year. Once Madame de Bellegarde made some false accusations against Mrs. Bread and she has remembered these dishonors through the years. Now she tells how the elder M. de Bellegarde lay sick, and was supposed to take some medicine. Madame de Bellegarde wanted him dead because she wanted to marry Claire to the old Count de Cintré, but M. de Bellegarde opposed it. Thus, when the elder M. de Bellegarde needed some medicine, she poured the medicine out rather than give it to him. She left him later for dead, but he recovered enough to write a note telling what his wife had done. He gave the note to Mrs. Bread, and she has kept it through all these years. She can't read French, therefore, she doesn't know the exact contents of the note. She later goes to fetch the note, and when she returns, Newman reads it excitedly. It accuses Madame de Bellegarde of murder so that she can marry Claire to M. de Cintré, and the note is signed by the elder M. de Bellegarde.

Analysis

The reader should note that Mrs. Bread is not willing to divulge all of her information until Newman uses Valentin's request and Madame de Cintré's sorrow and suffering as an excuse. He also knows that Mrs. Bread admires him, and he explains why he wants the information. Finally, but not the least important, he offers her a place with him for the rest of her life.

Thus her story of the wicked deeds of Madame de Bellegarde and the note she has preserved through all the years provide the perfect mode of revenge for Newman. Now it is clear to the reader that behind all the forms and ceremonies, behind the sense of honor, aristocracy, and rituals, there lies a basic evil. But even now, Newman does not consider what Madame de Bellegarde did to her old degenerated husband as evil as what she is presently doing to Claire de Cintré. In the murder of her husband, she was, after all, murdering a dissipated old man, but with Madame de Cintré, she is destroying a potentially great personality — a lovely woman who has not attained her peak of perfection.

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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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