The Ambassadors: Part 7, Chapters 16-18

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Part 7

Chapter 16
Miss Gostrey has been gone for three weeks, and has written very little. Finding himself alone in Paris, Strether has taken to visiting the great cathedral of Notre Dame, hoping to escape himself and his problems. Not Catholic himself, Strether is merely an observer in this holy place. On his visits there, he often sees a particular distinguished lady praying in the dim chapel. He envies her for her initiate status; all the rituals here have a meaning for her. She reminds him, somehow, of a heroine of an old story.
 
To his surprise, the woman is Mme. de Vionnet, whom he has not seen in ten days. As they talk of their shared love of the cathedral, Strether admires the Countess. Her subdued and discreet manner, the veil she wears, her gray-gloved hands—everything about her is romantic to him. He reasons to himself that such a church-going lady could never be party to an immoral relationship, and resolves again to support her as much as he can.
 
They go to lunch together. Strether reveals that he’s written to Mrs. Newsome about Mme. de Vionnet, telling her all that she’s done for Chad and what he thinks should happen next. He’s not sure how Mrs. Newsome will take it, but he hopes she will understand. What he proposes now is to wait for her response, then go home with Chad. Chad will explain everything to his mother in person and return to Paris to be with Mme. de Vionnet. The Countess protests this plan, fearing that if Chad goes home, his mother will marry him off to someone else. She begs Strether not to abandon her; he must stay with her to prevent Chad from breaking off the relationship.
 
Strether points out that it is up to Chad, but for his part, he will do everything he can to push the young man in the right direction. He will save Mme. de Vionnet, and Chad, too, if he possibly can.
 
Chapter 17
Three days later, a telegram arrives. Upset by the contents, Strether crumples it up. At dinner, Waymarsh notices that something is wrong, but Strether says nothing. In his room that night, he feverishly composes a letter home, and the next day, he meets Chad to tell him about the telegram.
 
The telegram contains an ultimatum from Mrs. Newsome: Strether must come home with or without Chad. Hearing this, Chad declares cheerfully that he is ready to return to Woollett. He has been ready for some time, staying only for Strether’s sake, so that Strether could get the full benefit of Europe. Now, he proposes, they should start off on a boat next week. Strether is taken aback. What about Mme. de Vionnet? Chad laughs. Her wishes have nothing to do with anything. Besides, she has nothing to fear from him going home. He’ll never be tired of her.
 
There is another caveat in the telegram, Strether reveals. If he doesn’t sail immediately, Sarah and Jim Pocock (Chad’s sister and brother-in-law), along with Jim’s sister Mamie, will be sent out after him. Perhaps, Strether suggests, the Pococks should come out for a holiday in Paris. He is not ready to go home yet, even if Chad is. After some discussion, they agree on this, but Chad warns Strether: if Mrs. Newsome is forced to send the Pococks out, it will mean that she doesn’t trust Strether anymore, and their relationship will be in serious jeopardy.
 
Chapter 18
Strether has been looking for Waymarsh, but by four that afternoon he has not appeared. Meanwhile, he has received a cable from Woollett urging him to come back home by the first ship.
 
Strether goes to see Miss Gostrey, who is finally home from her trip to the south of France, and tells her of the cable. Waymarsh, he believes, is behind this. He has been communicating with Mrs. Newsome, letting her know that Strether is way off course on his mission and “in peril of perdition.”
 
Miss Gostrey is upset by the prospect of Strether’s leaving, but he lets her know that he’s not prepared to go just yet. In fact, he will need her still. She doubts this, pointing out that he has done perfectly well in her absence. “You’ve got your momentum, and you can toddle alone.” Yes, admits Strether, but it’s just this sight that has Waymarsh alarmed.
 
At Strether’s request, Chad has cabled home that he’s not ready to return. Miss Gostrey notes the irony in this. Strether has come out to bring Chad back, and now it’s Strether who wants to stay. Strether explains. He was prepared to bring Chad back before he knew what good Chad had received from Europe. Now, he’s completely changed his mind, and thinks that Chad must stay in Paris. But the Pococks are coming, and they will speak for Mrs. Newsome now that Strether no longer can. Mamie will be the bait for luring Chad home. She may even be introduced to Mme. de Vionnet. It will be quite “fun,” they both decide.
 
Meanwhile, Strether has written home to tell Mrs. Newsome that he wants to take another month. He’s been writing letters to her as well, although it feels to him like “whistling in the dark,” as Mrs. Newsome is writing almost nothing back, and he has not heard from her in days. Her silence weighs on him, and he feels her presence all the more because of it.
 
It’s clear that Mrs. Newsome no longer trusts him, but Strether thinks that he may yet win back her confidence. Meanwhile, he can, as Miss Gostrey put it, “toddle alone”—he has a newfound independence; he doesn’t need Mrs. Newsome’s constant support anymore, nor Miss Gostrey’s. When he first arrived in Europe, Miss Gostrey had been his guide and teacher; he “sat at her feet and held on by her garment and was fed by her hand.” Now she has become less important to him, and she knows it; she’s made him over, but it will be for others to enjoy.
 
There is only one chance for Miss Gostrey—that if his plans “come to grief,” she can comfort him afterwards. Madame de Vionnet and Chad are his tribute to youth. If he succeeds in keeping them together, he’ll have recaptured a bit of it for himself. If he fails and his plans are smashed, he’ll be truly and finally old.
 
In the meantime, Strether waits impatiently for the Pococks to arrive, certain that he will find out from Sarah where he now stands with Mrs. Newsome, and Woollett.
 
Analysis of Part 7
In Part 7, the battle lines are drawn. Strether makes his stand against Woollett, and Woollett prepares to send out a new set of ambassadors—the Pococks. There is an irony in how things now stand. Chad actually wants to return home, but now it is Strether who holds him in Europe, trying to buy time both for himself and for his plan: keeping Chad and Mme. de Vionnet together. If his plan succeeds, he believes he will be saving them both. 
 
It is important to note that Strether’s opinions of the situation at hand are not necessarily correct. Because he is so dazzled by the beauty and apparent virtues of Mme. de Vionnet, he believes that her relationship with Chad must be a virtuous one. The reader must be skeptical of his impressions, here and throughout the novel.
 
The Catholic Church appears again as an emblem of old Europe. Walking in Notre Dame, Strether is enchanted by the romance, beauty, and mysticism of Catholicism, a religion steeped in centuries of history. By contrast, as stated in Chapter 3, Waymarsh sees the Catholic Church as “the monster of bulging eyes and far-reaching quivering groping tentacles.” For Waymarsh, Catholicism represents all that he hates about Europe. It is “exactly society, exactly the multiplication of shibboleths, exactly the discrimination of types and tones, exactly the wicked old Rows of Chester, rank with feudalism; exactly in short Europe.”
 
It is unsurprising that Waymarsh is not impressed by Mme. de Vionnet, as she too represents all that he cannot stand about the Old World. As Strether wishes to “save” Chad and Mme. de Vionnet, Waymarsh wants equally badly to “save” Strether, who he sees in danger of perdition in the wicked clutches of Europe. Neither man is entirely right or wrong, but each must stand up for what he believes.
 
 

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