Summary and Analysis
Book 4: Chapter II
Strether and Chad spend a good deal of time with one another, and Strether tells Chad about his friendship with Maria. In writing to Mrs. Newsome, Strether conveys his conviction that it is not a woman who keeps Chad from returning to Woollett, but he senses that he will not be fully believed.
Strether tells Maria that he thinks Chad will return home, but she disagrees: "No — he won't. . . . He's not free." Maria is convinced that Chad is deeply involved with a woman and cautions Strether not to pass judgment on the matter until he has met her. She also suggests that Chad is trying to disengage himself from this woman, to "shake her off." Strether is reluctant to believe this of Chad, but Maria tells him, "He's not so good as you think!"
Strether talks with Little Bilham in hopes of finding out more about Chad's relationship. "Why isn't he free?" he asks. When Bilham replies that the relationship between Chad and the woman is a "virtuous attachment," Strether is immensely relieved. Later, when Strether asks Chad for some definite word on Chad's plans to return to Woollett, the young man announces that "two particular friends" of his, a mother and daughter, are arriving in Paris and want to see Strether. Maria and Strether know that one of these women is the object of their speculations, but they cannot agree whether it is the mother or daughter. They also discuss the possibility that Bilham has not been truthful about the nature of Chad's relations with the woman.
After Maria's first warning about Chad, "He's not so good as you think!" Strether seems particularly anxious to establish that Chad is as "good" as he believes him to be. Bilham seems to agree but warns, "He isn't used . . . to being so good." Maria's speculation about Chad will, as is often the case with her "guesses," prove to be completely accurate.
Bilham's phrase, "virtuous attachment," will play an important part in the subsequent development of the story. Strether's reaction in this chapter should be kept in mind when the phrase recurs later and when Strether is required to draw a different meaning from it.
Strether's bantering remark to Maria about the mother and daughter — "It would be nice if they're Polish"-derives from the fact that many upper-class Polish exiles were in Western Europe at the time.