Summary and Analysis
Strether expects that a visit from Chad is the next natural thing to happen, and he is puzzled when, at the end of forty-eight hours, he hears nothing from him. He occupies his time by taking Maria Gostrey about Paris, showing her "shops she didn't know, or that she pretended she didn't." Throughout their walks, they do not discuss Chad and Madame de Vionnet; Maria had taken a "hint" from Strether, and "she left questions unasked." Several days pass, and Strether still hears nothing from Chad. His desire to see him becomes an obsession. To rid himself of this constant thought, he prolongs "his hours with Miss Gostrey."
In the course of one of these visits, Maria informs him that Madame de Vionnet had been to see her, and Strether now senses that Maria knows the whole story of what took place on that day in the country. However, when Maria tells him that the purpose of Madame de Vionnet's visit was to ask of news about Chad, Strether is surprised to learn that she has not returned to the country with Chad.
He realizes that Maria was aware of what had been going on between Chad and Madame de Vionnet all along, and that the reason she had left Paris a few weeks before was to avoid his inevitable questions about them. Strether explains why he believed Little Bilham's gentlemanly statement that the affair was "virtuous." Maria then explains Madame de Vionnet's position: "Those things are nothing when a woman's hit. It's very awful. She was hit." The conversation closes with Maria telling Strether that Madame de Vionnet feels Strether judges her too harshly and that he doesn't want to see her again, that he has "done with her." Strether answers, "So I have."
Ironically, Strether believes that this time when Chad is out of town, he is accompanied by Madame de Vionnet; earlier, it will be remembered, Strether made no such connection when in fact such was the case.
Despite the fact that he feels Bilham has lied to him, Strether is sufficiently changed by his experiences to be able to construe Bilham's phrase "virtuous attachment" as "but a technical lie." He sees, by placing Chad and Madame de Vionnet's attachment in a special context, that there was an element of virtue in it: " . . . the virtue came out for me hugely." This is the final measure of Strether's remarkable growth as a person.
Strether's reference to the "caverns of Kubla Khan" is drawn from Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan."