The American By Henry James Summary and Analysis Chapter XXIV

Summary

Newman goes to the nunnery on Sunday morning and is shocked by the bleak, barren stone. When he hears the nuns enter, they are singing or chanting, but it sounded more like a wail and a dirge. "It was hideous, it was horrible." Newman could stand it no longer; he rose and left. At the entrance, he came face to face with Madame and Urbain de Bellegarde who were just entering. Outside, he sees the young Madame de Bellegarde who motions to him to come to her. She wants him to know that she had nothing to do with the deceit and thinks Newman was treated dreadfully. Newman suddenly asks the young Marquise if she would delay her return so as to give him a chance to confront her husband and mother-in-law. She does even better. She tells that they are to meet her in a certain place in the park, and invites Newman to accompany her there.

After a time the Bellegardes are seen coming down the path. Newman stops them. They try to avoid the meeting, but Newman tells them they will regret it if they don't listen. Then he accuses Madame de Bellegarde of killing her husband. He tells her that he has a letter written by her late husband after she had left him for dead. Madame de Bellegarde asks to see the letter. Newman gives the Marquis a copy which he reads and turns pale. He assures them that the original is in a safe place. They wonder what he plans to do with the information. Newman tells them that he plans to show it to a few influential people. He says: "I mean to show the world that, however bad I may be, you are not quite the people to say it." Madame de Bellegarde pretends that it was not worth Newman's effort to stop them, and they leave. Newman feels that Madame de Bellegarde is indeed a "plucky woman."

The next morning, Urbain de Bellegarde calls at Newman's apartment and tells him that he and his mother think the document real. He asks that Newman destroy the note because it would only pain the friends of his late father to find out that he was apparently insane when he wrote such an outrageous note. Newman wonders what they will offer him. The Marquis says that they are giving him a chance that any gentleman should appreciate: "A chance to abstain from inflicting a terrible blot upon the memory of a man who certainly had his faults, but who, personally had done you no wrong." Newman reminds the Marquis that they don't consider him a gentleman. He then asks them to give him back Madame de Cintré, but the Marquis replies "Never!" He informs Newman that to reveal the contents of the note will be disagreeable but nothing more. After that, he leaves, and Newman thinks that he can begin to be satisfied now.

Analysis

The chapter opens with Newman's succumbing to a mood of grief and melancholy brought about by the appearance of the nunnery and the remembrance of the love he holds for Madame de Cintré.

When Newman first sees the Bellegardes, he notes that "they had not their grand behavior immediately in hand." This remark characterizes the entire chapter. For once, Newman has the upper hand in the matter. The Bellegardes are first of all terribly upset by Madame de Cintré's actions. To see Newman reminds them of their part in her terrible decision. Consequently, when Newman confronts them in the park with their terrible deeds, they are already troubled by their guilt in forcing Madame de Cintré into the nunnery. At the end of the interview, Newman is somewhat troubled that he did not get the best of the Bellegardes, until he realized that the old lady was only using a "very superior style of brazen assurance" to cover up for her guilt.

Newman is still learning. He discovers that the Marquis' defense is much more complicated than he had envisioned. Most important in this chapter is the Marquis' refusal to give back Claire de Cintré. The decisions which made them originally object to the marriage are still the same and will never change. This is especially true since the Marquis and Madame de Bellegarde are most concerned with the appearance of things. But for them the awkward and disagreeable charges that Newman can make are less objectionable than the marriage would be. This is the old aristocratic honor in its strongest form.

The reader should also note that the Marquis had previously preferred Lord Deepmere to Newman solely on the basis of the title that Lord Deepmere possessed. Yet as Newman refused to enter into an alliance with Madame de Bellegarde because of honor, we find here that Lord Deepmere has promised to return and carry on a minor affair with the young Marquise.

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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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